Although I cannot be entirely neutral, I can offer a singular perspective on a story that has already sent shockwaves around the city of Alexandria.
My father died during the spring semester of my freshman year, which had created an open wound in the lives of my entire family and had left me feeling directionless, except for the route back to Alexandria. For the past twelve years, with the exception of my own immediate family, there has been no one more important or more influential to me than Jacques Roy.
He gave me my first real job outside of my family’s business. Because of him, I had the opportunity to serve my own community, and I relished it. During the past twelve years, as I have flexed my writing muscles, Jacques has been my fiercest critic and my greatest champion. He is the reason I attended law school. In the absence of my own father, Jacques adopted me like a son. Even though I haven’t lived in Alexandria or worked for him in an official capacity for more than seven years (with the exception of a two-month, part-time consultancy), we still talk almost every day.
So, I feel a special obligation to tell this story and to tell it right.
Roy also served three terms as the President of the Louisiana Conference of Mayors.
During his twelve years in office, Roy planned and implemented the largest infrastructure reinvestment initiative in city history, which jump-started the revitalization of its downtown. He lobbied for and won a bid to locate the new $23 million community college campus in downtown, and he successfully negotiated the sale and subsequent renovation of a city-owned hotel and convention center, which had fallen into disrepair and had become a toxic asset.
Throughout his tenure as mayor, Roy worked at a frenetic pace, dramatically overhauling city government and demanding ethical, accountable, and transparent governance.
His work on environmental projects and smart growth planning received national acclaim. Roy won the largest grant ever awarded by the state of Louisiana for resiliency planning, a program he called ThinkAlex, which resulted in a complete overhaul of the city’s antiquated zoning laws. He hosted two major summits on best practices in municipal policy, which were praised by planning and crime prevention experts from across the country. He oversaw the massive, multi-million dollar clean-up of the Ruston Foundry, a Superfund site, and he implemented the city’s very first brownfield remediation program.
He also created an award-winning initiative to diversify the ways in which the city receives its energy, securing significantly cheaper rates and better providing for the city’s ability to self-generate electricity, and he negotiated a mega-million dollar settlement with CLECO, which refunded citizens and businesses for overcharges by the utility company.
Roy created the city’s very first film initiative, its first office of economic development, its first diversity hiring and contracting program, and SafeAlex, its first comprehensive neighborhood watch program, which received a top award from the Louisiana Municipal Association.
He also launched two incredible festivals, RiverFete and WinterFete, which also received a top award from the Louisiana Municipal Association.
“I am excited, resolute even, to be able to stick with my often-expressed belief in a self-imposed limit of three terms, just as we have in our state legislature,” he wrote in his announcement. “It allows new blood, fresh ideas, and new players, which are vital to democracies.”
In his statement, he references a recent poll, which was conducted last week. “(I)ndependent surveying shows our likely win over any rumored matchups—one-on-one or winning outright against any field,” he stated.
I’ve reviewed the poll results personally, and that isn’t all it says.
According to the poll, which was conducted last week with 400 voters, Jacques Roy currently enjoys the highest approval ratings of any major elected official in Central Louisiana.
In Alexandria, his approval is 26 points higher than Donald Trump’s and 35 points higher than state Rep. Lance Harris, and if he were to run again, he would likely win by a 20-point margin, no matter who ran against him.
The people of Alexandria truly admire Jacques Roy, just as they admired his predecessor, Ned Randolph.
It was the first truly competitive campaign in twenty years, the consequence of Mayor Randolph’s decision to retire after serving five consecutive terms. And it was also the first campaign in which I had ever played an active role; it also happened to be one of the nastiest and craziest races in the city’s history, which made it a particularly instructive experience for a rookie political observer like me.
At the time, the City of Alexandria was in the middle of a landmark lawsuit against the utility giant CLECO, which, according to two whistleblowers, had systematically overcharged city ratepayers for several years. Roy was the lawyer for the two whistleblowers, which meant that he knew more about the case, worth tens of millions of dollars in value, than anyone else, including the city’s own lawyers.
The dollar signs in front of the case made it particularly ripe for political corruption and shenanigans. The City Council had entered into lucrative contingency fee agreements with local attorneys whose only qualifications were their friendships and, in at least one case, pre-existing business relationships with council members.
The whole thing reeked, and Roy put the case front and center in his campaign, pledging to clean up the arrangements and ensure that citizens wouldn’t lose millions to a group of politically-connected attorneys.
Roy was the final candidate to announce, and at the time, it appeared the race would be between Delores Brewer, a white Republican and Mayor Randolph’s chief of staff, and Roosevelt Johnson, an African-American Democrat who had been elected to an at-large seat on the City Council only two years prior. Roy’s last-minute entrance into the race was a surprise, and it immediately changed the dynamics of the election.
With the help of a nationally award-winning direct mail campaign led by Ourso Beychok, Roy quickly surged into the lead.
He captured 33% of the vote in the crowded primary, and Roosevelt Johnson, who ran an extraordinary campaign with very few resources (famously knocking on the door of every home in the entire city), missed the run-off by a razor thin margin; only 17 votes separated him from Delores Brewer.
Roy won the general election against Brewer in a landslide, with 76% of the vote.
Roy would win his next two elections in the primary, and Johnson would rebound from his loss, recapture his old seat on the City Council, and become one of Mayor Roy’s most important allies. Delores Brewer found a place in city government as well; she currently serves as Roy’s Director of Planning.
In my opinion, the greatest disappointment we experienced (and I say “we” because I was a member of his administration at the time) was the defeat of a multi-million dollar proposal to revitalize the site of the Hodges Stockyard in Lower Third, a majority-minority neighborhood that had suffered from decades of disinvestment and neglect.
Today, there are newly-constructed apartments on the site, but the City’s initial plan would have been far superior. It was a brilliant redevelopment proposal, a mixed-use and mixed-income development that included a pharmacy and a small grocery store. But for reasons I will never entirely understand, the City Council narrowly rejected the plan, even though it involved only a negligible public investment in infrastructure improvements.
(Although this occurred years after I left and was not a consequence of any decision made by Roy or his administration, I was similarly disappointed in the Rapides Parish Police Jury’s decision to invest more than $25 million to renovate the dilapidated Rapides Parish Coliseum instead of partnering on a new arena development at the site of the cleaned-up Ruston Foundry.)
Regardless, Roy’s decision not to seek a fourth term had little to do with frustrations he had with three members of the City Council. Indeed, he had been planning to run again, despite his own desire to seek out other opportunities and despite the annoying and unsolicited advice from me and some of his other close friends to pursue those opportunities, because, first and foremost, Jacques Roy cares about the city and the people of Alexandria. That may sound like political spin, but it’s the honest truth. When it appeared that no other serious candidate was willing to step up, Roy felt an obligation to continue.
But late last week, with the qualification deadline looming, he made a phone call to his former chief of staff Kay Michiels. Years ago, she had told him that she had wanted to run for office one day, and he believed, for several good reasons, that a candidate like Kay Michiels would be a faithful steward of the public fisc and would be able to ensure the continuity of government.
Earlier tonight, Michiels announced her candidacy in a brief statement to the media. She is expected to make a more formal announcement in the next day or two.
I’ve reminded him of Carville’s quip frequently, because in the twelve years I’ve known him, I have seen him inspire and motivate countless young leaders across the state. What Carville meant was that Roy represents the future of the party, but, as long as he remains mayor, he will never be able to become anything else.
Beginning almost immediately after his first election, he has been recruited countless times to seek out higher political office, and in 2016, he seriously contemplated a bid for the U.S. Senate seat left open by David Vitter. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee recruited him, and he would have made a formidable candidate. Ultimately, though, he felt obligated to finish his term in Alexandria.
I do not know and can make no prediction about what the next chapter will be in Roy’s career, but I know for certain that he will continue to serve the public; it is his passion, his raison d’etre.
I also know for certain that his leadership in Alexandria wasn’t just inspiring; it was brilliant and transformative.
My hometown is forever a better place because of his service, and I am a better person because of his extraordinary friendship.