By Bill Rouselle
2019 was a momentous year in New Orleans history. We had just elected our city’s first Black woman mayor. She promised and then delivered on her agenda of fighting for the city’s “fair share,” negotiating a historic increase in hospitality taxes from the state and industry.
We also re-elected the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, John Bel Edwards, by delivering huge win margins in our city. (In a 3.5 percent win, 95 percent of Black voters supported Edwards, according to one estimate.) To New Orleanians, the message of 2019 was clear: change was happening. Progress would be made. The future looked bright.
Louisiana Republicans watched these events and drew a different conclusion: New Orleans was getting too big for its britches. Any effort by New Orleans to transcend its role as supplicant to state government in Baton Rouge must be stopped. Time to turn back the clock to a time when New Orleans knew its place.
Why? Because New Orleans on the rise means Republican power in decline. That’s an existential threat as they see it. New Orleans on the rise means Black voters on the rise. And history tells us conservative Louisianans (now Republicans, previously Democrats) view this as the greatest threat of all.
This is the tragic context we must absorb and grapple with if we are to understand the current effort to recall Mayor Cantrell. It’s not about her, it’s about us — our people, our city, our values, our potential power, especially in this gubernatorial election year.
Follow the Money
Follow the money. A catchphrase popularized in the Watergate era, but it applies here. In this case, nearly all the money behind the recall comes from a single Republican megadonor, Rick Farrell. A person of such character that he once suggested to Mayor Cantrell (one week into the COVID-19 pandemic, no less) that she confiscate homeless people’s possessions to force them to disperse. Reading between the lines, Farrell was upset about the city’s COVID protocols and lockdowns, which impacted his business. Why not undo the 2021 mayoral election and impose a new mayor who reflects his values?
Statewide Republican Involvement
Of course, it’s not just Farrell. The recall campaign’s lawyer Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue leads a political group called the Bayou Mama Bears that is closely aligned with Republican Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Jeff Landry. This group achieved notoriety for fighting New Orleans’ mask and vaccine policies.
Last week, Louisiana’s Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin twice released statements calling for more frequent purges of voter rolls in the state. It’s an opportunistic move consistent with Republican efforts to suppress voting across the country. There’s a reason Governor Edwards has twice vetoed legislation requiring additional annual purges: they’re unnecessary and possibly unconstitutional.
“The purpose of this whole thing is to discourage Black people from voting,” says voting rights advocate Carl Galmon and more recently echoed by noted actor and radio entrepreneur, Wendell Pierce.
The sad truth is we have been caught flat-footed. Even if we avoid this disenfranchisement effort masked as a recall campaign, the damage is done. Our city’s sense of unified purpose has been broken.
It is up to those who care about New Orleans and a government that represents us all to go beyond this division and find space for unity. That’s the challenge ahead of us.
And we must never again lose our sense of vigilance when it comes to attacks on our democracy.