Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Siege of Troy

Posted By on Sun, Jan 24, 2010 at 8:56 PM

[Note to readers: The post below is my column for this week’s issue of Gambit. Immediately following is a full set of Troy Henry’s responses to the attacks, from an interview I did with him on Friday, Jan. 22. For reasons of space, I was not able to include all his comments in the Gambit column. — Clancy]

Greek lore tells us that the Siege of Troy lasted 10 years. In New Orleans politics, a week of sustained attacks can seem like a decade. Just ask mayoral candidate Troy Henry.

Henry has been under siege on several fronts in recent weeks, culminating in a barrage of criticism this past week from respected African-American figures and attack ads from one opponent. His critics say he brought it on himself. He says they’re all in cahoots with his real adversary, frontrunner Mitch Landrieu, and that he’s not letting it get to him. He’s also firing back.

The most public — and perhaps most damaging — criticism came from the family of the late Dutch Morial, New Orleans’ first black mayor. Henry’s campaign Web site recently carried a video tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King. The tribute, written by Henry’s son, included a family photo of the candidate’s late grandfather, longshoremen’s union leader Clarence “Chink” Henry, with MLK and local civil rights pioneers — including Dutch Morial. Another Henry family photo depicted the candidate’s mother, who was recently named Xavier University’s alumna of the year, with Xavier President Dr. Norman Francis and Civil Sheriff Paul Valteau. More than 100 photos appeared in the tribute.

Morial’s widow, Sybil Morial, fired off a letter to Henry rebuking him for using her late husband’s photo on a political Web site without first asking permission to do so. The Morial family “has never consented to the use of my late husband’s image, voice or likeness in campaign advertising, other than for the political organization he founded, the Louisiana Independent Federation of Electors (LIFE),” she wrote. A Morial family confidant told me afterward that even Marc Morial, who served as mayor from 1994-2002, refrained from using his late father’s image in his campaigns.

In her letter to Henry, which was released to the media, Mrs. Morial concluded, “We are offended by the lack of professionalism and respect of Mr. Henry’s campaign.”

Henry took down the video last Thursday, but not without defending himself — and shooting back.

“It’s just politics,” he told me last Friday. “The reality is that these are all Mitch Landrieu supporters. … They’re trying to bring my numbers down. We understand that. That’s the nature of the political business, and it’s not unexpected. But, you have to look at the unique circumstances. … We used the photo as a tribute, not as an endorsement.

“We even included a disclaimer saying this was not an endorsement. We were very careful. All they needed to do was make a phone call and we would have removed it. But they made it into something else. We all know that they’re working with the Landrieus. … We took it down in the spirit of harmony in the Civil Rights Movement.”

He reiterated that his family has known the Morial family a long time. “It would have been easy to pick up the phone and ask us to take it down,” Henry said.

Henry says the same dynamics are at play in objections from Francis and Valteau — and in an ad by opponent James Perry accusing him of exaggerating his experience on his resume. “They are trying to use every attempt to discredit my candidacy because of the traction we’re getting in all corners of the city. They’re trying to slow down our momentum, but I’m staying focused. … It’s no big deal from our standpoint. They’re trying to make it a big deal.”

Ultimately, it will be up to voters to decide if it is a big deal or not. If Henry can survive this siege for two more weeks, polls show he has a good chance of making a runoff against Landrieu, at which point the war will start all over — on many fronts.

TRANSCRIPT TROY HENRY’S REPONSES:

On the attacks in general:

“Mitch’s whole crew, the Morials and others, they know Mitch has to try to win it all in the primary. … It’s just politics. The reality is that these are all Mitch Landrieu supporters. …

“I’m under attack. They’re trying to bring my numbers down. We understand that. That’s the nature of the political business. It’s not unexpected. You have to look at the unique circumstances.”

On the Morial letter, his use of the photos, and criticism that he’s trying to fabricate a Civil Rights records for himself via the photos:

“Jacques [Morial] wrote the letter. We have a number of photos in our family archives of my grandfather, who was part of the Civil Rights movement. My son put together a tribute to my family’s contributions to the movement. My grandfather was in a photo with all of those figures. We used the photo as a tribute, not as an endorsement.

“We didn’t even use it as a political ad. It was a tribute. We even included a disclaimer saying this was not an endorsement. We were very careful. All they needed to do was make a phone call and we would have removed it. But they made it into something else.

“We all know that they’re working with the Landrieus. Jacques Morial is working with the Landrieus behind the scenes.

“I’m not interested in getting in the gutter. We took it down, but the photo was my photo. It’s a public photo. It’s been published before. In the spirit of harmony in the Civil Rights movement, we took it down. We have substituted another photo of my grandfather. …

“I’ve known the Morial family a long time. It would have been easy to pick up the phone and ask. …

“We’re focused. I’m not trying to establish relevance. We are relevant.”

On the comments by Xavier President Dr. Norman Francis:

“My mother was recently honored as the Xavier alumna of the year. We took a picture of [Civil Sheriff] Paul Valteau and Dr. Francis at that event. As a sign of pride in my mother, we took that photo. My family has known Dr. Francis since I was born. All they had to do was ask that we not put the photo on my Web site. Again, we had a disclaimer that it was not an endorsement. I’m proud of my mother. I’m proud of the award she got.

“They are trying to use every attempt to discredit my candidacy because of the traction we’re getting in all corners of the city. They’re trying to slow down our momentum, but I’m staying focused. I wish they had given us the common courtesy of picking up the phone and calling us and asking us to take it down. Going forward, we’ll make a point of not using anything with Dutch Morial or others in it.

“It’s no big deal from our standpoint. They’re trying to make it a big deal. We’re not focused on the minor things. We’re focused on the major things.”

On Civil Sheriff Paul Valteau’s comments:

“It’s the same thing. … I think people realize that if you’re in a photo it doesn’t mean it’s an endorsement.

On the tribute’s use of Dutch Morial’s “Keep the Drive Alive” slogan:

“It became his [Dutch Morial’s] hallmark, but you know where he got it from? My grandfather, Clarence “Chink” Henry. [My grandfather] used that slogan in his runs for the longshoreman’s office. He used it before Dutch used it. That slogan has been used in other campaigns around the country as well. It’s not new and unique to New Orleans.”

On the ads by opponent James Perry with reference to Henry’s tenure at United Water in Atlanta:

“The reason that I was brought into Atlanta was because there were major problems in Atlanta. The operations in Atlanta turned around after I was brought in. What happened before was part of [former Atlanta Mayor] Bill Campbell’s corruption dealt with the water contract. There was an entire housecleaning at United Water, and I was part of that new regime. We began to turn around the Atlanta operations. Because of political reasons, they decided to take the system back [from United Water], but the system was in much better shape when they took it back.

“It takes time to fix things. We turned things around but it was not overnight. Nothing is overnight. Independent reports say it was a badly structured deal. The specs of deal were not good. … The City of Atlanta so grossly and severely underrepresented the workload involved that it truly hamstrung United Water. They didn’t know how to spec it properly. You size a job for 100 people and then realize it’s a 300-person job, then you suddenly have to do the work of 300 with 100. United Water lost money in order to get the job done right. …

“Were there main breaks? Of course. Were they water advisories? Yes. It always happens when you replace major mains in a system. That doesn’t mean somebody did something negligent. It’s part of what always happens when those kinds of repairs are done. I have no doubt, by any metric, that we did a good job and turned it around and handed it back to Atlanta better than it was.”

Overall reaction to “The Siege” and its impact on voters:

"There’s been none at all in terms of voter impact. We got maybe 50 calls, and 49 of them have said this whole thing from Mrs. Morial was a little over the top. At the end of the day, I think people are much more focused on what’s good for New Orleans as opposed to the political jockeying, the ads or a photograph. People are bigger than that and smarter than that. They’re using every trick in the book, but the momentum is on our side.”

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