Forman considers joining the fray
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
By Frank Donze
Handing New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin perhaps his most formidable political challenge to date, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu has decided to place his name on the April ballot, a key Landrieu supporter said Monday.
could not be reached for comment.
But an ally who requested anonymity said Landrieu informed key supporters across the city and state during the weekend of his intention to run for mayor.
Another potential candidate, Audubon Institute Chief Executive Ron Forman, said Landrieu told him the same thing Monday.
While Landrieu is expected to publicly announce his candidacy in a written statement this week, a source said a formal declaration with a kickoff event and a campaign speech likely won't come until after the Legislature's special session set for Feb. 6-17.
The mayoral primary has been scheduled for April 22, with a runoff, if needed, on May 20. Qualifying for the race will be March 1-3.
Before Hurricane Katrina, Nagin was considered a virtual lock to win a second four-year term.
But the city's slow recovery from the disaster and Nagin's missteps -- most notably his notorious "chocolate city" speech on Martin Luther King Day -- have made him highly vulnerable in the eyes of many political handicappers.
Several mayoral candidates already are campaigning, but, aside from Nagin, none appears able to match Landrieu's name recognition or his ability to raise money.
One potential candidate who might compete with Landrieu in the fund-raising department is Forman, who met Monday with Landrieu.
"Based on my conversation with him today, I would say he is going to run," said Forman, who added that he continues to seriously consider the contest.
Forman said Landrieu indicated that he has given his financial backers the green light to begin raising money for the mayoral campaign and has begun meeting with individual backers.
For his part, Forman said he is still listening to business and community leaders who are encouraging him to run and said he is likely to make his decision in the next two weeks.
During the weekend, Forman said supporters provided him with commitments for more than $700,000 in contributions.
Forman said he believes he would have little difficulty raising $1.5 million if he decides to run.
"For now, I will continue to meet with the black and white leadership to see if we can put together a coalition to rebuild this city," Forman said.
Many New Orleans business leaders have said privately that they have lost confidence in Nagin's ability to lead a Katrina recovery effort expected to last several years.
One Forman supporter speculated Monday that now that Landrieu has shown his hand, Forman, who has built the Audubon Zoo and the Aquarium of the Americas into two of the city's most popular attractions, may opt out of the race.
"Ron loves his job," the supporter said. "He makes great money and he has low stress compared to being mayor. It's a good gig."
In pre-Katrina New Orleans, Landrieu and Forman, both of whom are white, would have been considered long-shot challengers against Nagin, the black incumbent who has an estimated $1 million-plus in his campaign war chest.
Most of the city's African-American residents, who made up nearly 70 percent of the electorate before the storm, have been scattered across the nation.
Many of the evacuees likely will have to vote absentee by mail, raising questions about turnout.
Landrieu, a longtime former member of the state House of Representatives, is the son of former Mayor Moon Landrieu and the brother of Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
He ran for mayor of New Orleans in 1994, finishing third in the primary behind lawyer Donald Mintz and then-state Sen. Marc Morial, who went on to serve two terms.
Landrieu, who cruised to a primary victory in the 2003 lieutenant governor's race, has been considered a potential gubernatorial candidate next year.
Already in the mayor's race are former City Councilwoman Peggy Wilson, the highest profile challenger to Nagin, and lesser-known candidates former state Rep. Leo Watermeier and radio personality James Arey, both of whom have been running for more than a year.
Investment banker Mike Hammer, a political newcomer, and lawyer Bill Wessel, a close confidant of former District Attorney Harry Connick Sr., entered the race last week.
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Frank Donze can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 826-3328.