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Factional politics on display for Shreveport mayoralty

The ending of qualification for November’s Shreveport mayoral election finally has made static a field in flux. A clear favorite stands out, although a wild card can bring unpredictability to the almost-inevitable runoff.

As is typical in urban politics when one political party becomes dominant, two distinct camps have emerged on the local political scene representing different factions within it. Democrats have claimed that in Shreveport, where they comprise 53.4 percent of the electorate, which itself has a 52.7 percent black majority. Thus among black Democrats are the “ins,” allied with term-limited Mayor Cedric Glover, and the “outs,” those not allied with him, with whites having the incentive to ally with one or the other group.

The latest major candidate entry shall be discussed first, with city Councilman Sam Jenkins announcing his bid only days ago. Months ago he was considered a frontrunner from his alliance with Glover but then made a surprise announcement that he intended not to run, citing tax liens that would be political liabilities. His tune now has changed, even as apparently he still owes a number of debts to governments. That he could have run again for the Council but chose this path despite the inevitable questions that will come about his ability to serve as the city’s chief executive given this personal financial record indicates that it’s all-or-nothing time for him politically and he would not mind going out in a blaze of glory.

His chances have diminished because in the meantime former local and acting state school superintendent Ollie Tyler got into the contest, who is drawing support from many of the same figures who have supported Glover, politically speaking or because of business dealings with the city. Particularly her time at the helm of the Caddo Parish School District will draw scrutiny as little she did seemed to slow the steady decline in the district’s performance relative to others, in its enrollment numbers, and in its financial position.

Jenkins has more, and eventually successful, campaigning experience, whereas the retirement-age Tyler has none, and experience in elective office that she doesn’t. Still, the baggage he carries and the maximal effort she seems to be getting from Glover allies gives her the edge between this pair.

As for those who have not worked well with Glover, right up until qualifying it looked as if state Rep. Roy Burrell would try again, after limping to third place in 2010. But then he announced he would not qualify, oddly blaming former Mayor Keith Hightower’s dithering about whether to make an against-the-odds comeback, which “through [sic] him a curve ball” and caused too much delay to mount a campaign.

That leaves state Rep. Patrick Williams as the major standard-bearer for those outside the current power structure. Having considered but passing on running in 2010, Williams has had plenty of time to lay the groundwork for a successful attempt, most notably coopting a number of Republican officials and activists who have concluded that the only politically viable candidates for the foreseeable future would be black Democrats, and they needed to get behind the least liberal of the bunch.

The wild card of the field is educator Victoria Provenza, running without a party label and the only non-black prominent candidate in the field. She has no elective or appointive political experience (although her father was politically active for decades in the city) and her outsider status plus not identifying with a party can give her an edge in attracting votes of those who don’t like the liberal Democrat politics of the other candidates (no Republicans qualified) and those skeptical about politicians – so much so she potentially could make the runoff. Then again, if her campaign does not come off as serious (to many, a no-party designation automatically denotes that), voters of a more strategic bent who want to back a least-objectionable winner will not be attracted to her candidacy.

In this environment, with Williams having the best chance as a fusionist candidate among the ins, outs, and non-black/non-Democrats, this makes him a strong favorite to advance to the general election runoff in December. Tyler has the edge to join him, but not by much.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jeff, I think your last paragraph pretty much sums it up - a run-off between Williams and Tyler with Williams winning. Victoria Provena's intentions may be good but I think she is somewhat naive - there is no way that Shreveport's blacks are going to let a white candidate become mayor. She's wasting her time.