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A Duty We Hold Sacred 

Like most voters, our minds are far from made up. But we'll be watching and listening intently.

In recent years, several major newspapers in Louisiana have announced that they will no longer endorse candidates for public office, but instead will support or oppose issues and ballot propositions exclusively. Those papers, including the Baton Rouge Advocate and the Lake Charles American Press, gave their readers thoughtful, cogent reasons for reaching their decisions. Here at Gambit Weekly, we recently re-evaluated our own policy of endorsing in major elections, and we have decided to continue that policy for several reasons.

First and foremost, the core of Gambit's mission has always been to provide our community with an alternative voice. Because New Orleans has only one daily newspaper, that mission imposes on us a duty that we hold sacred. If we did not endorse, it would leave The Times-Picayune as the city's undisputed, dominant media voice about political candidates. We think New Orleans deserves better than that. Even though readers may disagree with our recommendations from one election to the next, we know they always appreciate a second opinion.

Second, we take the job of making endorsements very seriously. Our endorsement process consists of interviewing candidates face-to-face, asking each candidate a set of questions geared to his or her contest. We tape record all interviews and save the tapes to see if candidates are consistent -- and we call them out if they break campaign promises later. Our staff researches candidates' positions and voting records, conducts the interviews, and makes recommendations to Gambit Weekly owners Margo and Clancy DuBos, who make the final decision. In virtually all cases, the owners' decision echoes the recommendation of the staff.

This year, we're adding a new element in legislative races -- an in-depth questionnaire about the difficult issues that lawmakers face yearly in Baton Rouge. Every state legislative candidate in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish will receive a copy of the questionnaire. Their answers will be posted on our Web site (www.bestofneworleans.com) for all to see.

Third, we believe that not endorsing would be a cop-out. After all, our readers must make the difficult choice of one candidate over another; why should we be any different? As we stated in our very first set of endorsements during the mayor's race of 1982, "Our philosophy of endorsements is simple: we present you with our recommendations for which candidates to vote for, and our reasons. We know we're fallible, and we think you have the right to know not just who we support but why. We'll share our reasoning with you, thinking it out loud in print, as it were; we regard it as one small contribution to the democratic process."

Stated another way, making endorsements affords our readers a practical application of our resources. Not everyone can invite candidates to their homes to ask questions up close and personal. We can. In the process, we try to get behind the candidates' rhetoric, and we learn a lot more in a pointed interview than one can get in a prepared speech or canned advertisement. Our aim in recommending candidates is simply to share what we've learned. We don't expect all our readers to agree with our recommendations, but we hope at a minimum to get people thinking and talking about the important decisions we must make as a community.

Fourth, endorsing is an expression of leadership, which carries an element of risk. If a candidate we recommend loses, some say we risk alienating the winner or "looking bad" by backing the loser. Quite frankly, that has never bothered us, because we've never looked at this as a "game" in which the object is to pick "winners." Rather, we consider it an extension of our mission to inform and to comment upon -- fairly and honestly -- the crucial issues facing our community. Win or lose, our sole purpose in endorsing is to help our readers make choices that will make New Orleans a better place. Period.

Finally, our very name -- Gambit -- derives from a strategic move in the game of chess, a dramatic ploy that often has the effect of turning the tide of the match. Over the years, candidates at every level have sought and trumpeted our endorsement because they believe that our recommendation can make a difference. History shows that it often has. For example, our endorsement gave Mayor Ray Nagin's fledgling campaign a crucial boost in its early stages. We also helped U.S. Rep. Bill Jefferson win his first congressional term during a hard-fought campaign against then-newcomer Marc Morial in 1990. And no media voice spoke louder or more forcefully against the insidious lies of David Duke than that of Gambit Weekly -- even if it meant endorsing Edwin Edwards for a fourth term as governor.

As this campaign heats up, we'll be researching and talking to candidates once again. Like most voters, our minds are far from made up. But we'll be watching and listening intently -- and we'll let you know what we see and hear.

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