Sometimes you just need to get away to see what is really going on. Case in point, last Saturday’s well-anticipated mayor’s election in New Orleans. It has been said that politics is Louisiana’s favorite sport. If that is in fact the case, this year’s elections have certainly lived up to this claim. Only this time, Hurricane Katrina has made it a global spectator sport.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s frequent post Katrina comments have left many uneasy and questioning his ability to put a united city back on its feet, but that isn’t just a local perception.
How do I know this? Well, sometimes you have to step away and hear what others are saying. As Nagin and Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu were being named as runoff opponents in this most historic election, I traveled to Minnesota to attend a conference. Over 1,000 miles away from the rearranged world of Hurricane Katrina, I found that our counterparts at the other end of the Mississippi River are very much interested in how Katrina impacted our region, what worked and what didn’t! But, equally interesting is their perception of Louisiana politics.
Removed from local personalities and rhetoric, their impressions of Mayor Nagin’s performance during this event are largely negative and they seemed perplexed he would have received such a high percentage of votes. At the same time, they have strong opinions about our state leadership’s inability to react to the challenges Katrina threw at them, something they see Landrieu as being part of.
On the other hand, we Louisianians have never taken much interest in how the rest of the world thinks we should react. It is our politics and our decision alone. Something we have always taken quite serious.
But, all of this does bring up an interesting dilemma. Regardless who wins, we have our work cut out for us. With the rest of the world watching, we have to convince them it makes sense to bring their business to such a strange state. With such a low opinion of how we function, I wonder if either candidate can change the perceptions he has developed among the entire world.
You can expect this election will turn really ugly over the next few weeks as both Landrieu and Nagin, in front of a global audience, will try to convince voters the other can’t handle rebuilding New Orleans. I like to call this the “only I can save the world” attitude. It simply means each candidate considers his platform as being good government and all others just really bad politics. In some cases, they might be right. Unfortunately, elections nowadays resemble more of a three-ring circus than the voice of democracy. This circus has global implications that can leave scars just as deep as Hurricane Katrina herself.
While it’s obvious only one of them will win the runoff election, I really don’t see how Louisiana can win in such an environment.