Monday, February 08, 2010

Who Dat! Even Without Saints' Win, It's a Super Time for New Orleans After Katrina

On the Eve of Their Beloved Saints' Come-From-Behind Victory Over the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV -- and Their Annual 10-Day Mardi Gras Blowout -- the Crescent City's Most Famous Family Enjoys a Political Blowout of Their Own as Son of Ex-Mayor Moon Landrieu Wins City Hall By an Overwhelming Landslide, Becoming Mostly-Black New Orleans' First White Mayor in Over 30 Years


Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu embraces his wife, Cheryl, after being elected mayor of New Orleans on Saturday, while his sister, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (far left), cheers him on. Landrieu becomes the predominantly black city's first white mayor since his father, Moon Landrieu, left office in 1978. The outgoing mayor, Ray Nagin, barred by the city charter from seeking a third term, had become a symbol of voters' frustration with the slow pace of recovery in the 4 1/2 years since Hurricane Katrina. Landrieu's election was only part of perhaps the Crescent City's biggest party ever, as its annual Mardi Gras celebration began -- and its beloved Saints overcame a 10-0 first-quarter deficit to defeat the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 Sunday night in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami. (Photo: Rusty Costanza/The Times-Picayune, New Orleans)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Monday, February 8, 2010)


Oh, what a time to be in New Orleans right now.

Not only did the Crescent City's beloved Saints stage a comeback from a 10-0 first-quarter deficit to defeat the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, their victory parade later this week will land right smack dab in the middle of Mardi Gras -- the annual 10-day pre-Lenten blowout of music, parades, parties and rowdiness that this year began on Sunday and ends a week from Tuesday.

Four and a half years after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is in party mode as it's never been before. The traditional purple, green and gold colors of Mardi Gras have this year given way to the black-and-gold colors of the Saints. If there was any place that needed a major morale boost after all it's gone through since the agony of 2005, it's New Orleans.

But that's not all.

For the Crescent City's most famous political family, the celebration -- with the traditional Mardi Gras greeting of "Who Dat!" "Who Dat!" -- got under way a day early as Louisiana's lieutenant governor, Mitch Landrieu, scored an overwhelming landslide victory over five opponents to be elected mayor.


Landrieu's victory is historic in that he will not only become the predominantly black city's first white mayor since his father, Moon Landrieu, left office in 1978, but also the second son of a former mayor to become mayor in his own right. The younger Landrieu, a Democrat, racked up 66 percent of the vote in the nonpartisan open primary.

Landrieu, a former Louisiana state legislator who twice before ran unsuccessfully for mayor, will remain lieutenant governor until he is sworn in as mayor on May 6. It was not clear as The 'Skeeter Bites Report neared its late Sunday-night deadline whom, if anyone, would serve the remaining two years of Landrieu's second term in the largely ceremonial post.

The results marked only the second time since the city adopted its open primary system in 1975 that a mayoral candidate was elected outright without a runoff. The last time it happened was in 1998, when then-incumbent Mayor Marc Morial -- whose own father, Ernest "Dutch" Morial, became New Orleans' first African-American mayor 20 years earlier -- easily won a second term over token opposition.

Marc Morial is now the president and CEO of the National Urban League, the nation's second-oldest civil-rights organization, which this month is celebrating its centennial anniversary.

Exit polls found Landrieu drew unexpectedly strong crossover support from African-Americans, who make up a two-thirds majority of the city's residents. Landrieu's chief opponent, businessman and fellow Democrat Troy Henry, who is black, finished a distant second, with 14 percent of the vote.

In an unprecedented show of unity, Henry appeared at Landrieu's victory celebration at the Roosevelt Hotel in downtown New Orleans to personally congratulate Landrieu on his victory.

"The people of the city of New Orleans did a very extraordinary thing today," Landrieu told his supporters. "We decided that we were going to stick the pole in the ground and strike a blow for unity, strike a blow for a city that decided to be unified rather than be divided, a city that understands that where there is equal opportunity, there is equal responsibility. It is a city that really understands that we are ready to move beyond and into the next generation."

Outgoing Mayor Ray Nagin, barred by the city charter from seeking a second term, declined to endorse either candidate in the race. But Nagin did join Landrieu and Henry in calling for unity.


For Nagin, it was perhaps a good thing that he could not run for a third term, for if he had been able to run again, he likely would have been defeated. Nagin had become a symbol of voters' frustration with the slow pace of recovery from Katrina. More than four years after the hurricane devastated the city's Lower Ninth Ward, much of the neighborhood remains a wasteland.

Much like Bobby Jindal's 2007 gubernatorial victory was powered by statewide voter frustration with his predecessor Kathleen Blanco's handling of the aftermath of the hurricane, Landrieu was able to take advantage of New Orleans voters' frustration with the slow pace of the city's post-Katrina recovery under Nagin, whose job-approval ratings fell to a record-low 20 percent, according to a recent poll by New Orleans television station WWL-TV.

But Landrieu also enjoyed very strong voter support across the board, especially among African-Americans, whose support for his family dates back to his father's tenure as mayor, during which the elder Landrieu broke down decades of employment practices that discriminated against blacks -- particularly on the city's police force -- and appointed blacks to many top management positions in his administration.

A pre-election poll conducted by Xavier University showed Landrieu with a strong overall lead of 54 percent, followed by Henry at a distant nine percent and a third candidate, multimillionaire businessman John Georges, with eight percent. Georges spent more than $3 million of his own money in his campaign.

The poll found that Landrieu enjoyed a solid 58 percent support among African-American voters compared to only 13 percent for Henry and six percent for Georges. Among white voters, Landrieu led with 66 percent, compared to nine percent for Georges and only three percent for Henry.


But the 49-year-old Landrieu may also have been helped by a backlash triggered by a botched attempt last month by a right-wing activist and three accomplices to tamper with the New Orleans office telephones of his older sister, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Lousiana).

Activist/filmmaker James O'Keefe and three other men -- one of whom is the son of a federal prosecutor -- allegedly posed as repairmen from the local telephone company, saying that they needed to "fix" technical problems with Senator Landrieu's phones.

O'Keefe, Stan Dai, Robert Flanagan and Joseph Basel are all accused by the FBI of "malicious tampering" of the senator's phones. Earlier reports that the four were charged with attempting to wiretap the phone were denied by the FBI. Flanagan is the son of acting U.S. Attorney Bill Flanagan, who is based in Shreveport, Louisiana.

O'Keefe drew national headlines for his video sting of the liberal community activist group ACORN last fall, in which he and a female accomplice posed as a pimp and a prostitute and shot videos in ACORN offices where staffers appeared to offer illegal tax advice and to support the misuse of public funds.

ACORN quickly retaliated with a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against O'Keefe, accusing the activist of violating a Maryland state law by recording its staffers -- since fired -- at its Baltimore office without their knowledge or consent.


Earlier on Sunday, the Mardi Gras celebrations kicked off in earnest, but the traditional purple, green and gold colors gave way to black and gold, hundreds of thousands of revelers celebrating their beloved Saints.

Fans of the Boston Red Sox like to refer to themselves as the Red Sox Nation. In New Orleans, fans of the Saints call themselves the Who Dat Nation. And it showed in the opening Mardi Gras parades on Sunday. Members of the Krewe of Alla, in addition to the traditional beads, Moon Pies and other goodies, also tossed out NFL referee flags and Nerf footballs in honor of the Saints, during their parade through Jefferson Parish.

The Krewe of Push Mow transformed their parade through the New Orleans suburb of Abita Springs into a pre-Super Bowl rally for the Saints, with thousands of revelers decked out in the team's black-and-gold colors.


But the biggest parade in the city's history will now come later this week, when the victorious Saints come marching home after their stunning come-from-behind 31-17 Super Bowl victory over the Colts.

As soon as Saints cornerback Tracy Porter intercepted Colts quarterback Payton Manning's pass for a 75-yard touchdown return in the fourth quarter to ice the game, the Crescent City went happily bonkers, with thousands of revelers jamming Bourbon Street, boogying to the strains of "When the Saints Go Marching In" and greeting anyone and everyone with the traditional Mardi Gras greeting that became a Saints rallying cry: " Who Dat!" "Who Dat!"

By deadline time, the celebration in the French Quarter was still going strong -- and was likely to last all through Mardi Gras week.

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Volume V, Number 10
Copyright 2010, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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