Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Election, Shmlection

As unbelievable as it is, my man Manny did not make the run-off. In fact, he only got 100 votes, which is a suspiciously round number - I mean, really, did they actually count the votes or just make a reasonable guess? He did get one more vote than James Arey, though, proving for all time that pot and prostitutes are indeed cooler than classical music any day. Or, at least, that New Orleanians prefer aficionados of the former as mayor compared to aficionados of the latter. He did finish 10th out of 22, which ain't bad, and I think lays a solid foundation for next time.

Let's see, what else? Wilson, despite getting national attention and invites to all the debates between the "magnificent seven" finished eighth behind Butler, proving that if you want to get elected mayor in New Orleans, it's better to be just plain bat-shit crazy rather than a right-wing reactionary nut-job. The I Quit ticket pulled off one straight-out win, and got in the run-off in two more, which is promising. There's a whole bunch of city council run-off action and some guys named, like, Landrieu and Nagin or something made the mayoral run-off, whoever they are. I guess the one guy is related to some famous people, and the second sounds vaguely familiar but I can't quite remember why. Anyway, they made the run-off and Manny didn't, so power to the people and all that.

The good news is the election itself went off about as well as could be expected. No major problems with polling places and machines and whatnot. I strolled in, showed my card and ID, walked into the booth and was out of there. Total elapsed time at polling station? Less than five minutes. The number of people voting was only a little less than usual. The African-American vote was slightly smaller than usual (30-something percent of eligible voting as opposed to just over 40% last time), which is probably due to the fact that so many African-American New Orleanians are still out of town, and perhaps planning on staying out. It does seem, however, that on the whole the measures taken - contacting everyone displaced about absentee ballots, polling places set up around the state, early voting, etc. - were enough to get the vote of most everyone who wanted to vote. It doesn't hurt that most of the votes weren't particularly close. So it seems the vote will stand and we won't go through long, protracted court battles and recounts. Take that, Florida! We kick your participatory government butt any day!

After voting, I was all full of the democratic spirit, so headed down to the French Quarter for some Festing. For those not in the know, the French Quarter Fest is this big free music festival we throw every year, and I was glad to see so many people voting for New Orleans with their appearances - the place was packed. I met up with the famous Dr. A. who brought a family of friends with her, so Dr. A. and I pushed a stroller around the Quarter for a while, and everyone thought we were this happy, pierced, tattooed, bohemian couple with child, which was quite amusing. After that, we went to a free crawfish boil/birthday party at the R Bar, where I ate all the crawfish in Louisiana. Every last one. Then it was on to Handsome Willy's to watch election returns and partake in more democratic spirits, and let me tell you, democracy can give you a mean headache if you over-indulge.

Anyway, I'm just glad that that's over with - no more signs, no more pre-recorded robo-calls, no more anguishing over platforms and positions. I have had enough of that for quite some time.

Oh, wait. Run-offs. Nooo! NOOOOO!!!!!!!

Friday, April 21, 2006

The P&P Ticket

Election day is tomorrow, kids, heralded by everyone as the most important in New Orleans history. So as the eyes of the nation, nay, the world, focus once again on the Big Squeegee, I give you, right in the nick of time, because you know you gotta know, the Official Flood and Loathing Election Endorsements! (Plus a few anti-endorsements thrown in for kicks and grins.)

First off, let’s talk assessors. New Orleans has to be the only place that elects the people that determine the value of houses for tax purposes. That’s right, the guys who say an abode is worth half a mil or perhaps just several thousand or so need to go out and get campaign contributions from the very folks that own said houses. Not to worry, though, I’m sure there’s absolutely, positively no temptation whatsoever for just a little bit of fudging on the house values of those contributors. And we have not just one of these assessors, but seven. Chicago and New York City get by with one, but we need seven. There’s a bill in the Legislature right now to consolidate the assessors, though the last time it was tried shortly after Katrina, it was killed in committee by representatives Jeff Arnold and Alex Heaton, who – I shit you not – just happen to have close relatives that are assessors.

By the way, at the moment I could tell you exactly what 80% of the houses in New Orleans are worth without even looking at ‘em. Like my flooded and gutted skeleton, they’re worth jack squat.

Which brings us to the “I Quit” ticket, seven people who have pledged that, if elected, they will immediately quit and use their salaries to hire a professional assessor. Only in New Orleans would you get seven people running for office on the simple platform of quitting the job they’re running for, AND where that’s clearly the best choice. For that reason, Flood and Loathing endorses the whole “IQ” ticket: Maria Elliot, Jackie Farnsworth Shreves, Errol George, Chase Jones, Ron Mazier, Nancy Marshall, and Charlie Bosworth.

Consolidation is the all the buzz in New Orleans these days, so there is also a bill consolidating our criminal and civil courts, which currently are separate. We have both a criminal sheriff and a civil sheriff, and a court clerk for both, all of which need to be elected. Now, for three of these offices – both sheriffs and the civil court clerk – Flood and Loathing has no endorsements. Since we haven’t heard much about them, as in no scandals, apparently things are going fairly well with them. These people haven’t made the news, and that’s a good thing. We do need to point out, though, that one candidate for criminal sheriff, Frank Gerald DeSalvo, made the news because, as part of his campaign, he has accused the incumbent, Martin Gusman, of covering up the deaths of a couple of deputies. This made the news mostly because DeSalvo has absolutely no evidence for this. Here at Flood and Loathing, we believe that making wild accusations of heinous crimes for personal gain is NOT something we want in a sheriff, so for that reason, DeSalvo earns an anti-endorsement. Don’t vote for him.

The criminal court clerk, however, did make the news. The two essential responsibilities of the criminal court clerk are to take care of trial evidence and oversee elections (no, I don’t see the connection, either). Kimberly Williamson Butler first made the news when she bungled the last election, failing to get voting machines to polling sites. She then made the news again when she asked for help with cleaning up the evidence after the flood, got it, then complained the mayor was trying to usurp her job, disobeyed court orders, went into hiding, and was finally arrested. Happily, after she got out of jail, she announced she wasn’t running for re-election. She did, however, announce she is running for mayor. No, I’m not making that up. She made the news again when a photo of her in a nice, spruced-up looking French Quarter on her campaign website turned out to have not been taken in the French Quarter, but rather the New Orleans themed area of Disneyland. No, I’m not making that up. Needless to say, KWB is NOT Flood and Loathing’s pick for mayor. After going through the 11 candidates vying to replace her, Flood and Loathing picked two – Paul Massa because he’s the Green Party candidate, and Nick Varrechio because he’s focused on and experienced in running elections. The others we eliminated for reasons like being a Republican or having “suing the city” as part of their platform.

Next, we come to the city council, five district council members and two “at-large” members. To start off, the current council has been feuding with the mayor over all kinds of stuff like where to put trailers, which has led to our current situation of very few people having a trailer and a moratorium on any new ones. The council members blame the mayor, the mayor blames the council. Flood and Loathing has decided to act like an elementary school teacher – we don’t care who started it, everybody’s getting detention. Therefore, we’re against every incumbent council member. They’ve all earned a time-out.

The luxurious offices of Flood and Loathing (both apartment and house) are located in District B, so that’s the only one we have an endorsement for (cut us some slack – there are a lot of candidates to shift through). Of the six candidates, we eliminated Renee Gill Pratt because she’s the incumbent, and while we admire the spirit behind Quentin Brown’s hand-written “No More Bullshit” campaign signs, they don’t exactly inspire confidence in his ability to get the job done. Stacy Head seems impressive, and also appears to be the front runner, but Michael Duplantier gets our nod – he’s a retired lawyer, he’s volunteered and worked for lots of organizations we like, and in the recent televised debate he seemed to be the one who most understood just what a council member can and can’t do.

Similarly, for the at-large candidates, we were able to eliminate some of the eleven candidates because they don’t seem to understand what a council member does. For instance, while we agree that the minimum wage should be raised, if you’re running for city council on that platform, you’re running for the wrong job. We were also able to eliminate two more, Oliver Thomas and Jackie Clarkson, because they’re incumbents who have been obstacles to getting New Orleanians, particularly working class New Orleanians, back. A couple more went because they’re Republicans and stand for things Republicans stand for, which left us with five candidates for the two spots: Arnie Fielkow, Carlos Hornbrok, David Lapin, Leonard Lucas, and Roger Wilson. We like Fielkow because he got fired for telling Tom Benson, the Saints’ owner, that the Saints needed to commit to returning to New Orleans. He and Lapin both seem to have a lot of support, and Wilson was in the movie “Porky’s,” but beyond that, we here at Flood and Loathing are throwing up our hands and saying “pick two of these guys.”

Which brings us to the headliner, the mayoral race. Now, as with most of these elections, we no doubt have a run-off coming, so Flood and Loathing will have a sequel endorsement when we get there, but these here are our picks for now. In all likelihood, the run-off will be between Mitch Landrieu and C. Ray Nagin, but we will deal with that later. There are a lot of candidates we’re clearly NOT for, like Butler or Peggy Wilson, who years ago led the fight against integrating Mardi Gras parades. Apparently, the city had no business telling parade krewes that if they wanted the cops to block off public streets for them and clean up their mess, then they couldn’t exclude African-Americans. And she continues that kind of divisive rhetoric as part of her campaign, so hopefully the public will plant its collective foot firmly in her reactionary, right wing, Republican, racist ass.

There are also some candidates we like but aren’t officially endorsing, like Virginia Boulet and James Arey, who not only plays classical music on our NPR station, but is focusing his campaign on pushing the arts in New Orleans. That almost got him the Flood and Loathing nod, but not quite.

But who gets the Official Flood and Loathing mayoral endorsement? Isn’t the suspense killing you?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a troubled man for troubled times, a man’s man, ladies’ man, man about town, and my man for mayor:

Manny “Chevrolet” Bruno!

Why him, you ask? Because he wants to legalize pot and prostitution and we here at the Flood and Loathing offices are all for it. Actually, when we were considering a run for mayor ourselves, that was going to be our platform, so it seems only right that we throw our considerable weight behind the candidate who stole our thunder.

You think I’m kidding about this, but I’m actually not; I do really think we should legalize both, regulate them mightily, tax the bejeesus out of them, and rake in the dough. I have been to Amsterdam, I have seen the promised land, and, from what I’m told, I apparently had a really good time.

New Orleans should legalize pot in the same way as Amsterdam. I suggest zoning it into the French Quarter and the Marigny, and only making it legal to be sold and smoked in hash bars, just like in Amsterdam.

I can hear the protests now – how will we keep it out of the hands of kids? I ask you, who’s more likely to card someone, the owner of a licensed hash bar or the sixteen-year-old dealer on the corner? But won’t it make the Quarter more dangerous, even more unfriendly to families and tourists? Compare a bunch of drunks to a bunch of stoners – the drunks are loud and belligerent and screaming for women to flash for beads, but the stoners, if they can be motivated to move at all, will only do so because they have the munchies. When you’re high, you don’t puke and piss on the street. I think a stoned Quarter would actually be a nicer place than a drunk Quarter.

As for prostitution, we have riverboat gambling, so how about riverboat brothels? It would still be illegal on land so we won’t have streetwalkers or even women in windows like Amsterdam, but instead patrons would just board a riverboat and set sail for a quick trip down the Mississippi. There would be required medical check-ups and no more pimps and lots of tax dollars. Everybody wins.

So there you go, because he has the cojones to run on the P&P ticket, and because I can’t resist the opportunity to back someone who is actually advocating some of the crazy liberal schemes I believe in, Flood and Loathing urges everyone to get out on Saturday and vote for Manny “Chevrolet” Bruno.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

God, Loyola, and Getting Let Go

If you happened to have read Sophmom's comments to the last post then you already know that Loyola announced it's big re-organization plan on Monday. You can read the plan here and read about student and faculty reaction here.

The (selfish) good news - the English department still exists, and I still have a job. The plan doesn't call for letting all adjunct faculty go, which I half expected it would. The bad news is that part of the reason I still have a job is that the English department lost professors who didn't come back after the flood and is losing more this summer. People are retiring and/or getting the hell out of this city, and I can't blame them. The worse news is that other departments, programs, and majors got the ax, including education, communications, and computer science, as well as City College, which is our adult education night class program.

Leading up to this, students had asked me about what was going on or what I would be teaching in the fall. I'd tell them I honestly didn't know the answer to either question, and didn't even know if I would be at Loyola come fall. Since Monday, many of my students have gone out of their way to ask if I would still be around in the fall, and I'm glad I could tell them I will (though I still won't entirely believe it until I have that signed contract in hand). I even got a relieved hug, which almost made me cry. Teaching college is a job like no other (at least no other I've ever had, and I've had more than my fair share) and I am only too aware of what a profound effect my college professors had on me. I can't imagine what it must be like for the tenured and tenure-track professors who have been at Loyola for years and years and intended to spend the rest of their careers there only to lose that because our government is too inept to build adequate levees and maintain wetlands. That the one has led to the other is just too cruel and absurd, and if I believed in God, I would have to conclude that He, She, or It has a seriously sick sense of humor. (I know, I know, an atheist teaching at a Jesuit university, that's absurd in and of itself, but that's part of what makes Loyola so cool.)

So not a good day for Loyola. Even though I still have a job, I left the "Black Monday" I had written into the 10th on the big wall calendar in our office. I don't know if this will be good for the university or not - maybe I'm too close to be objective, and it's hard to know if their plan will work in the long run. Change always sucks to a certain extent and I'm not against it in principle, but it's hard for me to see these changes as anything but harmful and even unnecessary. First off, enrollment isn't down that much - the new class next year is around 700 instead of 850 or so. Significant, but not deadly. Also, if we're trying to position ourselves as a national liberal arts institution, how does cutting programs contribute to that? Finally, what's so awful about running at a deficit for a year or two? The government has been doing it for much, much longer and corporations do it all the time. Why can't we? And if it's that bad, why not dip into the endowment? They say it's "the future of the university," but what kind of future are we planning when we cut programs and fire tenured faculty?

So as far as this goes, today I'm all questions, no answers, a state that seems to be pretty perpetual these days.