By Jeff Thomas
Negative campaigns have been around for a long time. And in Louisiana where political campaigning is as important as football and gumbo, politicians have been taking swipes at each other for three hundred years. And some of the best negative campaign ads originated right here in good ole Looziana. In an appearance on the TV show Sixty Minutes, former Governor Edwin Edwards famously commented on the intelligence of his opponent by saying, Governor Treen takes an hour and a half to watch Sixty Minutes.
And nationally negative campaign ads have been known to dramatically change elections. The most famous was George Bush using the Willie Horton ads. In case you forgot, Michael Dukakis was soundly defeating Bush until the former President ran a series of ads about Horton, a convicted murderer who had been released on a weekend furlough when he subsequently raped a white woman and brutalized her fiancé. Horton was black and whites in America flocked to Bush who went on to soundly defeat Dukakis. And political consultants had a new negative ad strategy – the black boogeyman.
While scholars debate the effectiveness of negative campaign ads, research shows that negative campaigning has grown steadily over the past decade (see chart). And since back loading negative campaign ads is more effective than running ads at the start of campaigns, it’s no surprise that the attack ads on Desiree Charbonnet have surfaced.
Crossing the Line
Let’s examine the attacks on Desiree Charbonnet. Sidney Torres calls her a corrupt politician who “did favors for a politico convicted of bribery”. Charbonnet says 18 years ago, she hired former Congressman Bill Jefferson’s niece by marriage. (By the way, Jefferson has been released from jail and is back in NOLA because he really wasn’t guilty?) Following this logic, we must believe Torres, the Chalmatian, is racist, because everybody knows that people who have deep roots in Chalmette are racist. Guilt by association is the only requirement for Torres, soooo….. And I did not see any black media asking questions at the debate Torres hosted.
Terrible Mayoral Debate
Troy Henry’s outstanding performance was the only good thing about the thinly attended debate. The optics were horrible. Almost every local media outlet refused to participate in the debate. They were left with some old grumpy white guys and a token young white woman peppering the black candidates for mayor of the city of New Orleans with tough sounding questions, while Torres glared menacingly on the side. The reality TV star couldn’t wait to yell “you’re corrupt and fired” and started running these attack ads against Charbonnet. Torres seems more like the spoiled rich kid who didn’t get his way and has enough money to pout in the media. Yet it’s Torres who won a no bid garbage contract from the city of New Orleans, after donating $50,000 to Ray Nagin’s campaign. His charge of corruption rings hollow.
RACE IS NOW A FACTOR
More heinous than the bratty rantings of a young rich guy, are the actions of the proclaimed business leaders of New Orleans. Under the guise of negative campaigning, they have launched a racially charged smear campaign to effect white voters in NOLA. Every page of every ad mailed against Ms. Charbonnet depicts her holding a big black gun always aimed at white men. These business council leaders attempt to stimulated your base fears and prejudices with an assault that would only make Bull Conner smile. Part of the American narrative bias is that African Americans are violent law breakers. News that prominent members of the business council funded this smear campaign, which is disappointing and illustrates a major factor in the racial divide that plagues us. This is the most important mayoral election in New Orleans since Katrina. Negative campaigning is one thing. But trying to get unsuspecting members of the white community to view Ms. Charbonnet as a street thug thug is racism that only serves those who seek absolute control. A local newspaper named Leslie Jacobs, Boysie Bollinger, Jay Lapeyre, Dr. Stuart Phillips, and Bill Goldring. Their despicable decision to use racist propaganda mailed to predominantly white mailboxes across the city is only slightly more sophisticated than the Nazis and Klansmen who marched recently in Charlottesville. They should have just said, don’t vote for this nigger, because she is a corrupt violent thug.
IKE and BLAIR FACTOR
Besides being racist, this business council crew is truly hypocritical. They have called defense attorney Ike Spears and bail bondsman Blair Boutte corrupting influencers on Ms. Charbonnet. The black boogeymen of this election. If you are white, you should be afraid. Yet these same financiers have funded numerous campaigns run by Spears and Boutte. Together with Congressman Cedric Richmond, Spears and Boutte form the most formidable political consulting team in the region. They have worked to elect, Mitch Landrieu, former councilman Arnie Fielkow, John Georges, J. P. Morrell, and many, many more household names. Curiously until now, they were hired guns who could deliver the vote and get candidates elected. And the same financiers had no problem paying Spears and Boutte real money to run these campaigns. Now they are being vilified. Halloween Screams! Black men are influencing this campaign. Is it the fact that Charbonnet has raised her millions outside of this traditional New Orleans campaign finance network that creates a problem for the business council? Maybe they fear that they will have no control over this candidate?
Running for mayor is a barefoot on rocks tough. And though the attacks on Charbonnet are fallacious, deceitful, base attempts to move white voters off Charbonnet, her response has not been exemplary. On the heels of the most incompetent administration in modern history, we need a strong leader who can withstand such blistering attacks. While her response is dignified and strong, the relentless divisive attacks of her deep pocketed opponents on her character might require a more fiery reaction.
Troy Henry Option
We need to form strong coalitions that make our city great. Instead of using racial stereotypes to try to reduce the Charbonnet campaign, they can compare her resume and skill set to another candidate. Troy Henry has the management skillset and experience to improve complex government agencies like police and the Sewerage and Water Board. Troy Henry is qualified with a background in water management, high profile hires and budget reconciliation. Ms. Charbonnet does not. That was a negative ad. And I did not have to put a gun in her had or link her by some distant barely tangential relationship to some fictitious corruption.
We can and must do better.