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Non-decisions shaping N.O. mayor, House contests

In the past week or so, a couple of burning questions have been answered concerning the electoral future of New Orleans, both on the same subject: when will heavy hitters finally begin to signal intentions about the upcoming important political contests?

The answer relative to the Second Congressional District seat came when it was declined to be given relative to the New Orleans mayor’s contest, upon state Rep. Karen Peterson’s declaration she was not a candidate for the latter. Now the Speaker pro-tempore in the House, the daughter of a prominent political family has been sending her profile progressively higher in the Legislature as becoming perhaps the most high-profile legislative opponent of Gov. Bobby Jindal, and would have been a formidable candidate.

But the reason for her passing no doubt signals great interest in the congressional spot. She ran in 2006 and pushed the disgraced former Rep. William Jefferson into a competitive runoff under the old blanket primary system. That she did not try again in 2008 should not be taken as a indicator of lost interest in the job; she was coming off a reelection campaign to the House and she probably figured that the dynamics of Jefferson’s indictment with his insistence on running again meant he would win and be forced to resign, creating a better opportunity to run later. His upset by Republican Anh “Joseph” Cao did not change calculations much given the heavy Democrat registration in the district.

She would be the third House member to throw her hat into the ring, joining Cedric Richmond and Juan LaFonta, and favored over them. Besides being more experienced than these guys who also from time to time have been vocal critics of the new day in Louisiana, she simply comes across better and more credibly. Typically, when LaFonta or Richmond launch a critique of Jindal or conservative policy, it’s almost instantly detectable as absurd, but when Peterson does it, she does so in a way that actually makes one think about it for a second or two before her remarks’ idiocy becomes apparent, an exercise in agile thinking that many potential voters cannot master.

However, the mayor’s contest appears to have garnered another strong candidate in businessman John Georges, who has all but announced his intent to run even as a number of other high profile elected officials have publicly stated denials. Georges ran for governor in 2007, finishing third in a largely self-financed campaign but won in Orleans Parish, and has plenty of money to burn in an attempt that may not even cost as much.

Presently, only activist James Perry, state Sen. Edwin Murray, and state Rep. Austin Badon have declared candidacies, and in a sense the dynamic favors Georges. Going straight from state office to the mayor’s office without a local seasoning in office has proven impossible in recent years for successful mayoral candidates, the last making such a transition being DeLesseps “Chep” Morrison six decades ago. As a political outsider, Georges also would have been disadvantaged in this regard – until current Mayor Ray Nagin broke the mold promising a fresh businessman orientation in 2002.

Given the disappointment of Nagin’s reign and continuing distrust of elected officials, Georges has the potential to ride far his credentials as a formidable creator of jobs and not being a typical politician. Yet the experiencing of Nagin, the fact that some look negatively on Georges’ long association with gambling in his business, and the inescapable fact of his pale skin in a black-majority city may make a Georges’ campaign merely formidable but not victorious. Georges also did not exactly show a gift for connecting with voters in his gubernatorial run, and that will be even harder to do given this constituency on the whole will be even more socioeconomically impaired.

Georges’ candidacy, if he declares, may take all the room out for the likes of radio talk show host and 2006 candidate Rob Couhig and former city councilman Eddie Sapir among whites. Peterson’s entrance into the House race, if it happens, may do the same for any other black candidate interested in the Democrat nomination; with Cao almost certain to run for reelection, he is unlikely to be challenged in the Republican primary and her move in this direction almost certainly would close that contest off. But if no other prominent black politician enters the mayor’s race, Georges might have a chance. His deep pockets could scare off even competitive black Democrats from running, the only way he’ll have a chance. Therefore, if he’s going to do it, a declaration by him sooner rather than later will help his chances of winning.

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