Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Reporter's notebook: Everybody (Doesn't) Love Mitch

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 2010 at 9:14 PM

click to enlarge Rotary

Troy Henry: man in the middle as Mitch Landrieu (left) took a few verbal punches by John Georges and Rob Couhig (right).

The New Orleans Rotary Club held a mayoral forum/lunch today, inviting candidates Rob Couhig, John Georges, Troy Henry, Mitch Landrieu, James Perry and Nadine Ramsey. Unlike a debate, candidates responded to a moderator, not to one another, and crosstalk wasn't allowed.

None of this, of course, kept people from taking swipes at the perceived frontrunner, Landrieu, who was the recipient of more than one barb from Georges and Couhig. (Ramsey, Perry and Henry stayed out of -- or above -- the fray.) It didn't get as fractious as last night's forum at Walter Cohen Sr. High, which Landrieu said reminded him of "the World Wrestling Federation."

Referring to a question about the post-Katrina remaking of the city's footprint, Couhig observed acidly about Landrieu that it was during "your period of disengagement with the city," and finished up with an admonition that Landrieu should "use local people" in his campaign.

For his part, Georges took an interesting tack: praising Landrieu's performance as lieutenant governor and saying that a lieutenant governor with such a stake in New Orleans was too valuable an asset for the city to replace with someone from Lafayette or Baton Rouge. Georges also called the relationship between a mayor and lieutenant governor "a good marriage," which led Landrieu to quip, "If that's a proposition, John, the answer's no."

Other points:

• Troy Henry scored points by telling the crowd "The streets [in New Orleans] suck," and saying his attempts to do business with the city as a private businessman were an "abomination and disaster."

• Nadine Ramsey stressed "We can disagree without being disagreeable," and added her belief that small-business growth in the city involved bringing minority- and women-owned businesses to the table to help them succeed.

• James Perry called again for an open dialogue about race in New Orleans (one of his platform planks he's been stressing lately) and managed to get an oblique swipe in at Henry for his past work with failed energy giant Enron. (Henry replied that he'd lost his retirement in Enron's collapse.) Perry also pitched woo to the Rotarians by using the Rotary Club slogan "Service before self" as the keystone of his closing address.

Did anyone make up any major ground? No, though a quick look around after the debate found most of the crowd waiting to meet Landrieu and Henry. But within an hour after the debate, Camp Henry sent out a cryptic email promising a 4:30 press conference at his headquarters "to discuss the future of his candidacy" (we'll be there, live-Tweeting) and the race took yet another bizarre turn.

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