John Maginnis is a local political pundit, and he puts out a weekly fax sheet. This week he observed that "Clearly, Nagin would rather be in a runoff with Forman, who has little black support, than with Landrieu, who has the strongest crossover appeal." If this is true, and I believe it is, then you have a good basis upon which to vote strategically.
If you favor Nagin then you’d almost want to vote for Forman in the first round, hoping that the weakest contender would face your guy. If you don’t like Nagin then you’d clearly want to vote for Landrieu.
I like Nagin, and if he were re-elected I wouldn’t panic and start threatening to leave town. Most people thought he was doing a decent job before Katrina hit, and I was one of those people. It’s possible that all of the goofiness that has flowed from Nagin after Katrina is due to stress and due to a burning desire to get re-elected. (Incidentally, if you were the mayor during Katrina and you have a burning desire to get re-elected then obviously that’s a major sign of PTSD).
Here’s the problem with Nagin in a nutshell. The guy is too relaxed. His greatest mayoral moment was when he got on the radio and said that we should cede power to ‘the John Wayne dude.’ It was great because he got worked up, but it was also great because it was (and still is) true. We should grant extensive, but temporaly limited, powers to some potentate who can move things around and get things done. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen.
And, unfortunately, Nagin’s comment (even if it was poignant) was a sign of how his relaxed nature gets the best of him. Nagin doesn’t like to think things through, at least not to include the political angles. He just wants things to get done. And that’s where I consider him a kindred spirit.
The difference between Nagin and me is that I know my way of thinking is ill-suited to a political job like being the mayor. It’s a great way of thinking if you have broad powers that no one can oppose easily. But it’s not a great way of proceeding in a complicated political environment. Since New Orleans has very little power (and is depending greatly on the kindness of strangers) it isn’t a good idea to have a mayor who doesn’t ‘get’ the whole political thing.
Can Forman be a good mayor? I don’t know. Part of me thinks he can and I want to believe that non-politicians can rise quickly to lead us down a restorative path. But, frankly, that’s that same part of my brain that likes Nagin’s relaxed willingness to speak his mind in a largely uncensored fashion. That’s not a part of my brain that deals well with reality.
The reality, it seems, is that we need someone who knows the political process and works well within it. Sure, it immediately makes a lot people nervous when someone is adept at political maneuvering. They think he or she has a vapor-trail of cronies. They think the person is venal and self-aggrandizing. If the thinker is a democrat they fear a George Bush. If they are republican they fear a Bill Clinton.
In New Orleans, sadly, it seems that the calculus is influenced by race. I wish that weren’t the case, but it apparently is. So, if you are a calculating white guy then I guess you fear Ron Forman, and if you are a calculating black guy you fear Mitch Landrieu.
I guess what I fear most are misguided calculations. I know I’m not capable of saying with absolute certainty who would be the best mayor. How could I? How could anyone? All I can say is I’m not going to let my mind be misguided, at least not if I can help it.
I want a mayor who is on his or her toes, someone who is passionate but who uses their passion to fuel a carefully thought-out approach. I don’t want someone who is relaxed and doesn’t censor their thoughts too much, even though I like that sort of person as a friend. So, I don’t want Nagin anymore. I’d be okay with Forman, but I’d rather have Mitch Landrieu.
I don’t know Forman very well. I’ve met him and I like him, and I respect what he’s done with the Audubon Institute. But Mitch I have a clear sense of. He’s fired up and he knows what to do. He’s got good people around him and he’ll work hard to do what’s right, not what’s easy. And he’s definitely not relaxed.