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Mrs. Robertson goes to Government Plaza; short stay likely

When Pres. George Bush picked Dan Quayle to become his vice presidential running mate, most observers got caught off guard. Part of the reason was Bush’s trying to find an energetic partner yet one who would be loyal and not overshadow him; some observers hinted it was because other higher-profile candidates each had a serious flaw in the mind of Bush so, in essence, he picked a “lowest common denominator” candidate that none of his advisers really had any objections to.

Shreveport City Council’s picking of Cynthia “Cindy” Norton Robertson to fill the remainder of former City Council District D’s occupant Mike Gibson echoes strongly of this historical incident – except, by early indications, Quayle was much more politically astute and informed. And this probably was the intent of the Council majority of Democrats.

The dynamic of the 2006 city elections and the desire of black officials to control the Council hovered in the background during this process. Democrats would love to grab this Republican-dominated seat in 2006 but would have to pick one of their own with considerable political skills who could use the short incumbency to maximal advantage. Short of that, black council members wanted to put a fourth black Democrat on the council to control it until the end of 2006. Also in the background: the Council had to act expeditiously or Gov. Kathleen Blanco would make the choice for it

The depleted Council featured three black Democrats, a white Democrat (Monty Walford), and two white Republicans. Its first choice, nominating local lawyer and Democrat activist Hersy Jones, attempted to implement the plan for a black majority on the Council but Walford joined the Republicans to prevent the four-vote majority needed. Flummoxed, the black Democrats abruptly halted the meeting and eventually decided to reconvene several days later.

At that meeting, another motion to appoint Jones failed 3-3. After the nomination of three others by other council members did not garner more than two votes each, including those of a former Republican city councilman who said he would not run in 2006 and of a high-profile white Democrat who might have had the best chance of holding the seat in 2006, the black contingent nominated and confirmed the white Democrat Robertson with Walford’s vote.

This train of events shows the divisions within the Democrats who could not agree on a candidate viable in 2006. Simply, the Democrats on the Council wanted a political lightweight not affiliated with Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower. And it seems they got exactly that with Robertson.

When asked why so few women had served on the Council (itself less than three decades of age), Robertson said “I guess people just don't give women a chance.” I guess she didn’t know that the Council almost always has had at least one female on it and one of them, Hazel Beard, went on to become mayor. Nor perhaps did she know only one woman tried to run in 2002 (but losing by a mere 76 votes) which might suggest the lack of women on it is because female candidates don’t give themselves enough credit to run, not the fault of voters, who can’t put women on it who don’t run for it.

She seems even less aware about the realities of campaigning and the coalition-building and voter-informing that comes with it. She said she would have been a candidate in 2006 even if Gibson had not left and still is, but added she has no plans to start fundraising for next year’s election, instead hoping voters will judge her on her accomplishments, not political advertising.

I hate to burst her bubble, but that is extremely unlikely to happen. Even as an incumbent, short of committing a crime she’ll be lucky if even 10 percent of the district knows who she is without any media (and you can’t walk to electioneer a district of 24,000 people even if you didn’t have a full-time job even if you started today). She should note that it cost Gibson nearly $35,000 just in 2002 to win the seat then. And, given the fact that she is in a historically-Republican district where by election day Republicans and Democrats will be about even in registration totals, with more than half of those Democrats white, she already has a steep uphill battle to win a term on her own.

While it never is bad to have a political novice in city elective office, Robertson shows all the signs of having a quick stay, so she had best use her short time in her seat wisely.

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