5 Reasons Tomorrow’s Election Doesn’t Matter

Jordan Flaherty
Date Published: 
May 19, 2006


Local and national media have proclaimed that tomorrow New Orleanians will participate in an historic election. Scores of media from around the world have descended on our city to cover the results, and two mayoral debates have been broadcast nationally. However, in a city where elections are always a major production, many organizers opinions on the candidates begin with a resigned shrug.

“I’m voting for Nagin,” Cedric, a recently returned seventh ward resident told me last week, after a long sigh. “I never thought I’d vote for him, but I guess I never thought any of this would happen.”

“Maybe Mitch can do something, I don’t know,” a former neighbor says with resignation.

Beyond the distrust of the candidates, there’s a feeling that the fate of the city has moved far beyond the influence of any local elected official. “I don’t believe either of them are telling the truth,” said a New Orleans-born health care worker. “And even if they are, I don’t think they can make a difference.”

Countering the media hype, below are five reasons – out of many – that Saturday’s election doesn’t matter.

1) Hurricane FEMA

      With their recent announcement that they are ending rent subsidies for thousands of New Orleans’ displaced, FEMA has continued their tradition of exacerbating tragedy and loss. For anyone that has had to deal with FEMA, the federal agency has come to represent all that is wrong with our country’s disaster response. No matter who is mayor, its clear that the federal government will not be on our side.

2) Public Housing Under Attack

      New Orleans residents did not elect Richard Baker, the Baton Rouge congressman who said, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." They didn’t have a say in the selection of Alphonso Jackson, the HUD secretary who announced last September that New Orleans is “not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again." For the thousands of former public housing residents who have been prevented from returning home - even to undamaged apartments - there are no elected officials advocating for them.

3) "Separate But Equal" Schools

      New Orleans education system has been falling apart for decades; especially since the integration battles of the sixties, when white families pulled their children – and their tax dollars – out of the schools. Now, of 119 schools, only twenty have re-opened, fifteen of them as charter schools, not accountable to the school board, the mayor, or Black communities. In a recent article describing the seizing of Fortier– a historically Black high school – for a white-run charter school, Vaughn Morton writes, the “wealthy white elite and their middle-class supporters had no place for black people in their vision of a better New Orleans. First they starved the schools to death by refusing to fund them adequately; now they are building a new city on the bones of the old.”

4) No More Free Health Care

      For years, Louisiana state politicians have been hoping to eliminate Charity Hospital System - the nation's only statewide healthcare network built to provide free quality care for poor people. Ignoring the objections of former doctors from the hospital - who affirm that the New Orleans Charity Hospital is safe and ready to re-open - state officials refuse to act, leading to a city without enough hospital beds for its current population, and limited health care options for those without health insurance.

5) The Fix Is In

      No matter who wins, this election will be decided under the shadow of the disenfranchisement of a huge percentage of New Orleanians. Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater brags that twenty thousand absentee and in-state satellite votes have been received, as if it’s a huge accomplishment. However, with more than 200,000 New Orleanians displaced, that number is a drop in the bucket. “They act like 36% voter turnout (for the primary) is a victory,” one voting rights activist told me, “but in an election like this, it should be more like 70%.” With this many people kept from voting, he added “the word turnout is a misnomer, we need another nomenclature.” Maybe something like theft.

      For many displaced New Orleanians, the results of this election were decided long ago, and there is little surprise at the obstacles placed in the way of their votes. “It looks like they’re going to decide without us,” Theron, a New Orleans-born spoken word poet, told me during February phone call from Dallas, where he has resettled. “Whichever it turns out to be, Its all been done, and there’s no place for us anymore."

      There is no doubt that our local politicians failed us – as did state and federal politicians, relief agencies, and the corporate media, who promised a national dialogue on race and then quickly went back to reporting on trivia.

      New Orleans needs a mayor who will lead a fight nationally for justice for our city, explaining the relevance of New Orleans’ plight to a skeptical nation and linking our struggle to the issues of racism and corporatization people are facing everywhere, but few here foresee either Nagin or Landrieu playing that role. However, there is a grassroots movement that is doing just that, and they will continue to do so, no matter who our mayor is.