#63: New Orleans by the Numbers

No that’s not the broccoli with garlic sauce off the Hunan Balcony menu…

That’d be our mayor, Ray Nagin, for our city, New Orleans.  Vote #63 this Saturday, April 22.

Or not.

There are ~20 other mayoral candidates to choose from, should you question Nagin’s leadership ability, or simply have a preference to live in a caramel or butterscotch city, versus a chocolate city. This weekend is your time to make that preference known.

(FYI: It’s Nagin v. Landrieu in a run-off set for 5/20.  But Nagin got almost 40% of the vote.  His front-page smirk greets me good morning on this  sunny post-election sunday.)

Last week at MIT, I gave a talk on the community organizing landscape in New Orleans, and how to connect it to post-Katrina planning and development. The audience did their best to stay with me as I described the incredibly complex social, political and cultural environment of this city. This election paints this same vivid picture.

This election is considered one of the most important in the city’s history, and unfolded in a national spotlight (or so the local papers say…my experience is actual level of external interest more closely mirrors local laments that the city has been forgotten by those beyond its borders).  The ballot was more crowded than usual, a feat in this population-stripped city that is intricately divided by racially- and historically-significant neighborhood boundaries.  So consider the following:

The city’s pre-storm population was ~450k.  (In comparison, the city of Boston proper has about 650k.)

The city has ~70 officially-recognized neighborhoods by the city planning commission (Boston: ~15).

Current NO population estimates are ~190k, now overwhelmingly white, versus the 2/3 African-American pre-storm demographic.

In yesterday’s primary, New Orleanians voted for:

  • 1 Mayor
  • 7 City Council members
  • 2 Sheriffs (there is this thing here known as the Criminal Sheriff, who’s job it is to oversee New Orleans Parish Prison – that’s right, O.P.P., yeah you know me!)
  • 2 Clerks of Court (regular court and criminal court)
  • and 7 tax assessors (a classic LA twist; unsurprisingly there are family dynasties that have held these positions since, for example, 1904.  7 candidates for these slots were part of a “I Quit” platform, where if they won, they’d immediately resign, pool their salaries, and hire 1 professional tax assessor for the city).

For these 19 positions, there were 109 candidates.  109 Candidates.  Candidates here are each given a # (e.g., #63), what I think is a response to the functional literacy rates in the city, but is probably generally helpful to anyone trying to navigate a 109 candidates.

In the end, there are 8 run-offs scheduled for May 20.  Not too bad, managing to fill 11 elected positions with less than half your population present in the city and satellite voting not available for the close to 300k people still dispersed across the country.

I need to post some pictures, which are in my phone that’s not with me as I start my day with my medium iced coffee at the Rue de la Course coffeehouse on Oak Street.  They are of the neutral ground (median strip) festooned with election signs.  It’s disarming, the # of signs for the # of candidates that is New Orleans’s election season version of the tulip gardens dotting Park Avenue in New York.  Like ivy, signage creeps across most front yards, porches, and storefronts in the repopulated sections of the city.  There is one house near to me that I assumed was vacant, due to the Kerry Edwards sign that still sits proudly on its front lawn, only to walk by it one a recent morning en route to the Rue and see a City Council candidate’s sign now accompanying Kerry/Edwards.

I wonder what happens to all these signs now, if there is a trash pick up strategy in this city used to routine polluting events such as elections, festivals, and hurricanes.  Or will these signs linger like the spray painted info on all the damaged homes that lie in wait for gutting, demolition, etc.?  On Friday I saw “1 Dog DOA, second floor” on a shuttered Catholic community center.  Last night walking home from a bar,  I passed a deli with a hand made sign in the front window: “CNA Insurance Sucks.”

As folks fight for rejuvenated, coherent political leadership; insurance proceeds to rebuild; the return of family and friends to the city; and a rebirth of this cultural landscape, the symbolic and physical signs of struggle and progress will continue to dot the landscape.  I’ll try not to get into any more car accidents as my head swivels around, still taking it all in.


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