Friday, January 4, 2008

Question for the Ages

Posted By on Fri, Jan 4, 2008 at 2:21 AM

QUESTION FROM KEVIN:

Here’s a question I’d like to have you answer. There’s been a lot of discussion about the racial balance on the New Orleans City Council. But I’ve never seen anything written about the much more apparent age imbalance on the council. While there’s a lot to be said for age, youth has its advantages, too — and there’s a tremendous number of twentysomethings coming to town these days.

Louisiana now has the youngest governor in the nation, but do you think the political machine in New Orleans would ever be able to accommodate, say, a bright 27-year-old who wanted to get on the council and shake things up? Or would such a person be just too much of an outsider?

ANSWER:

Excellent question, Kevin! I admit I had never thought about the “age” balance on the council, so I had to do some research into the relative ages of our City Council members. They range from 72 (Jackie Clarkson) to 38-ish (James Carter and Stacy Head). The other “young” council member is Shelley Midura (41). I’m having to piece together the ages of most of them based on circumstantial information (the council’s Web site does not list their ages), but I think the others’ ages are as follows: Arnie Fielkow (55 or 56); Cynthia Willard-Lewis (55); and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, 60. Based on these ages, the average age of our City Council is 51.

Is that “old?” Well, I guess that depends on your point of view. I’m 53, and I sure hope I’m not old — although I confess to being Old School in many ways.

Your point about the throngs of twentysomethings moving to N.O. is certainly well taken. We have written several stories about this phenomenon in Gambit Weekly, and the TP has done good stories on them as well. I believe they already have made a huge difference in our recovery efforts, and it’s only a matter of time before they become politically active — if they haven’t already done so. The presidential election typically sees the largest voter turnout of our four-year election cycle, so look for New Orleans’ newest young citizens to get (more) active in 2008.

As to your specific question regarding the chances of a twentysomething getting elected to the City Council, it’s interesting to note that New Orleans has long had a fondness for young mayors. Chep Morrison was elected mayor in 1946 at the age of 34. Moon Landrieu won in 1969 at the age of 39, and Marc Morial was only 36 when he was elected mayor in 1994. For some reason, however, we seem to elect “older” council members. Maybe it’s a reflection of that age-old notion about the legislative branch offering its “advice and consent” — and playing on the word “council” as a source of “counsel” — that we tend to put those who have (hopefully) the wisdom of the ages on the City Council.

I’ve always felt that youth had an advantage in politics because young people tend to ignore the odds against them when running for office. Look at the recent state legislative elections which, thanks to term limits, saw some very young faces elected to the House of Representatives — including 23-year-old Walker Hines in House District 95.

In the end, a candidate’s chances of success are shaped more by his or her hard work on the campaign trail, and his or her philosophy — and readiness to serve — than by age alone.

Thanks for the query!

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