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 last 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 Jr. 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 King and local civil rights pioneers — including Dutch Morial. Another photo depicted Henry'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 [LIFE]," she wrote. A Morial family confidant told me afterward that even Marc Morial, who served as mayor from 1994 to 2002, refrained from using his 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 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.