To her credit Ollie Tyler has made history – – not once, but twice. With the strong backing of civil rights activist Dr. Artis Cash, Tyler became the first black and the first woman to be named Superintendent of Caddo schools in 2003. In 2011, she made history again when she became the first black and first female Louisiana state education superintendent. And if she qualifies in August, Tyler will again make history as the oldest candidate for mayor in Shreveport’s history.
Tyler, or “OT” as reflected in her campaign literature, is 69; she will be over 73 if she completes a four year term as mayor. She is widowed (twice) and a grandmother. She has resided in Baton Rouge for 5 of the last 7 years. Now she wants to be mayor of a city that has lacked real leadership for almost 8 years.
OT has the strong backing of Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover, – – as his second choice. Shreveport Councilman Sam Jenkins, who toted the legislative water for Glover during his first term on the Council, was poised to seek Glover’s spot. (Glover is term limited). Disclosure of several unpaid tax liabilities quickly distanced Big G from Sam. And after his vote to sue Glover’s financial adviser Calvin Grigsby, Jenkins suddenly became Glover’s red-headed step child.
At the same time that Glover was looking for a candidate to ordain, Committee of 100 President Linda Bernacki headed up a search for a female mayoral candidate. Despite her frequent appearance on The Times Sunday social page, Bernacki is a political neophyte who has little clout outside Southern Trace. The same can be said for Roy Grigsby, another big Tyler supporter, who has contributed very little to past political campaigns much less social progress in Shreveport. Reportedly, Bernacki’s first choice, – – DDA Director Liz Swaine quickly declined any interest in leaving her comfortable nest; thus OT is also the second choice for Bernacki.
In her announcement speech Tyler acknowledged that she had much to learn about Shreveport’s government. She said she plans to make several public records requests and travel to other cities during the 6 month campaign to bring her up to speed on Shreveport government; she touted her experience managing the Caddo school system as qualification to be Shreveport’s next mayor. Apparently neither Tyler or her supporters recognize the substantial differences between the operations of a school system versus the hird largest city in Louisiana. Her challenges as school superintendent were basically limited to budgets, curriculum and personnel, – – and for the most part, she had carte blanche to do as she wished. The school board was equally divided by race and was basically non functional during her tenure as superintendent.
Tyler’s last years as Caddo superintendent were not smooth, and when she left office many citizens as well the teachers/staff were disenchanted with her leadership. She cited health reasons for her retirement, – – and there are still questions about her physical ability to run a 6 – 7 month campaign, much less effectively serve as mayor. There was (and still is) “street talk” about Tyler’s involvement with a student and substance abuse while superintendent; these issues will undoubtedly be raised during her campaign.
Tyler received unprecedented coverage in The (Shreveport) Times before and after her campaign announcement; – – 3 articles in less than a week. Obviously her connections with former Times editor Africa Price (the first black Times editor) yielded PR returns; even current editor Alan English attended her announcement. OT and her campaign should not expect excessive press coverage to continue; additionally, they may want to review recent history of endorsements from the Times; – – which have more often then not been the kiss of death for political candidates.
Shreveport’s next mayor will need to hit the ground running; – – working a 50 hours (plus) weekly to deal with the many complex and diverse challenges that Shreveport’s next mayor must address. The new mayor will be dealing with a 7 person council that has started to exercise its muscle as independent body, – – and which will have 2 if not 3 new members. The next mayor’s “to do” list will be very extensive, and unlike a school superintendent, the mayor will be front and center to all Shreveport residents, and for that matter, the entire state.
Although Tyler has proven herself well as an educational administrator, most political observers question her ability to run an effective campaign, much less competently handle the duties and responsibilities of mayor. OT fits the bill for those that want to maintain the status quo under the guise of social progress, – – electing an educated, well spoken attractive black lady who dresses to the nines, and makes history in the process. Tyler basically followed the lead of the downtown business community while serving as Caddo school superintendent, and that same crowd (including Chamber Executive Director Dick Bremer who attended her announcement conference) wants to now put her in City Hall.
Tyler has jumped into the deep end of the political pool where the Shreveport mayor’s face will be conducted. As an in-experienced politician she (and her supporters) will be easy prey for the sharks pushing their agenda as evidenced by those in attendance at her campaign announcement. Most political observers believe this 69-year-old grandmother is over her head.