Government & Politics
 

Who's more distracted?

Today in a front-page story, The Times-Picayune reported on a survey by pollster Dr. Silas Lee that found 63 percent of New Orleanians expect the Super Bowl and/or Mardi Gras to be a “major distraction” from that other February event, citywide elections.

No freakin’ duh.

That’s like asking whether you dress differently when it is cold outside compared to when it is warm.

I follow these elections as obsessively as anyone and even I would have answered yes to that poll question.

I fully plan on enjoying my life over the next few weeks, and I fully expect that I will be spending time participating in these two awesome social events.

For whatever reason, The Times-Picayune  felt it needed to sound the alarm  with a gigantic front-page story.

With less than two weeks to go in the primary campaign, the news media has a responsibility to inform voters of what candidates are proposing, and what the potential consequences might be. Do voters really need to know what the University of New Orleans’ Ed Chevernak is speculating about how seasonal festivities will affect turnout? The whole article could have been a two-paragraph blurb.

In fact, it could have been a Tweet: “Lee poll says voters 2 b distracted by partying, contenders encourage early voting 2 keep supporters focused.”

Done! And with 31 characters to spare!

The horse-race obsession, which I’ll concede is fun, makes it really tough for candidates to teach voters about their ideas and forces voters to do independent research on candidates.

Mitch Landrieu descended on the mayor’s race right before the qualifying period, and he has rocketed to the top of the polls as much because of voter familiarity as anything he is proposing to do.

The average voter probably knows that Landrieu wants to “create jobs” and “fight crime.” He repeats that he “knows what to do and how to do it.”

Other than that, the average voter knows that he’s the front-runner.

But none of that means anything at all.

How does one “fight crime?” Has that not been a priority for every mayor in the history of the urban form?

Last night, I got a phone call from a pollster clearly conducting a survey for the Landrieu campaign. It was about the degree to which I thought Landrieu would be “tough on crime.”

Is there a more meaningless phrase in American politics than “tough on crime?”

The slogan might be even more backward in a city such as New Orleans, which has some of the highest arrest and incarceration rates in America while maintaining its high rates of violent crime. In fact, most criminal-justice experts seem to be in accord that New Orleans needs to scrap its policy of arresting residents for outstanding traffic tickets and simple drug possession and reform its municipal prison to treat accused criminals more like human beings and less like however the feds currently classify Guantanamo detainees.

My ideal mayor might reduce crime by wasting fewer resources on capturing pot smokers, improving conditions at city jails –  especially for juveniles –  and changing the culture of the Police Department by purging the force of under-qualified and overly aggressive officers.

“Tough on crime” isn’t much of a descriptor for those policy solutions, even though District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and most mayoral candidates, including Landrieu, are in agreement on many or most of them. In fact, Landrieu has on his Web site a fairly expansive list of proposals to reform the way New Orleans fights crime.

Poorly worded survey questions aside, in fairness, Landrieu can’t afford a 10-minute commercial in which he stares into the camera to explain how his proposals for reducing crime are a major departure from the policies of the current administration and might mirror successful reforms in other cities. He’s simply trying to remind voters that there’s an election coming up, that he’s running, and that he plans to tackle the issues that folks tell pollsters they care about most.

It’s the news media’s job to research the positions of candidates and press them to offer detailed explanations of the rationales behind their proposals… but they (we) seem to be… kind of… what’s the word… distracted.

My pledge, as I’m distracted by real sports, is to not use sports metaphors to cover the mayor’s race. It isn’t an athletic competition in which the strongest finishes first. Politics is not a game. It has real consequences. That is what I want to talk about as we finish out the fourth quarter of this election. OK, that was the last one.

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  • Yeah, I have to concede the horse race obsession is fun, too. Right up to the point I pull my truck onto the pothole ravaged streets, open my next energy bill or drive past any “school” in this city. If we end up with the same old city government, it will feel like we LOST the NFC Championship game for four straight years.

    A lot of folks learned a long time ago how to walk and chew gum at the same time. I plan on getting to my polling station on the 6th. I hope to see a lot of my neighbors there.