by Elliott Stonecipher
There is broad agreement that both our city’s financial condition and human infrastructure at city hall are in near-crisis condition. Even given that governmental transparency and the rule of law are not respected by our current mayor, ample facts have emerged from some city council members and city employees to underscore the seriousness of the challenge. Much of the citizenry seems troublingly disinterested, as does too much of the news media.
Paradoxically, accompanying these circumstances is a broad acceptance that a certain group of Shreveporters need not apply for the job of mayor. To date, it is true that five-of-five unofficially announced candidates are African-American, but that is self-selection by their white brethren, and not their responsibility. The response from our citizenry to the city’s woes must be more along the lines of “all hands on deck!” than “don’t worry … we’ve got this” from one-half of us. Shreveport needs – no, must have – the best person available to do this job, regardless of race, gender or anything else. I believe that is indisputable.
I have argued all such points repeatedly in various settings, and while I readily acknowledge the related math, it is certainly not determinative. The issue is the strength of the candidate. Racial or any other kind of exclusivity is not a luxury Shreveport can afford.
These, of course, are the arguments I and others made for years in promotion of bi-racial leadership … when government was, then, more or less all-white.
Turnout, Not Registration
In Shreveport, with African-Americans a 52% majority of registered voters, a key in our November 4th election will be turnout by race. The primary election this year, however, may end up with African-Americans casting as high as 55% of the vote. That expectation is based in both the number of elections on the ballot, and which elections those are. Included with the Shreveport municipal elections may be a 4th Congressional District race, a Public Service Commission race, and, most importantly, Mary Landrieu’s U. S. Senate race, the one which may well increase the percentage of votes cast by African-Americans.
Bar none, no white, statewide elected official has more consistently turned out extraordinary numbers of black voters than our state’s senior U. S. Senator. In the 2006 mayoral run-off in which Cedric Glover was elected by a 54% to 46% margin over Jerry Jones, Senator Landrieu engineered and executed a powerfully strong, never before seen, black voter turnout effort for Glover, her very close ally. It is no stretch to say Glover likely owes his mayoralty to that Landrieu magic, a debt he yet works diligently to repay. Various sources now report that Senator Landrieu, in hope of maximizing turnout as necessary to pull her own electoral chestnuts out of the fire, will dispatch our term-limited mayor to run in the 4th District congressional race, along with various Landrieu political soldiers thus set to qualify in an assortment of other elections around the state.
But, all of that is in the primary election.
A December Run-off
The key point in this discussion is that Louisiana’s primary election date, November 4th, is the nation’s general election date. So, if the expected (remember, check your expectations, hats and guns at the door) occurs, and the mayoral race ends with one black and one white in a run-off, what will that December turnout be and what difference will that make? Even if conventional wisdom proves accurate, and Mary Landrieu is in a run-off with a Republican primary survivor, will turnout again favor the black candidate in the mayoral run-off also on that ballot? After all, the gusher of national money into Louisiana, and thus into turnout, will not again gush. Are we then back to voter registration margins of 52% to 48%, black versus non-black, or maybe even closer to 50% / 50%? And what if Landrieu, owing to the dramatic splitting of the Republican vote in her race, wins re-election outright in November and isn’t on that December ballot at all?
Racial Cross-Over Vote the Key
As recent mayoral races in New Orleans have proven, when black and white voter registration percentages are relatively close, the key to winning is obvious: the winner must best their opponent in getting more opposite-race votes. If the turnout in a runoff for Shreveport mayor ended up at precisely 50% black and 50% white votes, and if each candidate gets 85% of their same-race vote plus 15% of the other race vote, the election would end in a dead-heat. So, a white candidate with 85% of the white vote and 16% of the black vote, wins over a black candidate with the remaining 84% of the black vote and 15% of the white vote.
Contrary to that example, experience teaches that white voters are more likely to vote across racial lines than are black voters, though not necessarily by large margins. It is the candidate’s political party affiliation that telegraphs the decisive punch: run-offs between any given white Democrat and any given black Democrat here would be a push, those between a white Independent and a black Democrat marginally favor the African-American, and those between a white Republican and a black Democrat definitely favor the latter.
The Best Woman or Man
Obviously, the need of this election math disappears with the qualification for election of particularly strong candidates, and/or those with auspicious timing. A super-qualified candidate, or one who happens into just the right race at just the right time, cancel any need for number-crunching. When the right candidate for the right race shows up, toss the math in deference to the incalculables.
Native Shreveporter and long-time resident that I am, of this I am certain: our most serious problems are on us, no one else. What’s missing are stewards of the public trust, no matter how old-fashioned that sounds. The directive of that phrase is that a leader set aside self-interest for the city’s good. In other words, that person must mean the hand-on-Bible Oath by which they are sworn to serve.
CORRECTION: In a recent article concerning Senator Landrieu I wrote about a National Public Radio program in which I participated “… during Senator Landrieu’s last re-election campaign.” Too late, I caught the error: I was interviewed during the senator’s 2002 re-election campaign, not her “last” campaign in 2008.
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is requested and appreciated.