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The Twelve-Day Campaign 

Those who expect big changes on the Orleans Parish School Board as a result of the Sept. 18 elections might want to take a closer look at their calendars. Time appears to be on the side of incumbents more than ever this year, which proves that dumb luck (is there any other kind where school board members are concerned?) can play just as big a role as money in a political campaign.

In the wake of the failed attempt to fire Public Schools Superintendent Tony Amato last month, voters all over town have been licking their electoral chops at the prospect of giving some Orleans Parish School Board members the heave-ho this fall. All seven board members are up for re-election, and as many as six may try to hold onto their jobs.

The clumsiness and heavy-handedness of the ill-fated run at Amato made the anti-Amato board members look foolish and inept. Their timing -- in the middle of a legislative session -- only greased the skids for a bill that transferred much of the board's authority to Amato.

But the timing of the upcoming elections is already set, and it could well favor the incumbent board members, mostly because there is so little time between qualifying and Election Day.

Qualifying for all local, parochial and state offices up for grabs this autumn is Aug. 4-6. The primary is Sept. 18, and any runoffs (if needed) will be Nov. 2 -- the date of the national elections for president, Congress and the U.S. Senate.

On paper, at least, the official campaign period for the school board seats will last six weeks. But, as we all know, few voters will pay close attention to the contests until after Labor Day -- the unofficial start of the school year in many quarters.

And, because Labor Day this year arrives relatively late (Sept. 6), the real campaign for school board and other offices on the Sept. 18 ballot will last a mere 12 days.

That's not a lot of time to oust an incumbent, let alone four or five of them.

If you're an Orleans Parish School Board member, or a fan of them, that's good news. If you're hoping to run against one of them or help someone unseat one of them, you'd better get cracking right now. Even weak incumbents enjoy an advantage -- name recognition, if nothing else -- and a short campaign often inflates the significance of that edge.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that reform-minded candidates and their supporters should give up. Quite the contrary. If voters have any collective memory at all, the anti-Amato board members are in deep doo-doo. On the other hand, waging a successful political campaign is no easy task, even when your opponent is a goat. To win, you need money and organization -- and those two elements often take lots of time to amass.

Time is in short supply this go-round. Qualifying is only four weeks away, and most of the board incumbents have no major opponents ... so far. Given that incumbents not only have more name recognition but also more opportunities to raise money, it's going to take a Herculean effort -- maybe a unified, citywide effort -- to bring wholesale changes to the board.

More than a decade ago, New Orleans saw a groundswell of public sentiment for education reform. A grass roots group called Excellence In Education helped bring about a clean sweep on the Orleans School Board. That group included many big names in the civic and business communities, and it was backed by an organized, moneyed effort.

Today, there's a lot of anger and passion, but not much organization.

In last autumn's race for governor, Kathleen Blanco proved that you can turn around an election in less than 12 days. But you'd better show up ready to run, and you'd better have money and a message.

It's still not too late for those who want to reform Orleans Parish School Board.

But, with only 12 days in which to run, time's a-wastin'.


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