Wednesday, February 24, 2010


The New Orleans Saints Super Bowl parade might have been the last time celebrithete running back Reggie Bush donned a Saints jersey in the Crescent City.

Due a staggering $8,000,000 next season under the terms of Bush’s contract, the Saints front office has two choices: pay the cameo superstar or cut him. Trade is not likely an option not because Bush is unwanted by other teams, since his talents are certainly coveted in addition to the marketing bonanza that follows the 4th year player that has yet to make a Pro Bowl but because nobody else would want to assume the running back’s contract.

A renegotiation/restructuring of Bush’s contract is improbable; not because of his stats but because of his stature. Stars like Bush, due to pride and/or perception, don’t take pay cuts. And if they have to settle for one, it’ll be with another team.

One source I won’t identify who is very familiar with the Saints organization mentioned to me just before the playoffs that Bush’s departure as a virtual certainty because the running back wants to return to the west coast, the location of his roots, his interests and his girlfriend.

Bush played high school football in San Diego and moved up the Pacific Coast for college at USC. And though Bush has played professionally in New Orleans, it’s apparent that he has immersed himself in the Crescent City like other Saints players have. Bush isn’t the adopted local icon quarterback Drew Brees is and never will be.

Number nine has supplanted all of the professional sports legends before him owns this town, just like George Brett owns Kansas City and John Elway owns Denver; Reggie Bush just works here.

That said, I don’t mean to discount his charitable work in New Orleans, which has not been inconsiderable, as Bush was donating money to entities struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina before he had inked his deal with the Saints.

But New Orleans just isn’t his city; and it’s not Kim’s either.

Saints fans shouldn’t take it personally. Nola just isn’t home.

Bush has no shortage of options beyond the Saints. Even with limited play in 2009, Bush was a major contributor to the Saints offense as a running back (averaging a career high 5.6 yards per carry), receiver (7.1 yards per reception) and as a distraction (see the high level of productivity by the other receivers). Bush also scored a combined 8 touchdowns rushing and receiving, including the spectacular “fleur-de-leap” against the Miami Dolphins that made the cover of Sports Illustrated.

The one area where Bush was largely a bust this season was as a punt returner. Bush averaged a meager 4.8 yards per return with two fumbles and no touchdowns. The 2008 season was Bush’s best as a punt returning with a 13.5 yard return average and having taken 3 back for touchdowns.

The divisional playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals was unquestionably his finest in the 2009 post-season; Bush's play in the NFC Championship against the Minnesota Vikings and against the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl were let downs by comparison.

While Bush isn’t a durable player, he is capable of making exciting plays on a limited basis, selling jerseys and attracting klieg lights.

The most natural fit for Bush would be his hometown of San Diego, which is close to LA, USC and KK. Conveniently enough, the Chargers are shorthanded at running back with the release of LaDainian Tomlinson, one cannot help think in part anticipating the arrival of Bush as a free agent.

The second most logical option is a reunion with his former college coach Pete Carroll, who made a hasty departure up the coastline to Seattle.

While Bush will be dearly missed in the Big Easy, the Saints will have an opportunity in the draft to pick up a player that could partially (key word) supplement the dynamo gap left by Reggie’s departure.

The Saints may already have one part in place with the probable return of wide receiver Rod Harper, who impressed the Saints front office and fans with two punts returned for touchdowns in the 2009 preseason but spent all of the regular season either inactive or on injured reserve.

Talk of Tomlinson’s possible singing by the Saints, publicly encouraged by his old Chargers team mate and good friend Brees, wouldn’t replace what Bush takes with him. If anything, Tomlinson’s addition would more probably be an indication that running back Mike Bell’s days with the Saints organization are numbered as the two share a similar running style.

Bush has been a valuable player for the Saints and his contributions to the team on the field, off the field and from a marketing perspective cannot be denied nor discounted.

But Reggie isn’t worth 8 mill. And Reggie isn’t taken a nickel less from the Saints.
Leaving general manager Mickey Loomis with no other choice than, for the second off-season in a row, to cut a popular running back from the roster.

The only question is when.

And so the ReggieWatch begins.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Greatest

Saints fans that preceded the creation of a Who Dat nation and those who joined the Second Line after the NFL tried a hostile takeover of said nation reveled together as the New Orleans Saints, viewed by many- particularly locals- as a cursed franchise, quickly made the transition from being the leaving the unenviable company of four NFL franchises that have never appeared in a Super Bowl to joining the elite 18 teams that have won the big game.

Locals made the transition from living vicariously through post-season play through the Manning boys to chanting their desire to see the eldest of the Super Bowl winning quarterback brothers on the ground.

That part made me happy.

Why? Because in my not so humble opinion, rooting for the Mannings in the playoffs when the Saints have finished with a usual below .500 record reminds me of how Americans root for the country of their ancestors after the USA is quickly eliminated in World Cup soccer.

Not anymore. Never again.

I was standing in a nose-bleed row in the Saints painted end zone when cornerback Tracy Porter picked off the “prototype”, the man the national sportswriters pant over and took the football to the opposite end zone.

Hopping. Screaming. I was hugging the other Saints fan in my decidedly blue section. The New Orleans Saints are going to be the World Champions.

Sure there was time on the clock for a quick-scoring, professional rallying team like the Indianapolis Colts. But for the first time, this ball of nerves for a Saints fan didn’t see the Black and Gold seizing defeat out of the jaws of victory.

No more curses. No more jinxes. The gris-gris was on someone else.

To quote the little old lady from Poltergeist, this franchise is clean.

Unlike my previous game reviews, I’m not going to break the game into detail.

The first half was a snoozer and despite the steep price I paid to sit in a steep seat, I was almost asleep. The unseasonable cold didn’t help matters.

One thing stands out from the first half. The Saints defense finally arrived when they forced the Colts to punt with 46 seconds left in the second quarter. With the time left the Saints offense got far enough down the field for kicker Garrett Hartley to put up three points to somewhat compensate for the Saints failure to score on their previous drive, when they were first and three near the Indianapolis end zone.

And then there was AMBUSH, the play Saints head coach Sean Payton planned on calling before Carrie Underwood belted out the national anthem.

Punter Tommy Morestead’s surprise on-side kick stirred me awake after The Who’s performance and marked the beginning of Super Bowl play by the struggling Saints. The Colts defense was in disarray as the Saints made five consecutive plays including running back Pierre Thomas’s 16-yard touchdown reception.

Tight end Jeremy Shockey also got some redemption after the Super Bowl snub by his former employers with a touchdown reception combined with wide receiver Lance Moore’s reception for a two-point conversion (credit a Payton challenge) that put the Black and Gold ahead for good.

Though it was into the Four Quarter, the Colts experienced fear for the first time. And second-year cornerback Tracy Porter smelled it and where Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was going, stepped in front of it and ran back for 74 yards the greatest pick-6 of his young career and in the history of the four decades old Saints franchise.

Saints fans in the stadium formerly known as Joe Robbie and a host of other corporate names erupted in unison as those hundreds of miles away on Bourbon Street and 7 miles down river in living rooms in Chalmette.

They were living in the moment even the youngest Who Days never thought they would live to see. The Saints were world champions. And quarterback Drew Brees, whom many felt was wrongfully denied the league’s MVP award after sports journalists gave it by a landslide to the Colts quarterback, received the Super Bowl MVP award ironically at the expense of Manning. Talk about poetic justice.

I remember chatting with a fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers not long ago about the ups and downs of his team just in the past decade. The Super Bowl win in 2003, the mid-season collapse in 2008 and how they never got back off the ground in 2009.

He shook his head and said that the worse thing that could have ever happened to the Buccaneers was winning the Super Bowl. I stood shocked for this Saints fan could not fathom in his wildest imagination how such a concept could exist.

But the Buc-a-roo held firm, saying the win set a bar that was too high and the expectations game plagued the franchise and its Super Bowl winning coach Jon Gruden- who I might add has been giddily cheering for the Saints with almost as much fervor as Bobby Hebert.

If the current Saints organization were to do their best impersonation of the Ditka-Kuharich era, the Black and Gold faithful will stand by this team, its management and its coaches for having achieved what not long ago was the seemingly impossible.

Fans might wince at bone headed trades, draft picks and backfiring triple-reverse trick plays, but what owner Tom Benson, general manager Mickey Loomis, head coach Sean Payton, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Brees and the rest of the roster have given New Orleans and its people- those residing in south Louisiana and those scattered across the country by Katrina and better job opportunities cannot be taken away and will always be appreciated no matter what may come.

Who Dat?

We Dat!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reading into the 2010 CPAC Straw Poll

One-time Libertarian presidential candidate and current Republican US Representative Ron Paul of Texas pulled an upset when he finished first in the CPAC’s presidential straw poll with an impressive 31%, outdistancing former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who came in second-place with 22%.

Romney ran first in last year’s CPAC straw poll with 20% and also came in first in 2008 after he ended his presidential campaign at the annual gathering of conservative activists while Paul far outperformed his previous placings, running 4th with 10% in 2008 and 3rd in 2009 with 13%.

So what can be read into these results?

Not to throw a pail of cold water on Paulistas but the CPAC straw poll is hardly reflective of the electorate that will determine President Barack Obama’s principal opponent in 2012.

For example, a majority of CPAC straw poll participants were 25 years old or younger while individuals above the age of 55 cast only 10% of straw poll ballots.

And there is the gender gap: roughly two out of three participants in the CPAC straw poll were male.

Also former Alaska governor and GOP 2008 vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin and ex-Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, both favorites of social conservatives who poll near the top of all scientific Republican surveys, fared poorly.

Neither Palin nor Huckabee addressed the conference, with the Baptist minister questioning the conference’s legitimacy despite the presence of former Vice-President Dick Cheney and a number of other national party leaders and federal and state officials.

Huckabee accused the event of being hijacked by libertarians and described it as “pay-for-play” venue where candidates can buy positioning for the straw poll.

Though the CPAC results in no way reflect the field of play in any state caucus or primary awarding delegates in 2012, the straw poll is relevant.

CPAC is as close to an annual national event for conservatives, with the regional Republican leadership conferences being more representative of the party faithful. And even those are hardly ideal political barometers.

One of the big criticisms about the 2006 Southern Republican Leadership Conference straw poll was how the results reflected parochialism rather than how Republican state and county leaders truly felt about President George W. Bush’s potential successor.

The 2006 SRLC was held in Memphis and packed with Tennessee Republicans so it should not have surprised anyone that the big winner was none other than Tennessee US Senator Bill Frist.

The Paulistas can rightly point out that the 2010 CPAC event is indicative that young Republican activists are embracing Paul and his fiscal conservative message, as the Texas congressman jumped by 18 points with roughly the same age-range dominating participation.

Romney’s second-place showing earned him a front-page story in Monday’s USAToday but also revealed that his standing with the CPAC crowd has slipped. Romney went through great pains to portray his unsuccessful 2008 run in the same light as Ronald Reagan’s failed 1976 bid. Ending his candidacy at CPAC in 2008 was supposed to reinforce his conservative credentials. It seems that gesture quit paying dividends last year.

Perhaps fiscal conservatives are starting to finally vent their displeasure with Romney’s universal health care legacy while serving as governor of Massachusetts now that ObamaCare has become the defining issue separating the national parties.

If that is indeed the case, Paul could potentially do to Romney from the fiscal conservative angle in 2012 what Huckabee did to Romney from the social conservative side in 2008.

One of Paul’s mistakes from his 2008 campaign was his refusal to engage his opponents, instead running against “the establishment/the system/the Matrix”.

This put him off on a remote island, shunned by media outlets and his fellow candidates. And in politics, the cruelest insult is to be ignored. Romney could be the perfect fall guy Paul needs to make his bones that further establish his credibility/legitimacy.

Though he didn’t get the same press Paul and Romney did, outgoing Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty should be satisfied with the CPAC results. The low-key state executive who has never been accused of being a mesmerizing orator received a respectable 6% to finish in 4th place just behind Palin and besting better known GOP figures such as Huckabee and ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Pawlenty showed that he gained some traction with those rare CPAC “swing voters”, those being attendees who didn’t already have their mind made up about 2012 before they registered for the 2010 conference.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Early Calls

Landrieu elected Mayor. Council races called include Stacy Head in District B, Kristin Palmer in District C, and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell in District D.

Other Races Called

Based upon early returns, Paula Brown and Tracy Davillier will be elected to judgeships. Marlin Gusman will be reelected Sheriff and Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell will be reelected. Coroner Frank Minyard will also be reelected. Claude Mauberrep will oppose Lerroll Williams in a runoff for Assessor.

District A: Batt, Guidry go to runoff

Former GOP Councilman Jay Batt will face Democrat Susan Guidry in runoff. Batt polling roughly 60 percent in Lakeview. Republican candidate Virginia Blanque is running even with Guidry in GOP boxes, indicating she will finish third once predominantly Democratic precincts report.

Councilman-At-Large: Fielkow leads at-large voting,

At-Large Councilman (and former Saints executive) Artie Fielkow leads voting in Lakeview precincts. Republican candidate Craig Sonnier leads Jackie Clarkson in Lakeview. Cynthia Willard-Lewis runs last amongst major candidates.

Mayor's Race: Landrieu Teeters on Outright Win

Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu runs first in primary, nears securing majority. Landrieu is polling 60 percent of white vote, while Couhig and Georges running even in Republican boxes.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Super Bowl

There’s no way I could possibly dress up the title of this column. No hyperbole or jacked up adjectives could do it more justice.

The New Orleans Saints, after four-decades of frustration and inching progress towards the goal of every NFL team, will compete in America’s biggest sporting event.

There are so many angles.

Some believe the game’s relevance is rooted in Katrina and what all of us New Orleans folk “went through” (President Obama’s pity-reason for rooting for the Black and Gold).

But this Katrina evacuee, victim and returnee doesn’t think the story of the Saints’ first appearance in the Superbowl should be about Katrina.

Tens of thousands of Saints fans packed the Superdome, and before that Tulane Stadium, prior to August 29, 2005. Those Saints fans came back to the dome in 2006, mostly to demonstrate their love of a team that has given its fans little to cheer about in the existence of the franchise.

That the Superdome has been sold out through season tickets every year since the Saints returned to New Orleans had nothing to do with Katrina and everything to do with the ownership’s commitment to putting a quality product on the turf.

The Tom Benson era started off with much promise with four playoff appearances and five winning seasons in the first seven years under new management. Sports management guru Jim Finks was hired as general manager and help mold the Saints into winners for the first time.

But when Finks’s health deteriorated, so did the team. Between 1993 and the start of the 2006 season, the Saints organization had one bright spot: winning its first playoff game in 2000.

Compelled by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to return to the battered Crescent City, Benson and general manager Mickey Loomis gutted and rebuilt the team, from head coach down to quarterback and along the way picked up the team’s first certifiable celebrithete with the second overall pick of the 2006 draft. More so than even the signing of quarterback Drew Brees, selecting USC running back Reggie Bush was the first real signal in the post-Katrina world that Benson wanted to win.

The Saints front-office, recognizing the economic realities of a metropolitan area still struggling to recover, developed a ticket pricing structure and the fans responded.

General manager Loomis was as aggressive in free agency in 2009 as he was in 2006, turning the Saints secondary from its Achilles heel to its defensive strength. Head coach Sean Payton showed maturity adopting a more conservative and balanced game plan, abandoning the aerial circus of calling pass after pass and utilizing the team’s talented yet unrecognized running back committee undrafted free agents Pierre Thomas and Lynell Hamilton and Denver Bronco castaway Mike Bell.

Now there’s the real story of the NFC Champion New Orleans Saints. No hurricane drama. Just a well-put together team that never gave up regardless of the deficit and fed off the energy of the league’s most passionate fans.

The Peyton Angles

I found myself turning off the radio the other day as a national sports talk program had worked my last nerve. For that particular program…or rather any given sports radio program not originating from Louisiana, the story for the sports media is Peyton Manning. I can think of one hell of a Peyton angle but they never really dwelled on it.

For them it’s about adulation of an individual that is one of the greatest to play the position. On this count, I’m partial to Brett Farve on this but Peyton is young and talented enough to beat many of the grizzled veteran’s records.

I could understand the Peyton obsession back in 2007 when the talk was whether Peyton would be denied enshrinement based upon his lack of post-season success and a Super Bowl ring. But Peyton got his jewelry and their reserving a place for his bust in Canton.

But why are they still talking about him when the pressure is now on Saints quarterback Drew Brees to win the big one in order to for his name to one day join the gridiron’s immortals?

Because he hails from a small and often denigrated media market, Brees will likely have to win a Super Bowl, if not two, to get to the Hall of Fame.

The real Peyton angle is that he will be facing off against the team his father Archie led in the seventies and early eighties and whose name prominently hangs on a banner inside the Superdome.

Who would have thought thirty years ago that the only thing stood between the Saints and their first Super Bowl victory was a scrawny adolescent in the stands watching his father run for his life from the opposing team’s defensive line?

The Breakdown

The Indianapolis Colts offense is what the Saints used to be prior to 2009: over-reliant on the pass.

Throw in that Peyton Manning ranked seventh in interceptions with 16, the ball-hawk Saints secondary only need to pick the Colts quarterback off twice to put Indianapolis in a hole they might not be able to climb out of.

That said, Manning has one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and the Saints have a lackluster pass-rush that will give the Colt general ample time to safely get the ball off to the open receiver of his choice.

Can the Saints’ secondary cover tight end Dallas Clark, the best in the business, and wide receiver Reggie Wayne? If they can, then they’ve practically shut down the Colts offense.

The other piece of good news for the Saints defense is that the Colts were dead last in the league at rushing. For a squad that has given up big running scores throughout the season, the Saints run defense should perform better than they have against teams with a more establishing running game.

And finally there is the most talked about ankle in the world, owned by Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. Freeney, who had 13.5 sacks in the regular season, won’t be at his best even if the Pro-Bowler sees action, which is good news for Drew Brees’s award winning offensive line.

The Colts defense isn’t as stout against the run, ranking 24th in the NFL allowing 126.5 rushing yards per game. They’re better against the pass, ranking 14th surrendering 212.7 yards in the air per game. However the Colts defense is far stingier when it comes to points, giving up the 9th fewest in the NFL, 19.2 per game.

Brees commands the best offense in the NFL and will test a good but not great Colts defense. With ample targets for number Nine and a hobbled if active Freeney, Brees should have a great day if he does a good job protecting the football when the Colts defense gets penetration. Better to take a sack than give the ball up.

The Oddsmaker

USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan has the Colts as a 5 point favorite. No surprise here. Peyton Manning is the prototype for a quartback and the Colts won their conference championship with greater ease than the Saints. Also keep in mind that had the Colts not pulled their starters, they would have finished the season no worse than 15-1, with the one loss coming from having to play in the middle of a blizzard in Orchard Park, NY.

My Prediction: Saints Win!

Since I believe the Saints will win and the Black and Gold are the underdogs, take the points.

Without writing a lengthy passionate screed, I would like to briefly state four reasons why I believe the Saints will win:

1) The Saints will be healthier with two weeks rest as the bye periods have been a blessing.

2) The Saints are hungrier. That they haven’t been there before isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Brees knows his place in NFL history and his spot in Canton are on the line. Tight end Jeremy Shockey was denied the opportunity to play in his previous team’s Super Bowl appearance; he intends to make the most of this chance. Reggie Bush, who will likely be peddling his services elsewhere next season because of his salary, could not have a better stage on which to audition for new prospective employers. Defensive end Will Smith, who was snubbed out of a deserved Pro Bowl invite/bonus, sees this as his opportunity to make a statement to his peers. And free safety Darren Sharper wants another line for his Hall of Fame resume. Sabremetrics it’s not but I stand by the above cited intangibles.

3) The Saints have overcome the most hurdles, and I’m not talking about Katrina. Look at who the Saints have beaten this year: two teams that played in conference championship games (New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings) and three hall of fame quarterbacks (Kurt Warner, Tom Brady and Favre). While the Saints barely defeated the Vikings, the Colts had a few close calls against lesser opponents in the regular season.

4) Balance. Running back Pierre Thomas is going to introduce himself to the free world on Super Sunday.

In closing, I have only this to say: WHO DAT!

The Early Call Returns! Maybe...

Pending a possible last minute run to South Florida (WHO DAT!), The Early Call will PROBABLY return on Saturday night.

Check out this blog for updates. Since 2006, The Early Call has only been wrong ONCE (damned Jim Webb) in making projections based on early returns from strategic precincts.

Stay tuned!

Endorsements (And Some Commentary) in the City Elections

Jay Batt for District A Councilmen have to make tough decisions. Jay’s made them and paid for them, rightly or wrongly. One of the things that has amazed me about the district, particularly in the Carrollton area, has been the number of “no-this” and “no-that” signs. New Orleans has been justly accused as a city allergic to change, progress and development. Neighborhood and parochial matters aside, there is ONE thing that stands out about Batt- it was because of his efforts the city’s self-destructive residency rules on first-responders was finally scrapped. It’s not good enough for District A to select a “good vote”; they need to have a leader in that spot. What few reform measures that have advanced in the city generally originated from District A council members, including term-limits (thank you Peggy Wilson).

That Batt has lost twice for this seat and threw his hat in the ring again knowing he’d be targeted again by unmovable critics speaks of his humility and dedication to the city and the area. I fully encourage District A voters to support his bid to return to the council.

Stacy Head for District B If the full authority of supreme elector of Orleans Parish was vested in my hands, Ms. Head would be mayor. The Crescent City’s reigning frozen-food internet critic has courage, integrity and resilience.

Cynthia Hedge-Morrell for District D She fought for Holy Cross High School and she was the swing vote on ending the residency rule on first-responders. Her errors in other areas are largely insignificant in the big picture.

Austin Badon for District E Consistently supported reform legislation in the House of Representatives.

At-Large No endorsement from me personally but I will mention the Greater New Orleans Republicans endorsed the incumbents, Jackie Clarkson and Arnie Fielkow. I would also like to add that Congressman Steve Scalise has endorsed Clarkson. I’d love to see the Louisiana GOP condemn the state’s most conservative congressman for that “sin”.

Mayor Once again, I won’t endorse anyone but I will point out some harsh realities.

Republican mayoral candidate Rob Couhig has expressed support for the reappointment of Jim Letten as US Attorney. So has Mitch Landrieu.

That said, Paul Prudhomme couldn’t cook the poll numbers enough to come up with a scenario where Couhig makes a runoff. Furthermore, there is ZERO doubt that Landrieu will not only be in a runoff (if there is a runoff) but will also lead the field, doing no worse than falling just short of winning mayor outright.

And John Georges has no chance of making a runoff so long as Couhig’s name is on the ballot as the white anti-Landrieu vote (however big THAT segment is in Orleans Parish) is hopelessly split.

Finally, Georges’s “stand-up routine” before the DPEC did two things: boosted Couhig and Landrieu’s white numbers and killed his chances of being elected mayor.

This might not be pleasant for Republicans, but that is reality.

I’d also like to mention that a runoff between Landrieu and Henry will probably be the ugliest and most racially charged campaign since the Morial-Mintz runoff and perhaps worse than that since it’s going to require a whole lot of demagoguery by Henry and the usual suspects of “the men of God crowd” flanking him to pull this one out in the second round.

The voters in Orleans Parish have an opportunity to skip a whole lot of unpleasantness and settle the mayor’s race in the primary. Choose wisely.

Assessor Not a peep out of me in this one either but if you really wanted to piss off the Times Picayune, the same rocket scientists that endorsed Barack Obama for the presidency, then a vote for Claude Mauberret would do the trick.

Judge Civil Court, Division J The Greater New Orleans Republicans endorsed Paula Brown, an African-American candidate who enjoyed support from the National Rifle Association (!) in her previous bid for the bench. I think highly of Ms. Brown and believe she will do an admirable job. However, I’ve known Stephen Chestnut for a long time and can personally vouch for his integrity. I would vote for Stephen Chestnut.

State Senator, 5th District Question: what do Irma Muse Dixon and Karen Carter Peterson have in common? They’ve both lost congressional races to “Dollar” Bill Jefferson. Gosh it’s nice that I don’t have to preface Jefferson’s name with the title “U.S. Representative”. I’ve known Karen for a long time and she’s not the radical Jefferson has made her out to be in the 2006 congressional campaign. Carter-Peterson would be the most effective for the district in the upper chamber. Granted I’m not making an endorsement, just sayin’.

Predictions in the New Orleans City Elections

Just a few prognostications...don't hold me to any of them. I have a sizable bet riding in only one race.

New Moon Over New Orleans

Powered by a strong absentee vote and a backlash against the Nagin Administration that transcends race, Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu will win the office that unsuccessfully pursued in 1994 and 2006.

Business consultant Troy Henry, as the consensus black candidate, will run second followed by John Georges, whose inroads with the black community could not compensate the loss of white support stemming from his harsh comments about popular US Attorney Jim Letten. Rob Couhig, the lone Republican in the race, will finish fourth, fair housing activist James Perry fifth and former judge Nadine Ramsey placing sixth.

Projected percentages:

Mitch Landrieu 50%
Troy Henry 24%
John Georges 13%
Rob Couhig 7%
James Perry 3%
Nadine Ramsey 2%
Others 1%

Fielkow, Clarkson Re-elected

At-Large Council members Arnie Fielkow and Jacquelyn Clarkson will be returned to office in the primary due to the election only featuring three major candidates. Because all the candidates run on one ballot and the electorate can cast two votes, Fielkow and Clarkson will benefit from the second vote distributed by black voters to the two incumbents whose first choice was Cynthia Willard-Lewis, while Willard-Lewis is expected to receive little crossover support from white voters. Lewis would have benefited from a second black candidate of stature on the ballot and stronger Republican candidates splitting the white vote. Four years ago, Clarkson failed to lock up her initial bid for councilman-at-large in the primary because of a split white vote involving two Republican candidates and a two other significant white Democrats.

Batt, Guidry Go to the Second Round

Former Republican Councilmember Jay Batt will face Democrat Susan Guidry in a runoff. Batt has had to contend with opposition from not just the other candidates in the race but also the Anybody But Batt group that spoiled his bid for re-election in 2006 and the Democratic incumbent council member who beat him last time, Shelley Midura. Helping Batt this time around is a repopulated Lakeview area.

Other Council Races
Council member Stacy Head, who in my not so humble opinion OUGHT to be mayor, will be re-elected in District B.

Kristin Palmer, after narrowly losing a bid for District C four years before, will be elected the council over Republican assessor Tom Arnold. Though Arnold has been a long enduring figure in Algiers, he has sustained too much bad publicity from articles in the Times Picayune and his campaign has struggled to gain momentum.
District D voters will return Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. This will be a third term for Morrell, who was elected to post pre-Hurricane Katrina after then-incumbent council member Marlin Gusman was elected criminal sheriff.

District E voters have six candidates to choose from. The district, hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina, includes New Orleans East and the lower Nine. Conventional wisdom says that state representative Austin Badon and former Senator Jon Johnson will be in a runoff, assuming one of the two doesn’t win the spot outright despite the crowded field.

Upset Special: Mauberret to Be Shut Out Runoff

The Times Picayune, who has made punishing assessors that opposed the office’s consolidation newspaper editorial and beat writing policy, will claim another skin on Saturday assessor Claude Mauberret finishes in third place behind Erroll Williams and Janis Lemle.

It should be noted that Williams was recently endorsed by US Senator Mary Landrieu, a peculiar move considering the obscurity of the office Williams is seeking, Landrieu’s own high office and of course the fact that her brother is on the same ballot for mayor. The Times Picayune article that heralded the endorsement made reference to the possibility that Louisiana’s senior senator might have been fulfilling a political deal, as her brother is on the LIFE ticket, which is closely affiliated with Williams and former mayor Marc Morial.

Lemle has the backing of the Times Picayune and the “I Quit” political group that targeted assessors for defeat in the previous election in a bid to jump-start consolidation of the offices.

You Best Your ASSessor There’s Media Bias

While the “high-and-mightys” at Howard Avenue have endorsed many candidates in the city elections, the trifecta the Times Picayune is pushing the hardest are Landrieu, Lemle and Palmer.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Reviewing the Saints' Greatest Victory...Yet

There was no one individual that single-handedly won for the New Orleans Saints organization its first NFC Championship as the historic victory in the Superdome was as much a team effort as any this season.

Franchise quarterback Drew Brees racked up a modest 197 yards, connecting on 17 of 31 passing attempts, a relatively pedestrian 55% completion rate that is below the NFL record of 70.6% he set in the regular season. On the typically impressive side, Brees threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions against one of the league’s best defenses. Brees also didn’t turnover the ball on the ground either, recovering one of his two fumbles while Pro-Bowl guard Jahri Evans saved the other fumble the quarterback coughed up.

Speaking of Evans, he and his fellow offensive linemen did an excellent job protecting Brees against the Vikings’ fearsome foursome, surrendering only one sack against the NFL’s best defense in that category.

Running back Pierre Thomas, the Black and Gold’s discount-store superstar, once again showed that the team’s front-office dodged a bullet when they were unable to put together a Draft Day trade to mortgage the team’s future to pick up Ohio State running back Beanie Wells.

Thomas ran for 61 yards and a touchdown and caught a pass and bumped and rumbled for 38 yards to the end zone. Thomas’s two best plays of the game didn’t even involve him scoring. Substituting as kick returner for an injured Courtney Roby, Thomas ran back the overtime kick-off for 40 yards. A few plays later, Thomas leaped for two yards on a 4th and 1 that kept the drive alive en route to Garrett Hartley game-winning field goal.

Hartley more than made amends for missing what would have been a game winning field goal against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that would have locked up homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

Hartley’s splitting the uprights sent the Saints to the Super Bowl in overtime. The second-year kicker whose season could best be described as star-crossed, having missed the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, claimed he dreamed that he would win the game for his team. So rattled by this vision, Hartley called his father in Texas in the dead of night to share his prophecy.

Since the kicking game has haunted Saints head coach Sean Payton more than any other aspect of the team since he fired kicker John Carney in 2007, Payton couldn’t have been happier or more relieved that the man whose services he decided to retain came through for the Black and Gold after the team decided to once again cut Carney from the active roster.

Finally there was Reggie Bush. Reggie, Reggie, Reggie (no exclamation points).
Looking to work some magic on a punt return late in the second quarter, the celebrithete chose to run when the smart play was to call a fair catch as a Minnesota Viking defender was going full steam ahead in his direction.

Instead of looking like a star, Bush looked like a fool, giving the ball to the Vikings deep in Saints territory, specifically, the home team’s ten yard line. Bush’s name was saved from eternal abomination thanks to a chance fumble recovery two plays later. As a friend of mine texted me during the game, it was the equivalent of getting a call from the governor just as the executioner was about to stick the needle in number 25’s arm.

In the Fourth Quarter, Bush made amends on a short pass from Brees that sent the running back bouncing into the pylon out of bounds. After the play having been ruled only a four-yard gain, short of the end zone, the play was reviewed and declared a touchdown.

Aside from the aforementioned, Bush had an uneventful day, gaining all eight yards on seven attempts on the ground and a 28 yard reception.

And then there was the defense.

The Saints defense forced only four punts. But they forced five turnovers, the most notable being cornerback Tracy Porter’s interception as the Vikings were positioning themselves for a game-winning field goal in regulation.

Prior to Porter’s huge pick, the Vikings, who were on the Saints’ 33 yard line, were penalized five-yards for having twelve men in the huddle.

That penalty likely saved the Saints’ Super Bowl hopes as the Vikings, already in field goal range, would have run the ball and not passed on that play.

In addition to the aforementioned Favre fumble, the Saints defense scooped up two others.

Finally there were those wearing black and gold, not on the field but in the stands.

Having never been in an NFL locker room and not personally knowing any professional football players, I don’t know the true value of so-called bulletin board material. But I can attest to what it does to a rowdy fan base when it is directed towards them.

It’s true after enduring 40-plus years of mostly disappointing play on the field and a natural catastrophe that wrecked the city and, perhaps without an assist from the commissioner’s office and a certain self-interested egomaniac owner in north Texas, almost robbed New Orleans of its team, the Black and Gold faithful don’t require much more nudging to get them on their feet and making noise than being one game away from the Promised Land of pro-football.
But Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress boasted he had a plan to make Saints fans “sit on their hands down there” when addressing the matter of playing in an unfriendly environment.

Motivated with a love for their team and spite for their taunter, the Saints fans never let up. Childress proved he would have been a better heal-wrestler than a smart coach with his challenge to the Saints’ fan-base.

The Saints fans kept bringing the noise throughout the game; the Saints players rewarded them by never giving up and hanging in the game regardless how ominous things looked.

In my preview to the NFC Championship contest, I wrote that the Vikings were a better team but that the Saints would come out with a win. When looking at first downs (Minnesota doubled the Saints), time of possession (Vikings had an eight minute edge), passing yards and rushing yards, the Vikings did indeed play better.

However it was the New Orleans Saints, who played with heart, mojo, determination and a never-say-die attitude, that made the bigger plays and consequently will go on to the big game against Archie Manning’s son in Miami.

Race for Nola Mayor: If You're Not First, You're Last

Somewhere in the bowels of the Saenger Theatre, there’s a large woman with a Viking helmet about to belt out a high note on the New Orleans race for mayor.

Mitch Landrieu, who holds what is officially the state’s second highest office, is on the precipice of winning Louisiana’s second most powerful office.

Blame on the Saints. Blame it on the Super Bowl. Blame it on Mardi Gras. Blame it on buyer’s remorse from the previous city election. Blame it on the fact that none of Landrieu’s opponents have convinced Orleans Parish voters that they’d do a better job.

It doesn’t matter.

Nobody has come close to running even with Landrieu in the polls. That includes the time before he announced he would not run and after he abruptly got in.

According to the latest poll numbers, Landrieu is within striking distance (mid-40s) of winning outright and as his candidacy continues to build momentum, the inevitability of his election could make perception a reality.

For a guy who’s hoping his third try is the charm, Landrieu has benefited from a number of breaks.

First, businesswoman Leslie Jacobs, after vowing to remain in the race even after Landrieu’s surprise entrance, dropped out. Jacobs, whose pre-paid media continued to air days after her withdrawal, was a major threat to Landrieu as she possessed the most potential to raid his liberal white political base.

Secondly, the departure of State Senator Ed Murray from the field was a major boost to the Landrieu effort. Though he polled poorly and was out of money at the start of the new year, Murray was considered the leading black candidate and many figured that the African-American legislator would face Landrieu in the runoff.

Murray was the lone black candidate that had demonstrated significant cross-demographic support. Many of Murray’s white supporters melded into the Landrieu camp shortly thereafter and the belief that Landrieu was unbeatable began to take hold.

Thirdly, there was the Christmas gift Georges delivered to Landrieu when the businessman made some ill-advised statements (or as he called them “jokes”) at a meeting of the Orleans Democratic Parish Executive Committee.

Why Georges bothered to make a pitch to meeting of a partisan body that would be hostile to a former Republican contributor was perplexing.

Why he decided to speak ill (or joke ill) of US Attorney Jim Letten, perhaps the most respected figure in the community not wearing a Saints jersey, was bizarre.

While Letten might not be popular with black voters as he is with white voters (one must assume Team Georges had polled this matter before a predominantly black political group), that Georges did not think word of his talk would get out (or be recorded and shared on the internet) is astounding.

Even Georges’s recent endorsement by District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro won’t mitigate the damage did by calling for the removal of one of the few people in government in the 504 area code who enjoys the near full confidence of the public.

With Republican Rob Couhig’s low-profile paid media presence, Landrieu reaped the biggest benefit from Georges’s Letten smack-talk.

Business consultant Troy Henry, who is new to the ballot but no stranger to City Hall, immediately benefited when Murray bailed on the race as Henry became the leading black candidate overnight.

Unfortunately for Henry, he followed up this political jackpot with a bungling press conference that harkened to Richard Pennington’s infamous Lundi Gras media event.

The initial word was that Henry was dropping out. Then it was leaked that Henry was staying in the race and the press conference was being held to announce a major endorsement, presumably Murray’s.

But when he delivered nothing more than a screed about why news outlets shouldn’t assume the runoff for mayor would be between two white candidates (that possibility ended the second Murray withdrew), Henry lost credibility with the media (who can attack you or worse yet simply ignore you) while making the lieutenant governor more palatable for white conservatives generally distrustful of any candidate with the surname Landrieu.

Despite the debacle at his “coming out”, Henry remains the strongest black candidate in the field since fair-housing activist James Perry never recovered from his first media buy featuring people hurling bleeped-out profanities in an attempt to creatively make an argument to reject the “same-old, same-old”.

If Perry’s goal for the ad was to make his presence known, he succeeded. But then again streaking down Saint Charles Avenue would also draw attention with equal political benefits.

Though the final numbers won’t be pretty for Perry, he should be credited for doing more homework than most if not all of his rivals on city issues and for running an innovative campaign that embraced technology. Regrettably for Perry, New Orleans has never been accused of being a cutting-edge city and his tactics failed to gain traction with voters conditioned to the old way of city politics.

So where what of the numbers?

Historically, black voters have a higher level of participation in the mayoral runoff than they do the primary so voting strength should be close to dead-even on Super Bowl-eve.

If Landrieu is polling at 40% in the black community, then the lieutenant governor needs to draw only 60% of the white vote. Simple enough right?

Not really.

White conservatives that were resentful of his family’s brand of liberal city and federal politics sank Landrieu’s last mayoral run.

The key for Landrieu is to parochialize the election and not let his US Senator sister’s involvement in ObamaCare and the controversy that surrounded her blessing of it to alienate white voters.

After doing the political equivalent of roller-skating down a flight of steps, Georges has focused on one thing and one thing alone: stopping Landrieu from taking it in the first.

The Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat has had trouble creating an identity for himself, one day bragging about his role in the Harry Lee documentary and another palling with former State Representative Sherman Copelin.

And then there was his attempt at stand-up comedy before the Orleans DPEC that could have only gone worse had a frothing Michael Richards written his material.

The New Orleans Saints’ first appearance in the Super Bowl could be as much of a blessing for Georges as it has been a curse for Landrieu’s combined opposition. With the game being played the day after the mayoral primary, Georges has the resources and perhaps the time to reintroduce himself to the voters, quite a few whom won’t be casting a ballot until the runoff.

Having tripped over his own words throughout the primary, Georges could become a major threat to Landrieu in what will be a brand new election in a second round.

But Georges has one other problem: Couhig.

Defying the political realities of running as a Republican in a city that gave John McCain a whopping 19% for president and further tethered by his previous endorsement of Nagin four years ago, Couhig has developed a loyal following from his radio talk show stint on WRNO and his guest host spots on WWL.

While Couhig will have a tough time making a runoff, the former New Orleans Zephyrs owner is in a prime position to deny Georges second-place as the Republican’s candidacy is a repository for anti-Landrieu protest votes, thus isolating them from Georges and indirectly aiding Henry.

Perry and former judge Nadine Ramsey likely won’t bleed Henry as much as what Couhig alone will draw from Georges.

Henry could slip into a runoff caused by Georges’s negative media carpet-bombing on Landrieu and by consolidating anti-Landrieu black votes.

Henry won’t receive anywhere near the same level of white support that Nagin garnered in 2006 due in no small part to Henry’s own controversial press conference, though he might not need it.

If there is a runoff, expect Henry to base his candidacy on diminishing black representation in city government.

Since Hurricane Katrina, there has been a drastic shift in political demographics in New Orleans including a school board with only two blacks members out of seven positions, a white district attorney, a Vietnamese-American congressman and a city council that will be 5-2 white if Arnie Fielkow and Jackie Clarkson are re-elected to their at-large positions.

Right or wrong, the issue of race will resonate with many black voters in a runoff.

Mayor Nagin has not so subtly broadcast in public appearances and paid media that having a black mayor equals protecting “the franchise”, even though neither has anything to do with each other unless Lenader Perez was on the ballot.

But even the rosiest scenario for Henry is predicated upon Landrieu falling short of a majority. If Landrieu hits 50%+1, the only thing second place gets you is a byline in a future obituary.

To borrow a line from Will Ferrell’s Talladega Nights, if you don’t run first, you may as well be last.