Saturday, April 22, 2006
I just returned from Whole Foods, where actor Terrence Howard apologized for butting in on my grocery pile. (Nooooo problem.) Anyway, it was a nice little moment in an otherwise odd Election Day.
So, yeah, it is election day, and the neutral grounds of New Orleans are crowded with signs. At every corner, folks in candidate T-shirts wave signs. As I drove Uptown to Whole Foods, I noticed that the closer one drove to the river, (and the bigger and more expensive the houses got,) the more Ron Forman signs one saw. Landrieu's signs were popular, too, but the Uptown contingent loves their money, and they love their denial, and they love their zoo--and evidently, Ron Forman.
I find Forman annoying. Somehow this barely-democrat business man got ahold of my email address and has been filling my inbox with rhetoric about This Historic Opportunity. We are told that rarely will there be an election that matters more than this one (though I can think of a couple)--rarely will our votes count more than today.
So last night I was discussing my Historic Vote with some of my colleagues from UNO.
At first, I was all about Mitch Landrieu. In the first weeks after the storm, I remember his comments being empathetic and understanding--that he spoke about the right of everyone to return--not of the kind of racial cleansing that folks like freaky Peggy Wilson (who's used terms like "Welfare Queens" and "pimps" when referring to displaced New Orleanians) have been touting as an "opportunity." Plus, Mitch has pretty eyes and hair plugs that he seems to regret that make him somehow endearing.
But I'd told Simon that he could have my vote. Simon cares deeply about all elections--in the last presidential election, he even campaigned door-to-door--in spit of the fact that he can't vote. Simon had interviewed Tom Watson, a beJesusy pastor who is a righteous dude and a populist kind of guy, and had decided he was our man--until we saw his campaign ad that was all "Let my people go," and so Watson was out.
So we were back to square one. On Thursday, we watched a televised debate, and I listened skeptically to oneVirginia Boulet. I'd heard about her proposal to move UNO downtown--a hare-brained idea, I thought, until she talked about it. She also talked about universal health care and housing vouchers to allow displaced renters the ability to return (rents here are absolutely unforgivable outrageous, and I am SICK of people talking about f-ing supply and demand. Opportunism is opportunism--and unless you are a Republican or a business man, or you have secret conservative leanings like my future brother-in-law Tom appears to have, you will acknowledge that ANY landlord charging $2300 for a two bedroom in a neighborhood that is a shell of itself, in a city that is a shell of itself, is a straight-up JERK, to put it mildly.)
Anyway... I liked what Virginia Boulet had to say. It wasn't empty "we have a historic opportunity" rhetoric. It was We can't rely solely on tourism. It was universal health care. It was juvenile justice reform and other righteous idealistic stuff that gets the Dennis Kucinich supporter in me. So Simon and I agreed that we would vote for ideas in the primary.
But back to the Parkbview discussion with my colleagues.
So we're talking about this idea of moving UNO downtown, and I seem to be convincing people that it's a good idea. We are all very worried about the future of UNO, and there's a joke that in order to recruit a student, you have to blindfold them before dropping them off at campus. The neighborhoods surrounding the campus are very nearly destroyed. It is depressing and grim, the landscape, and it is my daily commute.
If UNO gets moved downtown, not only would improve our chances of getting better public transportation--of downtown being cleaner and better protected and generally more stable--but it would alos improve the Lakefront. The Lakefront campus fronts Lake Pontchartrain. It's prime real estate, and it could be developed into mixed-income houses that get sold for the kinds of prices Bush talked about way back in September (when he seemed to actually care). Furthermore, if permanent residents live on the lake, they are more likely to care about the lake, which is unswimmable. Perhaps we would be able to swim there again. Additionally, the neighborhoods of Lakeview and Gentilly would benefit from the new houses and commercial interests. It makes sense.
But my colleague, Kim, didn't think so. In fact, she nearly spat at me when she suggested that in voting for Boulet I was telling people like her--people who lived in and lost homes in Gentilly--to go f--k themselves.
"Kim, you're not being fair. That's not at all what I said."
"Yes, you are. You're telling me, 'f--k you.'"
If I weren't made of kinder stuff, I may have really lost it, but I tried gently to explain the benefits of the plan, and how it would, in fact, be great for her neighborhood. (Nevermind that Kim lived there for all of six months.) Still, she wouldn't relent. She looked harried and angry and lost. She pulled out a bottle of pills and took one while she talked. David--who said when she left the table that he agreed with my logic and that he really wished Kim would see it, too--looked concerned. He changed the subject and I said to Kim that we would have to agree to disagree--and that she would have to get over this notion that my vote meant "f--k you."
There are some fragile people amongst us, and it only takes an election, I guess, to break one's cool. I read an article in the NYTimes this week about mental health in Katrina victims and it worried, worried, worried me. I, too, am fragile.
So today I voted for Virginia Boulet. My old polling station--Douglas High School on St. Claude--is closed, so Simon and I walked to St. Paul Lutheran Church to vote. St. Paul's suffered roof and water damage, and so the inside looked stripped and skeletal and not at all holy, which I appreciated. I signed in and Simon and I reviewed indyvoter.org's recommendations, along with Simon's own take on some of the candidates.
Then, one of the women at the table said that Simon and I could go in together. I was ecstatic. Simon has never voted in his Whole Life!
So there were were together: I pushed the selection buttons and Simon pushed the button "cast vote," and we felt good and hopeful until my neighbor across the street accused me of "throwing my vote away."
"I don't think that letting whoever wins know that I'm about universal health care and housing vouchers and, like, an actual PLAN is 'throwing my vote away.'"
Later, though, as I drove away from Whole Foods, high on my brush with Terrence Howard, I began to worry. What if Landrieu doesn't make it to the runoff and the decision is between Forman and Nagin? What if we elect another f-ing businessman? I made that mistake in the last mayoral election, when Nagin was running on a "marketing our city" platform (some PR he provided!), and I won't make it again. Still, that idea of New Orleans being a "business" is a popular one to the Uptown upper-crusts who have returned. Forman represents the upper escelons. He represents business, not people.
And cities are not businesses. New Orleans is not a business. It is a home. Mine and thousands of folks' who would like to be able to live here, to vote here, like me.