Friday, February 5, 2010

Blackface & Gestapo: the last days of the mayoral campaign

Posted By on Fri, Feb 5, 2010 at 10:04 PM

At the final televised mayoral primary debate Feb. 4 on WWL-TV, all six candidates had the chance to take their last shots at their opponents. Frontrunner Mitch Landrieu was the big target, but John Georges, Troy Henry and Rob Couhig all came in for some drive-by criticism from other candidates.

Early in the debate, in a question about community policing, Landrieu made a reference to NOPD officers in communities meeting citizens, “not just as a Gestapo.” The Georges campaign jumped on the choice of words; within an hour of the debate’s end, they had issued a press release blast headlined “LANDRIEU: NOPD IS A GESTAPO” and calling on the candidate to apologize.

But it was Couhig who seized the opportunity to bring up the issue that had been hot gossip in local political circles for nearly a week: the discovery of a 1980 photograph from a party at Tulane’s Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity, in which several members posed for photographs in blackface. John Georges was a member of the frat at the time, and would become its president in 1981.

In answering a question about how the next mayor would heal the racial divisions in New Orleans, Georges stressed the diverse makeup of his company, Imperial Trading, noting his employees were “50 percent African American, 50 percent female and the leadership of my company is African American.” That left an opening for Couhig to parry, “There’s a bigger issue out here, and it has to do with Mr. Georges. I was so disappointed today when I was presented with evidence that an organization he ran had people in blackface parading around. How can you be mayor if you condone that in an organization you were the president of?”

Georges, seated directly to Couhig’s left, replied, “You know, you don’t respond to blogs. It’s not true. Those are all misrepresentations. I never condone anything such [sic], and it’s just last-minute political tactics.”

The blog in question, American Zombie (theamericanzombie.blogspot.com), had on Feb. 2 published several photographs from Tulane yearbooks featuring the Dekes in various party-animal shots, some of which included members dressed in blackface at a yearly event called the Debutramp Ball. While the blog’s author, Jason Berry (no relation to the local Catholic Church sex-scandal historian of the same name), did not claim Georges was one of the men in blackface, the photos did establish that the fraternity had worn blackface in 1980, when Georges was a member. He became president of DKE the following year, and the Debutramp Balls continued through the 1980s before DKE had its charter permanently revoked by Tulane University in 1987 after a blackface march near campus.

Reached the day after the debate for comment, Georges spokesperson Helena Moreno said, “John made a public statement on the issue last night during the debate that he won. On the contrary, we are waiting for Mitch Landrieu to explain himself to the men and women of the New Orleans Police Department after calling them the Gestapo.”

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