Friday, April 11, 2014

The Endorsement Game

When you’re running for public office, groups come out of the woodwork to conduct candidate forums – some to educate their members on you and the issues and some to endorse one candidate over another.

In this past election, Mike Yenni garnered every endorsement. This was not a surprise to me, as I honestly didn’t expect any group to endorse an upstart over an incumbent.

However, what was interesting was the makeup of many of these groups and their obvious biases. Without sounding bitter, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at these groups and their endorsement processes.

The Alliance For Good Government – The Alliance is a group of folks from varied backgrounds that comes out for every election and then disappears. They have no role in day-to-day government or acting as watchdogs for “good government”. I mean really, how much credibility can a “good government” group have that gave Kenner Councilwoman Maria DeFranchesch its “Legislator of the Year Award”? In 8 years on the Kenner City Council, I can’t tell you one meaningful piece of legislation that has been authored by DeFranchesch let alone one that could be considered “good government”.

The fact of the matter is, The Alliance is more of a marketing organization than an actual “good government” group. The primary focus of The Alliance is, does the candidate have the necessary funding to pay The Alliance the Thousands of Dollars necessary for The Alliance’s co-op advertising (that is run through a member’s company so that the member can receive the commission).

When I went to The Alliance’s endorsement meeting, I thought “The best that I can hope for is that The Alliance doesn’t endorse anyone.” I knew The Alliance would never endorse an underfunded candidate like me but, how could a “good government” group even consider endorsing someone who tried to double property taxes and opposed good government charter changes that were approved by the voters of Kenner by 70-30% voting margins?

So, considering that a city employee is a member of The Alliance and was allowed to participate in the endorsement vote, and that I was underfunded, it was not a huge surprise that The Alliance endorsed Yenni.

The Jefferson Chamber PAC – The Jefferson Chamber PAC did invite me to speak however I was not available during the times they had available. That being said, even if I would have been available, I wouldn’t have gone. The Chamber PAC consisted of several members of Yenni’s Economic Development Committee and campaign contributors. I knew that speaking to them would be a waste of time and, I learned afterward, that several other candidates in Kenner elections also didn’t think that speaking to the Chamber PAC would be a good use of their time.  

HISPAC – The Hispanic Political Action Committee is another ghost group that only comes out at elections. They represent no one and are simply a money machine to funnel advertising to Hispanic media and attempt to act important. They are led by a member of Yenni’s Economic Development Committee who appeared in one of Yenni’s campaign videos.

After agreeing to meet on one date, the group’s head, Dr. Vinicio Madrigal, changed the date to the night of March 5th, the day that he knew I was having surgery and would be unavailable. I asked Dr. Madrigal to provide me with a list of their Board Members so I could at least email them some information about why I was the better candidate to represent all of Kenner, and Dr. Madrigal ignored my request. That’s funny considering that he’s always quick to jump on Facebook to defend Yenni or criticize me.

What’s ironic is that, while the Yenni Administration has over 40 political appointees, only 1 is Hispanic (you will see those numbers again later). Since Kenner’s Hispanic population is almost 30%, a 40/1 ratio is hardly representative of Kenner’s Hispanic community. In addition, Yenni tried to close a playground that is used heavily by Hispanics, which I opposed.

But, HISPAC got their 30 pieces of Silver from Yenni and endorsed him anyway.

GAMBIT – I wasn’t surprised when Clancy DuBos and Gambit endorsed Yenni. I was surprised that they didn’t even call me to discuss the election. At least when I ran in 2011, they tried to hit me up for some advertising money.

Louisiana Weekly – This one was truly puzzling to me. As with Hispanics, the Yenni Administration has 1 African-American political appointee, despite Kenner’s 25% African-American population. In addition, Yenni tried to close Lincoln Manor Playground, which is in a heavily African-American area, and I fought against the closing. Also, South Kenner has been crying out for years for a library and I offered a plan to convert the old Kenner High School to a library and computer resource center while Yenni wants to remodel the High School and turn it into city offices.

But, the Louisiana Weekly Editorial Board never called me to discuss my campaign, my ideas or my pledge to represent ALL of Kenner.Christopher Tidmore did write a nice article about the campaign though.

GNOR – Greater New Orleans Republicans scheduled their endorsement meeting at the same time as a forum at the MLK Resource Center in Lincoln Manor. After looking at the makeup of their board, I decided it would be better to listen to the concerns of District 1 residents than talk to a minor group of Republicans stacked with Yenni loyalists and operatives.

NOMAR – The New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors never called me to discuss the campaign which is surprising considering that Yenni’s plan to double property taxes would have had an adverse impact on property sales. Times-Picayune – My favorite endorsement meeting was with T-P. There, surrounded by people who I’m certain loathe people like me (bloggers!), it was a great joust. After discussing my leg injury, the first question was, “Considering all of your health issues with your leg, why are you running for Mayor?” Off to a great start with that one…

I gave the Editorial Board a packet of articles and editorials where they (the Editorial Board) had criticized Yenni and his Administration and where one of their Editors actually called Yenni “a fibber”, but they barely glanced it.

The Editorial Board seemed more focused on my snarky (their word) comments to the Candidate Questionnaire that they send out to candidates seeking information.

Some sample questions and my answers:

Q: “What schools do your children attend? For each school note if it is a public or private school.”
A: “If I had children, I would never answer such a ridiculous, intrusive question.”

Q: “Have you ever been convicted of, pleaded no contest to or placed in a diversion program for a crime other than parking and minor traffic offenses? (Driving while intoxicated is NOT considered a minor offense.).”
A: “No. But I was made to stand in a corner once for attempting a bloodless coup against my Pre-K teacher. I wanted less nap time.”

Q: “Have you ever bought or sold illegal drugs?”
A: “And I’ve never exceeded the speed limit or rolled through a stop sign either.”

Q: “Have you ever lost a lawsuit?”
A: “No. But Ben Zahn lost 2 lawsuits to me. Make sure that you remember that when he runs for re-election.”

Finally, after 4 pages of such questions, they finally asked:

Q: “What are the five most important planks in your platform?”

Now, we’re finally getting somewhere…

In retrospect, were my responses “snarky”? Yeah, of course they were. They were meant to be tongue-in-cheek. They were absurd questions that had nothing to do with running for Mayor of Kenner. Who cares what schools anyone’s children attend unless they are running for school board and who would answer such a personal question? Do you think I would want the newspaper publishing where my children go to school or take a chance on that information being leaked to the wrong people? Mike Yenni’s minions leave manila envelopes taped to my door with “threatening” information. Do you actually think I would want them harassing my children at school?

The Editorial Board didn’t see the humor in my responses and didn’t see the obvious hypocrisy of them endorsing a candidate that they frequently criticized.

But, it was a fun 15 minutes in the hot seat. That alone was worth the $450 “qualifying” fee.

Jefferson Parish Republican Executive Committee – I wrote yesterday about the Republican endorsement so, I won’t belabor the point here. But I will say that, as long as elected officials have a vote in the Parish endorsement, upstart candidates will never have a chance unless they are connected to Greg Buisson. And that is sad when you know that, regardless of your ideas, your platform or your background, you will never have an opportunity.

The Bottom Line – Most endorsements are worthless. However, their compound effect does sway some voters who see the momentum of one candidate and want to jump on the winning train.

Most of these groups are infiltrated with political operatives, supporters and contributors who’ve made up their minds before a candidate even opens his/her mouth. They, and the groups that they “represent”, already have an agenda. Whether it’s money or power or the mistaken belief that they have influence, they all have an agenda.

Did I lose the election because of endorsements? Absolutely not. But, are the endorsements “objective”? Again, absolutely not.

It’s up to individuals to cut through the clutter and make up their own minds and everyone should hold whomever wins accountable.

Everyone should be involved in their government. Not just the 20% or so that voted.