Two major dailies have picked up on race in the New Orleans mayoral race with this week's New York Times headline Race Assumes Central Role in New Orleans Mayoral Contest on the heels of the LA Times In New Orleans, a White Mayoral Candidate Leads the Field.
In a news cycle where Senate Majority Harry Reid's off the record Game Change comments about President Barack Obama as a "light skinned African American with no negro dialect unless he wanted to have one," a national dialogue on racial sensitivity reflects a racial dialogue that has long been simmering in New Orleans. The meme was present in last night's Urban League Civil Rights and Race Relations Debate although Mitch Landrieu, the candidate described in the LA Times article, was not present.
Candidates sparred for two hours, sometimes contentiously with only 22 days left to stand out in the race before what is expected to be a runoff. The debate kicked off with the moderator referencing the recent New York Times headline and the topic of equality was at the forefront for the next two hours.
Troy Henry, who once called a press conference to complain about the media's racial coverage of the race, described his 9th Ward roots and a recurring theme of making New Orleans "The most desired city in America." He also described what he perceived as a move to bring about a white governing majority and neutralize black political power in the city. His audible response to Perry mentioning that he was engaged in civil rights work while Henry was working at Enron was a continuation of their heated WBOK Radio exchange that morning.
Former judge Nadine Ramsey emphasized restoring honesty and integrity to city hall. Her recurring theme throughout the night was bringing all parties to the table for equal access to business opportunities. She described the divide between white economic power and black political power in the city, and listed ways in which she would utilize her skills as a judge. "We have to be fair. We have to have policies that allow minority women and disadvantaged companies to come to the table."
Perry stated that events in Haiti brought him back to the time after Hurricane Katrina. "My entire family lost their homes. It was difficult to watch on television." He described New Orleans as still being shockingly racially segregated. "We are a city that's been divided by political leadership. They've divided and conquered by race."
The most heated exchanges of the night were when Perry more than once referenced John Georges' description of a potential Midcity LSU hospital as a plantation in a previous debate. Perry had revisited the issue in a contentious three hour WBOK radio debate that morning. "He said I was immature for asking him about using the term plantation to describe a community here. As longtime civil rights advocate working in the trenches, I am offended he would use the term and say he was offended by my questioning him about it. It's an offensive and painful thing. We need real dialogue, not to use racially insensitive jokes for political gain."
Georges countered that "Picking on our imperfections is what's dividing us. I used the word plantation and nobody said anything at the time." He stated that he had meant the rural size of the university, but Perry used a later question to revisit the issue.
"I'm not trying to beat up on you John, but I see this as a teachable moment. What you said is that no one was offended. There's a difference between a piece of land tied up in bureaucratic red tape and a piece of land used to enslave people, where people are lynched. You should not use that rhetoric, it's just that simple."
Full coverage of the debate continues on NewOrleans.com.
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