The first forum of the mayor's race was hardly a barnburner. The candidates broke out of the gate at a leisurely trot, even though by all accounts it's a sprint to the Feb. 2 primary.
The Chamber and MetroVision presented the forum at Delgado Community College last week, and seven of the eight announced candidates turned out. Only Clarence Hunt, the California businessman who railed against Mayor Marc Morial's 3T campaign, failed to show.
Here's what I saw of each candidate:
Troy Carter. The consistent knock against the District C councilman is that he's great looking but not very deep. His initial TV ads did nothing to dispel that notion, but his answers at the Chamber forum showed he has a good grasp of many issues. He gave the most specific response to the question, "What single thing would you do to help the economy?" His reply: "Regionalize the airport." He likewise promised to put in a one-stop shop for permits 90 days after his election. He understands that it cannot happen overnight.
Paulette Irons. The state senator made her mark by blasting Morial during her announcement in September. Now she's got to show she's more than "not Marc Morial." Instead, she surprised folks with her statement about patronage: "To sit here and say that we are not going to give contracts to our friends would be disingenuous." That sounds just like Morial. Senator, if you promise to "take the 'For Sale' sign off City Hall," shouldn't that mean you're not going to give everything to your pals and handlers -- i.e., attorneys Bernard Charbonnet and Ike Spears -- which is what scares people the most about you?
Emile Labat. He probably has the least name recognition of the bunch, and that's saying a lot when one candidate lives in Oakland, Calif. Labat, a businessman, tackles issues with a practical approach. He suggests re-introducing manual skills classes in public schools so that kids who don't go to college can get skilled jobs. He also says the single best way to improve the economy is through tax reform at the state level.
Rev. Leonard Lucas. Most folks figured he got into the race to siphon Ninth Ward votes off Jim Singleton, but he's not just a spoiler. Of all the candidates, he's the most likely to say exactly what he thinks. To a group of business folk like those at the Chamber forum, that's scary. He favors raising the minimum wage in New Orleans to $1 above the national minimum wage, and he opposes privatizing Sewerage and Water Board operations because someone will make a lot of money. If you're looking for the "Eat the Rich" candidate, he's your man.
Ray Nagin. The Brass owner and Cox Cable regional president likewise has some name recognition hurdles to clear, but he brings a no-nonsense approach that many voters will like. Plus, he has money of his own to put into the race. On the economy, he says we have "acres of diamonds in our own backyard." He would abolish the entertainment tax to help the music and entertainment industry, and assist local chefs in marketing their dishes nationwide.
Richard Pennington. The chief needs to work on his delivery. If you close your eyes, you'd swear you were hearing Sidney Barthelemy. He promises to cut crime in half -- again -- and improve services at City Hall by putting a COMSTAT-like model in place, CITYSTAT. In a clear break from Morial, he promised to clean up patronage. Meanwhile, I'm waiting to see if all those Uptown suits who drafted him are going to pony up some real bucks to keep him in the hunt.
Jim Singleton. Okay, he's 68 and he has a speech and hearing problem. Get over it. By most accounts, he made the most sense. He wants to get local colleges and universities into the economic development game -- along with our two medical schools -- and he says the "living wage" proposal on the Feb. 2 ballot will literally drive businesses (and jobs) into neighboring parishes. He also gave the most honest answer to the "one-stop permitting shop" question: it'll take longer than you think to implement because of the all the overlapping jurisdictions that currently make permitting decisions.
Qualifying is this week. Look for things to heat up after the New Year.