The small envelope, dated mid-September 2005, arrived at my New Orleans mailbox on the morning of 12 April 2006. Seven months after it was mailed. The city's elections, only half as tardy, will arrive tomorrow, 22 April. I have examined both, and have found, once again, that every detail of post-K life carries a connecting theme.
The deadline for the event described in the September mail was November 2005. I lost that opportunity. The belated election? By the fluke of an unexpected piece of out-of-town work, I am now stranded in Los Angeles, scheduled on election-day to fly from southern California to Las Vegas for a second four-day shoot, without a chance of diverting home Saturday to cast my vote.
I am not sure this is a bad thing. The situation at least lets me allow myself the excuse of absence, when in fact both my partner and I have been torn for weeks on a mayoral choice, the most important of the elections. Before I left for the airport, we discussed the matter again over coffee, as she would now be casting the house's sole vote.
Impasse. Neither of us had/has the slightest idea of who should get our endorsement, even after all this concerned soul-searching.
We both feel manipulated and left without a real choice in an electoral process that will determine what physically, economically, and emotionally happens to us in the immediate and far-reaching future.
Of course, in spite of Katrina, this is not the first time such a situation has arisen in a place many describe as "the northernmost city in the Caribbean".
I remember hearing my truthful-to-a-fault college roommate, who remains my best friend after decades, assess Louisiana political situations upon almost every election. He would size up the candidates, taking his time over a matter of weeks if not months. He would read other individual's and organisation's assessments of the candidates. He studied. He was careful. Analytical. He actually cared about government, while I was somehow still marooned in fantasising over the possibility of a less-than-democratic voting-booth encounter with some willing female independent.
Jim Gabour is a film producer, writer and director living in New Orleans. His website is here.
Also by Jim Gabour in openDemocracy:
"A New Orleans diary" (February 2006)
"New Orleans ode to carnival"
"Out of order"
"The deliverymans story" (March 2006)
I was not astute in such high-flying matters, and would wait for Al's judgment.
Inevitably, he presented a candid and accurate analysis.
But it seemed that each time, after all that work, he would end up giving the same speech when it came to summarising a Louisiana election.
Even after our long separation, I remember his inevitable pronouncements, something very close to this: "Jimbo, I have done my homework. You know that to be true. I have examined the personal traits and public backgrounds of every candidate. I have looked at previous offices held, and votes cast for and against vital issues.
"Even disregarding recurring past situations, I have reached the only possible conclusion: that we are, at this very moment in history, once again shit out of luck."
Colourfully spoken, he was politically correct, in its truest sense. Every time.
I fear that his analysis holds true today. Undermining a deep desire to make a difference with my vote.
On the eve
Tomorrow will be election-day in New Orleans, even as I pack cameras to film an early morning sparring match between a Grammy-award-winning trumpeter and an ex-heavyweight boxing champion.
I have given the situation back home further consideration, and have decided that there actually is one race in April 2006, and only one, in which I hold high interest. I had forgotten, amidst all the clamour over the mayor's race. There is another post to be elected, a public figure who might truly affect the vagaries of New Orleans government, and I am damnably sorry that by my absence I will not have a say in its outcome. The city will vote for a public figure who is currently running in seven separate races, but whom the majority of New Orleans voters hope becomes only one at race's end.
Assessor. That is the job title except in New Orleans's antiquated and bloated system of government, the city is broken into seven tax districts, each with its own assessor applying pressure on his constituents to continually re-elect him or her by threatening the instant doubling or trebling of the homeowner's property values, and thus the taxes owed. Over the many, many years this system has been in place, countless occurrences of uneven, illegal and/or immoral use of the office have been documented, and polls for the last twenty years have shown that the population of the city wants one single fair-handed assessor. But the assessors themselves have always wielded enough power to keep legislators in check and any reforms at arm's length. They did so again in both legislative sessions since the storm, despite the overwhelming outrage at public officials acting completely contrary to public opinion.
But Katrina gave the assessors even more power in this election. In the wake of the storm, every house in town is being reassessed, damaged or no my own house included, though it received no appreciable damage at all and all homeowners have received innocuous letters from their assessors, stating that the assessment is ongoing, but that they (the individual assessors) are on our side; i.e., they will adjust our assessments personally to make sure all is done properly.
These letters were all mailed and received the week before the election. The not-so-veiled threat here is: "Vote for me, or before I leave office I will send you a tax bill which you will never forget."
I remember my roommate's conundrum.
Ah yes, Al, but this time we may not be completely "shit out of luck".
Into the foray come seven individuals, non-politicians who are working in concert with much active backing from the population, one running against each of the current assessors. They are running as the "IQ" ticket. "IQ"="I Quit", which is what each has promised to do if elected. The seven newcomers have proposed that they be elected to then hire an independent professional company to take over the duties of the assessor's office, and as soon as that company is in place, all seven will as one resign and leave tax assessments to professionals. There will be government oversight, but basically taxes will then be administered on a level playing field and there will be seven less corrupt, malingering bureaucrats to leech the tax dollars of the citizens of New Orleans.
Politicians who want you to vote them out of office. Now that is a vote I wish I could have cast.