Mayor Ray Nagin weighed in Thursday on the first big controversy in the campaign to choose his successor, lending his full support to mayoral candidate Troy Henry’s contention that the news media are focusing too much on polls that suggest New Orleans could elect its first white mayor in three decades.
At a Wednesday news conference, Henry said while he doesn’t object to news stories about polls–the most recent of which show Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and businessman John Georges, both of whom are white, in the top two spots–he said some reports are beginning “to create an undertone with the voting population that marginalizes African-American candidates in this race.”
“These recent stories, and the predetermined tone they create, undermine the democratic process of campaigning,” Henry said.
“All of the so-called media experts, all they’ve been talking about is there’s going to be a runoff between two white candidates,” Nagin said. “And that’s what they’re feeding to the public–every day.”
After state Sen. Ed Murray, the campaign’s best-known black candidate, dropped out of the race Sunday, citing a desire to avoid a racially divisive contest, the campaign’s top tier shrunk to six. The group includes three African-American candidates: Henry, former Civil District Judge Nadine Ramsey and fair-housing advocate James Perry.
In a poll before Murray’s exit, all three trailed Murray, who ranked third with 11.3 percent. Henry suggested the notion that the race is a foregone conclusion could suppress voter turnout.
“That’s undermining the process, and it’s not fair to the African-American candidates,” he said. “All we’re asking for is fairness and equal consideration, period. I think it’s disingenuous and what we don’t want is African-American voters thinking that this is a predetermined race. Just treat us equal. That’s all we want.
“What we don’t want to do is begin to put in the minds of all voters that this is a fait accompli, that this is not a real race, that this is an anointment. That’s not fair to any of the candidates. And the fact that some of the reports have categorized this in terms of race, it’s disingenuous to all of the African-American candidates. It’s not fair.”
Henry said he did not mean to suggest that New Orleans, where registered black voters outnumber white ones by a 2-1 margin, must be led by an African-American mayor. “It’s important that we have the best mayor,” he said.
Henry also indicated Wednesday that Ramsey and Perry “concur with my frustration that some media reports want to diminish the election to race.”
In his remarks Wednesday, Henry warned members of the media that they don’t always understand how their reports are received.
“There’s not an African-American among you in the press today. How you interpret what you say and how African-American candidates like myself interpret what you say is different,” he said. “Part of the challenge we have today in New Orleans is that sometimes, we don’t communicate effectively. And what you think you’re saying–and I’m not accusing anyone of being mean-spirited–but unintentionally there are consequences sometimes to what is being said and how they’re being said.
Nagin, meanwhile, offered a vague conspiracy theory for Murray’s withdrawal from the mayoral contest.
“I don’t get it,” Nagin said. “I don’t understand the recent developments that have happened. How someone can be running for mayor for a whole year, have every political organization behind them, and then a month before the election is getting ready to take off, all of a sudden say because of racial issues and because I can’t raise money, I’m out.