Huffpost Politics
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Melissa Harris-Lacewell Headshot

Why I'm Proud of James Perry and Why He Needs Your Help

Posted: Updated:

Last week the national media finally turned it's attention to the New Orleans mayoral election. The coverage was predictably disappointing. The city is facing arguably the most important election in its history, and the New York Times decided to report the more sensational, but less substantive issue of whether the city would elect its first white mayor since the 1970s.

I've spent the year working on the New Orleans mayoral campaign of my partner, James Perry. The view from inside James' campaign is very different. After a year of hard work and tough choices, I can easily say that I have never been more proud of any candidate for any office as I am of James Perry and his campaign.

This has been a busy and crowded race. Candidates have dropped in and out. Some have been white. Some black. Most candidates have debated whether to run or to keep running based on whether they thought they could win. Some of these candidates were using racial considerations as they made their calculations.

While our opponents have been weighing and measuring their personal gain; the problems in New Orleans have remained the same: a shameful murder rate, crumbling infrastructure, stalled economic recovery, ubiquitous blight, and the continuing challenges of post-Katrina recovery.

All the drama, dishonesty and race baiting in the New Orleans mayoral campaign has made the candidacy of James Perry stand out.

James was among the first to announce his intention to run and has never wavered from that decision. He didn't waver when money got tight or when the attacks got ugly because James is not running for himself. He is running for his city.

Some of our opponents are playing the race card from the bottom of the deck. But James has refused to do it. When the leading African American candidate ended his mayoral bid citing fear of a racial divisive run-off election, James immediately issued a statement encouraging the city to be honest about race.

He pointed to the continuing racial segregation in New Orleans' neighborhoods and schools. But he went on to say that far too many politicians have used race as a wedge issue to divide the city. He argued that far too many private business interests have willingly profited from this political abuse.

Refusing to use race as a wedge, James has asked the city to come together and find common solutions to the problems that face everyone. It is not about electing a black mayor, or a white mayor, it's about electing the right mayor. James is the right person to be mayor.

In an election where some of our opponents are padding their resume and misrepresenting their professional credentials and accomplishments, James' career speaks for its self. James is a civil rights advocate who has spent his entire career working for just one goal: a more fair and equitable New Orleans for everyone.

As a young law graduate James had many opportunities to pursue a legal career that could have made him personally wealthy. Many of these opportunities were outside New Orleans. Instead, James chose a career leading a community non-profit. This means he hasn't made much money, but he stayed right in New Orleans, living in the 7th ward, where he bought a blighted home that he worked tirelessly to restore.

He made that choice a second time after Hurricane Katrina. Turning down dozens of offers to make a start a new career elsewhere, James returned to the city he loved just weeks after the storm. He committed himself to helping his parents and family in New Orleans East recover and rebuild. He reopened his organization and helped his staff recover. He fought for fair terms for citizens returning to the city.

After deciding to stay home in New Orleans, James decided to work and make New Orleans a better and fairer community. He has spent nearly a decade pursuing hundreds of cases of housing discrimination. His efforts in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast both before and after Hurricane Katrina have been focused on enforcing the law, which ensures that citizens have a right to live and work safely in any community they choose.

Most important, although he has worked tirelessly on behalf of racial fairness, James has resisted race-baiting or racially polarizing attacks.

James refuses to provoke racial anxiety even though his work has made him the target of racist attacks for years. For example, After James' organization was awarded a grant to help investigate housing discrimination he received an email stating: "no more crackheads in my hood please."

"I don't recall Dr. King preaching for free handouts, drive by shootings, and welfare babies all over town." This was a response to his announcement of an annual celebration of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther, King Jr. that his organization has sponsored years.

As he sat in a courthouse during a racial discrimination case James was repeatedly called "nigger." It is not unusual for James to receive death threats when he is prosecuting a particularly public anti-discrimination case. James has never used these experiences as a reason to encourage distrust or division. Instead he has just worked for what is right.

In 2009, James' work in the city was honored at an annual dinner of civil rights lawyers. NAACP President Julian Bond was the keynote speaker. We attended the dinner together and I have never been so proud as I when I watched Julian Bond, a man with a lifetime of civil rights accomplishments, congratulate James and thank him for continuing the struggle.

Politics is ugly business. When James and I discussed his decision to enter the mayor's race we knew the path would be difficult. But James is a servant leader who has made personal financial sacrifices, stayed rooted in his community, and put himself in harms ways to ensure that New Orleans is a fair and just city.

Some in the national media have described this critical, important election as "lackluster." But I know better. I met a Katrina survivor living in New York who came out on a cold night in December to meet James. She was so inspired by his vision that she gave him the last $25 she had for the month. He tried to return it, but she insisted that this was her way of making sure her city would be a place to which she could return. There is nothing lackluster about a candidate that inspiring.

With less than three weeks until the primary on February 6, I hope that the national progressive community will look past the narrow and divisive reporting of the national media and use this opportunity to support an exceptional candidate. This time New Orleans can make the right choice.

All of us can help by providing the financial support that will help James get his message to voters. He has a vision for city safety, youth investment, fair recovery and racial healing. Supporting this candidate will make you proud. It certainly makes me proud.

I hope you'll take a moment, right now, to donate $5, $25 or $50 or whatever you can afford to help elect a true leader, a true progressive in New Orleans.