All politics is local.”
It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
The Tip O’Neill quote is real and applicable to the Louisiana-Second runoff. But the Yogi quote may have been attributed to him by a sportswriter. The New York Yankees Hall of Famer typically went along with quotes that made him seem more colorful than he really was. FYI, the late Yogi Berra had a Louisiana connection. He was a close friend of fellow Yankee great, Ron Guidry, who hails from Lafayette. There was even a book by Harvey Araton about this baseball odd couple, Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry, and Baseball’s Greatest Gift.
Enough baseball trivia. Back to one of the Gret Stet of Louisiana’s favorite sports: Politics.
I had a strong feeling of political déjà vu last Saturday. The candidates in the runoff to replace Cedric Richmond in Congress were veteran New Orleans politicians, state Sens. Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson ( hereinafter KCP.) In 2006, they both ran against scandal-plagued incumbent William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson.
In the 2006 primary election, Troy Carter finished fifth with 12%, while The Artist Then Known As Karen Carter captured second place and a spot in the runoff with 22%. The incumbent won a mere 30%, but went on to blow out Karen Carter 57-43. In Saturday’s runoff, KCP lost by a similar margin to Troy Carter 55-45 who was finally elected to Congress on his third try.
The estimable publisher of this estimable publication wrote an outstanding piece about the two Carters by my estimation. I’ll try not to cover the same territory other than to point out that Dollar Bill Jefferson was then a formidable incumbent with a formidable political machine. The money had been found in his freezer by that point, but he was yet to be indicted. Once that happened, he was defeated by Republican Joseph Cao in a December 2008 runoff. (Troy Carter also ran in 2008 and did poorly in the primary.) Cao returned to obscurity after being beaten like a drum by Cedric Richmond in 2010.
In both the 2006 and 2021 elections, the national media and outside political groups missed the proverbial boat. In 2006, it was characterized as a race between corruption and reform. Ironically, The Artist Then Known As Karen Carter was a cosplay reformer. She was herself a machine politician. Her father, Ken, was one of the founders of the Central City based organization, BOLD. I gave her an unflattering nickname during that campaign, which I no longer use: Princess BOLD.
In 2021, it was characterized as a race between moderates and progressives. In fact, there were few issues on which the two had major substantive disagreements. To those of us who closely follow New Orleans politics, KCP was as unconvincing as a progressive in 2021 as she had been as a reformer in 2006.
In 2021, Troy Carter had some GOP support as did KCP in 2006. It had nothing to do with ideology: Orleans Parish is a one-party state, so Republicans have to land somewhere. This led to fatal overreach by Team KCP in comparing Troy Carter to Donald Trump. Say what? Troy Carter has long been a champion of LGBTQ rights as well as the sponsor of a $15 minimum wage bill in the state senate. Doesn’t sound Trumpy to me, y’all.
New Orleans politics is factional, not ideological. Both Troy Carter and KCP are machine politicians. Troy Carter is a close ally of former Congressman Cedric Richmond who leads one powerful faction in local politics, which is nameless, so l’ll call it the Group With No Name or GWNN. KCP and BOLD typically stand opposed to Richmond. This time the GWNN won but their candidate lost the last Mayor’s election; one reason Mayor Cantrell backed KCP. There’s also a shadow war between Richmond and Cantrell over control of local Democratic politics. Cedric Richmond left Congress but not New Orleans politics. Stay tuned.
After being endorsed by third-place finisher, Gary Chambers, KCP hoped to harness the power of what I call the Hipster Twitter Left. Once again, it turned out to be a paper tiger.
In the interest of transparency, since New Orleans is the world’s largest small town, I’m acquainted with both Carters. I doubt if either remembers me but I never forget chatting with a politician. The two Carters made differing impressions on me. I’ve taken to calling them the Nice Hack and the Nasty Hack. The nice one is going to Washington. The nasty one stays in the state senate. Hopefully, she’ll make more than 15% of the votes this time around.
2006 was also a memorable year in local New Orleans politics. It was my first election as an internet pundit, so I’ll never forget it.
Citywide elections were delayed because of Katrina and the Federal Flood. In the primary, there were 23 Mayoral candidates; including Troy Carter (he was busy that year.) Incumbent C Ray Nagin defeated Mitch Landrieu in the runoff. C Ray promised an exploding economic pie but feathered his own nest instead and landed in jail after leaving office.
The council races were jam packed with new faces. I was then the president of my neighborhood association and involved in organizing a forum for District B candidates. The incumbent, Renee Gill Pratt, was a foot soldier in the Jefferson Machine who I nicknamed Gill Pratfall. She was a terrible councilmember whose staff never returned phone calls or responded to email or even snail mail. Constituent service was not in their repetoire.
My wife and I were deeply involved in that council campaign and befriended several of Gill Pratfall’s challengers. It led to what we called the Garden of Signs:
Gill Pratfall was defeated in a runoff by political neophyte Stacy Head. Head became known for her sharp-tongue and even sharper elbows while serving on the council for 11 years.
Gill Pratfall was later convicted in the corruption trial that helped destroy the Jefferson Machine. Ironically, despite being the highest-ranking public official on trial, she was the stooge of Dollar Bill’s brother Mose, who was also convicted but died before serving his jail sentence.
I knew and liked Mose Jefferson. He was one of the ablest political organizers I’ve ever met as well as a helluva raconteur. Unfortunately, like brother Bill, he was greedy and corrupt. That’s why Dutch Morial dubbed his brother Dollar Bill. He came by that nickname honestly; make that dishonestly.
The story of the fallen Jefferson machine is laden with ironies. It was called the Progressive Democrats. I am not making this up. It’s one reason I’m skeptical of the label progressive when slapped on New Orleans politics.
2006 was also the year of reform. Orleans Parish used to have 444 tax assessors, sheriffs, and clerks of court. I, of course, exaggerate: the number was 7 tax assessors, 2 sheriffs, and 2 clerks of court. In each case, the number was reduced to one. Unfortunately, political hacks were subsequently elected to the newly created posts so, instead of efficiency, we’re still TFC: This Fucking City. It’s why I’m skeptical of the reformer label when affixed to New Orleans politics. Been there, done that.
A few words about the column title. John Fogerty borrowed the Yogism for a 2004 anti-Iraq War anthem: Déjà Vu (All Over Again.) In that instance, it was Bushes, not Carters who gave Fogerty déjà vu. I only steal from the best.
The last word goes to John Fogerty: