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Promotin’ the General Welfare

Ladies First

As a father of two daughters who knows there can be no shortage of successful role models for young women, I am not going to exploit the recent, clichéd Wonder Woman analogy when I say it’s a good sign that two of the city’s declared candidates for mayor are women.  Rather, I’m going to yank out a line from one of my favorites, The Matrix. Near the end of the original film, as he holds Neo’s head close to the subway rail, Agent Smith asks, “You hear that, Mr. Anderson? It’s the sound of inevitability.”


That, New Orleans, is now your reality.


There’s been no shortage of successful, competent women in this community who could capably lead this city. I daresay, the current mayor’s sister more than qualifies to fit that role, but setting aside famed political families for a second, let’s acknowledge the early entrants who’ve begun campaigning and the legacy that made this moment possible.  


LaToya Cantrell is a sitting City Councilwoman representing District B. Also having announced her candidacy is Desiree Charbonnet, who resigned her seat as a municipal court judge. (Full disclosure: I attended elementary school with Judge Charbonnet and know her family through various connections though I have not seen or spoken with her recently or since returning home in 2011.)


Both women meet the criteria to be eligible for this opportunity, but that women are up to the task should come as no surprise to long-time New Orleanians. Ever since the legendary days of Dorothy Mae Taylor and Peggy Wilson doing battle before the cameras in the council chambers – high drama for cable access, mind you – citizens have placed their trust in strong females to represent their best interests. Thanks to those two trailblazing political leaders, more women followed suit and served on the City Council. They include Jackie Clarkson, Suzanne Haik Terrell, Ellen Hazeur, Rene Gill-Pratt, Cynthia Willard-Lewis, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, Diana Bajoie, Shelley Midura, and Kristin Giselson Palmer. Currently to be counted in that number with Cantrell are Susan Guidry and Stacy Head.


So, my question is: what’s taking us so long to choose our Wonder Woman?  

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, in 2016, of the 100 top U.S. cities, four (4) were led by women.  But of those municipalities with populations exceeding 30,000, two hundred sixty-three (263) were led by female mayors, two of whom led New Iberia and Shreveport, respectively; the mayor of Baton Rouge, a woman, now joins the mayor of Shreveport as the lone female mayors in Louisiana.


We’re making progress on our way to the mountaintop, but when we can’t elect a woman to the city’s highest office, something’s as rotten as Bourbon Street on a Sunday morning, and it ain’t just the establishment to blame.


For all the hard work women do every day in this city, that we’ve never bothered to draft a qualified female candidate before this year is embarrassing.  Of course, for all of our fabled “liberality” when it comes to the laissez-faire label we love to live by, we tend to skew less-enlightened and less-inclined to be more inclusive in other practices.


It was no small feat for Mary Landrieu to be elected a U.S. Senator, although the legacy of Lindy Boggs in the U.S. Congress helped, as did her superior political pedigree.  


Landrieu had earned some degree of political autonomy having served as a state legislator and treasurer. Her high profile run as a gubernatorial candidate helped as well. Alongside her in that race was another formidable political presence with a famed N’Awlin’s name, Melida Schwegmann, who was the first woman to serve as lieutenant governor from 1992-1996.  


But the question now is the same as it was then: are New Orleanians ready for a woman-in-chief?  


Are we able to set aside loyalty to a legacy of patriarchy and trust a woman as the guiding force?


Are we ready to join the citizens of at least eight (8) other major Southern cities (ten if you count Baltimore and D.C.) who are led by female mayors?


If we are not, what are we waiting for? This is not a call to action based merely on a fad rising out of the 2016 election. Still, there is trending a solid sentiment, nationally, that suggests women are being entrusted as our elected officials at all levels with more consistency, and that includes electing them to legislatures and Congress.  


I think it’s an encouraging sign that Cantrell and Charbonnet have decided to risk their political futures on this venture, but only by their courage will we be forced to address our poor track record. We are seen, rightly or wrongly, as a “progressive” island in Louisiana due to voting “Blue” in major elections, but at least three other communities in Louisiana have proven us not so enlightened when it comes to who shall lead a city. Even the state itself has elected a female governor at least once: are we willing to continue bringing up the rear on this one?  


With time left to enter the race, maybe there will be more persons who qualify to run, and if so, perhaps there are more females who choose to do so. Of course, it wouldn’t be politically pragmatic for too many females to run because it’s likely to split the vote, but maybe it’s time for women to make their presence felt even more explicitly. Maybe it’s time for the guys, not just to sit this one out, but to take stock of what happens when things are handled from a different perspective.


There’s still time for the current candidates to prove themselves unfit to serve, as that is always the case, but more importantly, there’s more than enough time for all citizens to consider the possibility of a female mayor as a credible, qualified reality.


In the end, the best candidate is the one, female or male, who should be elected. And if that happens to be a woman, let’s hope we don’t shy away from our duty to elect the best person and fall prey to old habits and backwards thinking. Our fair city’s future is riding on this choice. Let’s get it right, regardless.  


And it the sound of female-in-chief doesn’t quite do it for you, try out head chica-in-charge.


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The text above is a column and expresses only the opinion of the author, not NOLA Defender or NOLA Defender’s Editorial Board.

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