…A Big Tease & A False Hope
Its not unusual for a retired elected official to maintain a public persona after his term in office ends, or at least attempt to do so. Although most say they relish going back to private life, many miss the day to day excitement of being the “go-to” guy who can always generate a media buzz. Certainly, this must be the case with former Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower whose good looks, business success, and personal charisma put him in the center of any political or social gathering he attends.
Since his mayoral term ended in December of 2006, Hightower’s name has constantly been mentioned for future political office, including the Louisiana Secretary of State office and the U.S. House of Representatives, among others. And its no real surprise that most discussions of the 2014 mayoral race focus on the “What is Keith going to do?” question.
Its been sixteen (16) years since Hightower last ran a contested political race; he unseated Republican Mayor Robert W. “Bo” Williams in the primary election in 1998. Hightower led with 20,250 votes (42 percent) to Williams’ 13,637 (28 percent); three other candidates, two Democrats and another Republican, divided the remaining 30 percent of the ballots. Williams, who trailed by nearly 7,000 votes, declined to proceed to a general election, and Hightower hence won the position outright.
Hightower was reelected with 75 percent of the vote in 2002 over the conservative Republican Vernon D. Adams. Hightower polled 31,054 votes to Adams’ 10,611. This election was not a contest from the get-go and Hightower did not expend any real energy to win a second term.
To say Shreveport’s political world has drastically changed since Hightower last held office is an understatement. The city’s economic climate has diminished, its population growth declined, and its racial composition changed in that interim. Much of Hightower’s initial political success was attributable to his political maneuvering with the African-American community in exchange for political support. Those days are now over; Shreveport has had a black mayor for eight years and a “black votes for black appointments/inclusion” campaign is no longer a campaign carrot.
Support from the white community for a Hightower election bid will be much less enthusiastic than in 1998: many perceive that his time as mayor greatly benefitted his childhood friend Scott Pernici and Hightower’s continued business association with him will definitely be a campaign negative. Additionally, hard core Republicans (who have been invigorated by the recent Commission bond defeat) will actively oppose Hightower; they undoubtedly will dig up any and all skeletons imaginable, including Hightower’s former ties to Senator Greg Tarver.
Mayor Glover’s hard picked financial advisor Calvin Grigsby lashed out at Hightower, along with current city elected officials, recently in a widely circulated diatribe. Although Grigsby’s credibility is questioned by many, his allegations of financial mismanagement by the Hightower administration has gained some traction, especially in the black community. Without a doubt Grigsby’s rant has blown fresh air on smoldering embers of discontent held by many Hightower distractions. [Rose McCullouch supports Grigsby in Shreveport Sun]&[Stephanie Lynch Supports Mayor & Grigsby]
Hightower should also not count on much, if any, support from the black community. Many black voters are incensed by the notion that Hightower may be viewed by some in the white community as the “Last Great White Hope”, or even worse, that Hightower may have a plantation mentality toward the black community. Either way, Hightower can expect very active opposition by many black leaders and politicos who have now feel fully enfranchised after eight years of a black mayor.
The 2014 mayoral election will be on a playing field substantially different from Hightower’s 1998 race, and the political dynamics in Shreveport are not as favorable to Hightower as many believe. High poll numbers for name recognition do not guarantee votes at the polls, and the slow start of the mayoral campaign may undermine perceived Hightower voter support. In the meantime the tease of a Hightower campaign is alive and well, although the real hope of a Hightower victory is quietly fading.