And Another Thing… with Anitra Brown
Trying to remember the last time a sitting president of the United States of America made an endorsement in a local election in New Orleans.
Wait, it was back in…it was…uh…hold on…okay, the last time…was Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, when the word came down that President Barack Obama endorsed Mayor Mitch Landrieu in the Feb. 1 election.
Still, my immediate reaction was not one of shock and awe. I was not surprised at all; and I hoped that sentient beings would see it for what it really it was—politics, partisan back-scratching of presidential magnitude.
The Mayor’s sister U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu called in a marker. And that is to be expected. After taking hits at home (a state that went decidedly red both times) for her support of the Affordable Care Act, specifically, and of the President, in general, she has called on the POTUS in an attempt to help shore up her brother’s position with Black voters here in New Orleans, which overwhelming supported the President while most of the state went Republican. Hell, if she can’t do that for her baby brother, what’s the point. (Look, I have never been one to wince at the way sausage is made…it is after all sausage).
But with all due respect Mr. President: Please do not feel slighted if your endorsement of Mayor Mitch Landrieu does not have the intended impact. If the expectation is that all of the Black Democrats in New Orleans that supported you in 2008 and 2012 will blindly back Mayor Mitch Landrieu because you say so…thanks, but no thanks. We got this. And shame of you, Landrieus, if you think Black voters in New Orleans are like sheep.
Of course, there are voters who will support the Mayor because they believe in him, believe he is actually best for the city. And that is fine. In fact that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I never begrudge someone else’s decision when it is in fact their decision. I just refuse to believe that any blind votes should be picked up by Monday’s announcement.
As far as I am concerned, NOTHING has changed since last month when The New Orleans Tribune editorial about the upcoming election urged voters to unite based on their community needs and reminded our readers that Black voters can still chew gum and walk at the same time. In that piece, we were talking about the ability to balance our best interests with those of others. But it also means that we are perfectly capable of recognizing when our interests are not at all tied to another’s. Just because President Obama owes the Senator a “solid” doesn’t mean Black voters in New Orleans, especially Black Democrats, are on the hook for it.
And as I think about it now, Blacks in New Orleans have already paid too much for the President Obama-Sen. Landrieu alliance. Yep, I said it. Don’t be fooled. The reality is that neither President Obama nor Sen. Landrieu should have as nearly much clout with Black voters in New Orleans as they may believe.
Let’s consider that despite a fairly extensive effort after the 2008 election to get Sen. Landrieu to recommend someone else to the President as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, she maintained her support of Jim Letten. We had had enough of Letten by that time. He meant no good for our community; and we were certain that with the change in the White House, Letten would go. But Sen. Landrieu supported him; and the President nominated him, paving the way for Letten—a holdover from the Bush administration—to maintain the seat.
We all now know the deleterious impact this has had on our community. On Letten’s watch—we contend that even with his knowledge—monumental prosecutorial misconduct took place. The acts of his top assistants Jan Mann and Sal Perricone resulted in the undoing of the Danzinger verdicts. To be sure, the complete fallout of the incident is not yet measurable.
But wait…there is more. With the recent announcement that every public school under the Recovery School District-New Orleans will be a quasi-private charter school when the 2014-2015 school year begins, now is not the time to forget that this botched experiment masquerading as education reform in New Orleans has its roots in Obama’s educational policy as espoused by his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who, as CEO of Chicago’s public schools, spearheaded the closure of neighborhood schools that were replaced by charter schools. In fact, one of the major architects of the local so-called reform came right out of Chicago. Paul Vallas, former superintendent of the RSD had actually preceded Duncan as Chicago’s public schools CEO. Sen. Landrieu actually takes credit for bringing Vallas here. A press release on her on website recounts the announcement of Vallas’ appointment as such:
Sen. Landrieu said:
“We need real leadership at the helm of the Recovery School District. Paul Vallas has set school systems in Chicago and Philadelphia on the right path, and we are very lucky that he is headed to New Orleans to do the same for us. I will work with him to ensure every child in our great city has a fighting chance at an excellent education.”
At today’s press conference at the Martin Luther King Charter School in New Orleans, Vallas concluded his remarks by saying, “Why am I here? I am here because Mary Landrieu asked me to be here.”
And while here, Mr. Vallas directed this misguided charter movement in New Orleans on the backs of the mostly Black students that are educated in the local public school system even as he took personal trips to be with his family in the Midwest on the state’s (read taxpayer’s) dime. Meanwhile, these schools continue to fail academically while not facing the same scrutiny that traditional schools face.
Oddly enough, a superior court judge in Connecticut ruled last summer that Vallas did not have the credentials required to serve as the superintendent of public schools in Bridgeport. Of course, he appealed. But what’s even more bizarre is that Vallas was tapped in November to be the gubernatorial running mate in Illinois’ 2014 election even as he continues as the superintendent in Bridgeport, Conn. Can’t help but wonder why it took the people of Bridgeport just a few months to determine what so-called leaders in New Orleans still can’t seem to figure out—that these outside interests and so-called reform advocates are not at-all interested in the improving the communities they pretend to serve. If they were, there is no way Paul Vallas could justify hanging on to a superintendent’s job in Connecticut while he bides time until the start of the 2014 governor’s race in Illinois. He will eventually resign from the Bridgeport job despite the fact that he lodged a legal challenge to hold on to it because something better, more exciting has come along. And we should be happy that Sen. Landrieu brought him here first. I think not.
Anyway, forgive us if we are not jumping up and down because Sen. Landrieu and President Obama are playing politics right now. No slight against either, but the situation our city faces is way too critical for politics.
• Two criminal justice consent decrees that must be implemented for the safety and protection of our citizenry.
• A 52 percent unemployment rate among working age Black men.
• Parts of the city—especially areas that are primarily African-American—still crippled more than eight years after Hurricane Katrina.
• Too much crime
• Not nearly enough equity in economic development.
• A hijacked public education system that every elected official should be willing to tackle as a quality of life issue.
Too critical, indeed. And since political maneuvers by and between our esteemed Senator and our well-respected President just haven’t worked so well in our favor lately, let’s take this endorsement for what it is—politics—nothing more, nothing less.
Early voting for the Feb. 1 election takes place Jan. 18-25 (except Sunday) from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. at City Hall, 1300 Perdido St., Rm 1W24; the Algiers Courthouse, 225 Morgan Street, Rm. 105, and the Chef Menteur Voting Machine Warehouse site, 8870 Chef Menteur Highway.