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The Forman Factor 

So now Audubon Nature Institute CEO Ron Forman is running for mayor. That really changes things. Forman will formally announce this week. Don't underestimate him.

Even the strongest candidate will have a difficult time winning this election, and that includes incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin, for whom Forman's wife, Sally, worked until Forman declared his intentions last week. Difficulties aside, Forman brings his hallmark energy, vision and salesmanship to the campaign. That and the $1.6 million he reportedly has in cash and commitments make him a formidable candidate.

Forman has a long track record of tackling tough assignments and getting them done. Think turning one of the world's worst zoos into one of the best -- and when he began he knew nothing about animals. Think Aquarium of the Americas, which he carved out of highly coveted Dock Board space at the foot of Canal Street -- when he knew nothing about being a developer.

In those instances, and others, Forman started with a vision, a network of committed contributors and professionals, and his own determination to bring the best team available to the task. He's as persistent, and as resilient, as any man you'll ever meet.

Now he's tying to bring that same formula to the mayor's race. He says he has assembled an A-team of backers not only to help him win the election but also to serve in his administration. He plans to announce his "team" during the campaign, which is unusual. In the current environment, that's not a big gamble. Imagine Forman standing amidst some of the best-known names in the business, professional and civic communities and telling voters, "Here's my team. Compare them to Ray Nagin's team. Which team do you want at City Hall?"

Of course, he'll have to acknowledge that his bride was an integral part of Nagin's team for the past few years -- particularly during the past few months -- so criticizing the Nagin Administration poses some personal and political risks for Forman.

Speaking of Nagin, he had a peculiar (I'm being kind) reaction to Forman's candidacy. He told WWL-TV that New Orleans can't afford to bring in someone who will need 12, 18 or 24 months of on-the-job training. He even said a new mayor could slow the city's recovery by up to two years.

If that analysis weren't so disingenuous -- especially coming from Nagin -- and if New Orleans weren't so desperate for something that resembles leadership, it might be just a really bad joke. Does Nagin think voters have forgotten what an amateur he still is -- after more than three years on the job? Does he think the pace of the city's "recovery" could actually be any slower?

On the other side of the campaign coin, the onus now is on Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu to decide if he's in or out. Landrieu left open the slightest possibility that he would not run, but my gut tells me he's running. He may even move up his announcement to this week.

Meanwhile, Forman's candidacy muddies the waters a great deal. For starters, it increases the likelihood that the race will boil down to, well, race. That plays into Nagin's hands -- as long as he remains the only major black candidate. That, too, could change. Forman's candidacy also cuts off Republican. Peggy Wilson at the knees. Her chances weren't very good to begin with (unless her goal was to get Nagin re-elected), but with Forman in the race, she's a virtual non-starter.

Qualifying isn't until March 1. Look for more big doings in the weeks to come.

click to enlarge Ron Forman brings his hallmark energy, vision and - salesmanship to the mayor's race.
  • Ron Forman brings his hallmark energy, vision and salesmanship to the mayor's race.
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