Government & Politics

What the #$*! does James Perry Know?


Though he announced his intention to seek the city’s highest office way back in 2008, housing advocate James Perry has largely failed to generate any discernible attention – positive or negative – in print, on television, or over the radio airwaves.

That no longer seems to be a problem.

This week was a bit of a coming out party for Mr. Perry. In a matinee debate on Wednesday, Perry schooled his more seasoned rivals on the Youth Studies Center – a troubled juvenile prison cited in lawsuits for inhumane conditions, and not the benign tutoring program his opponents seemed to think it was. The exchange, which was caught on video, was quite a coup. Not only did he show off his own knowledge, but he was able to demonstrate an appropriate indignation toward those who whiffed so badly.

That same afternoon, the Perry campaign leaked a preview of its first television ad to supporters and the press. The ad, which will run next week on local broadcast and cable stations, features bleeped expletives from the mouths of New Orleanians outraged by the “political insiders and career politicians” running for mayor, followed by Perry remarking that he’s an Eagle Scout. Perry then makes the rotund promise that he won’t run for re-election if he can’t cut the murder rate by 40%. The YouTube clip of the ad drew 12,000 views within its first 48 hours online. The ad is intentionally shocking and risky, designed to capture the attention that has hitherto eluded the Perry campaign.

I emailed his campaign manager, Alex Morgan, to ask about the reaction.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive and we expected it because the spot is real in the sense it’s not inspired by polls or focus groups.

Perhaps the Perry team should have screened the ad to a few focus groups before releasing. While responses have been overwhelming, their tones have been mixed. Polarized reactions over the last two days is emblematic of why so many political ships in New Orleans capsize, even when the water seems calm.

Yesterday afternoon and this morning, the Perry ship took several shots across the bow from WBOK, New Orleans’ only African American talk radio station. Hosts and callers blasted Perry for the ad, expressing dismay that the mayoral candidate would be insensitive to the negative stereotypes around African Americans and foul language. Perry has invested a lot of effort in generating enthusiasm among young voters but may have made a poor first impression among older regularly voting African Americans who may be sensitive about perceptions of young, unruly African-American men who use vulgar language, and how that reflects upon their race.

Perry is 34 and is by far the youngest candidate in the election. The segue from the bleeping anger of New Orleanians to his pride over attaining Eagle Scout status is a double irony – not just because of the odd juxtaposition of profanity against honorable character, but also due to Perry’s interesting decision to list a high school extra-curricular activity in his all-grown-up campaign ad. Perry has another appearance on WBOK for Monday in which he’ll almost certainly be forced to carry some water.

More bizarre was the adoring response he got in an appearance on the Castner and Carty morning show on 99.5 WRNO, aka “Rush Radio” (as in ultraconservative and racist blowhard Rush Limbaugh). One would think that Perry, an African-American liberal who has made his name suing for housing discrimination, and is dating a prominent liberal pundit who comments regularly about race, would be a marked man on conservative talk radio. That wasn’t even close to the case. Castner and Carty thought James Perry was the bees knees for his ad, which they thought really captured the anger felt by everyday New Orleanians.  Michael Castner, who spends most of his airtime bellyaching like the other hosts on the station about the Obama administration’s latest attempt to kill freedom and liberty, seemed like he found his man: “You just get it. You get it.” The hosts went so far as to tell a caller from Slidell to “get a life” when she noted the hypocrisy of  a profane ad by an Eagle Scout.

If this all seems a bit ironic – a liberal, African-American candidate getting called out for racial insensitivity on a black radio station and then hailed on a conservative, white talk radio station – well, welcome to New Orleans, I suppose.

While the ad may be generating the intended buzz now, the Perry campaign may come to regret not instead playing with the points he scored in Wednesday’s already-forgotten debate. And now that Perry has finally grabbed the attention he’s been seeking, he’d be keen to observe the scout motto: Be prepared.

— Eli Ackerman

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  • TJ

    Eli, you spelled “has” and “bale” incorrectly. You might want to brush up on your keyboarding and homonym skills before you go around writing big people articles.

  • Something else I don’t get about that ad. It’s called “5 Changes” In it, Perry says, “We’ll make 5 major changes my first 5 days as Mayor” [artsy image of Perry holding out five fingers toward a tilting camera with slipping film effect thrown in for no apparent reason] But nowhere in the ad do we learn what these “5 changes” might be. As Alex Morgan might say, What the Jeff is that all about?

  • Also does anyone know what the proper spelling of $#!* is? And is it any different from !@#%?

  • Eli, very insightful piece. He’s a disappointment on so many levels. His immaturity is almost beyond belief. Is there a voter out there interested in a stable New Orleans who would give him a second thought, after this sad display?

  • Please. This candidate has gotten exactly zero press from anywhere outside the blogosphere in the last 12 months. No one off the internet knew he was even a candidate for office. Can’t say that now, can you?

    And the “cussing” in the commercials? Folks made such a big deal out of it, I thought this was gonna run like a Lil’ Wayne video. Then I saw the actual ad, which is fairly tame. I mean, do you people even listen to other people talk in this city? This is New Orleans, Louisiana, not some easily offended, megachurchtastic exurb of Atlanta where people complain about things with a long string of “dadgummits” and “oh, for Pete’s sakes” over their pink lemonade. So let us dispense with the notion that the mere appearance of cursing in a political commercial crosses some long held line of public decency.

    The only reason it really stands out is because it is slightly different than every other boring political ad you’ll ever see. I wonder if folks are having problems with this ad not because it isn’t an accurate representation of citizens’ sentiments, but because those complaining didn’t think of it first.

    As for the radio, the explanations are fairly simple. The folks at WBOK have their friends, and their favorites. Perry is not one of them. End of story, as connections are the most important currency in this town. Why does Rush Radio love him? Those folks make their money selling controversey, like all of talk radio. An outsider candidate, with an ad that riles people up, taking on the connected elite of this city? His politics don’t matter to them (as politics don’t usually matter to talk radio). They love him because talking about him sells advertising.


  • There’s no such thing as bad publicity, especially when it’s free. I have no idea why he’s not riding this wave with some more outrageous stuff – this mayoral race is a complete snoozefest.

  • Eli Ackerman

    While I can’t avoid admitting that I deserve TJ’s pantsing with regard to my new push to write “big people articles,” lol… Cousin Pat raises some good points.

    The Perry campaign wasn’t totally naive when they went with this ad. They clearly set out to produce something that was shocking and attention-grabbing. Mission accomplished.

    But the question remains. Why did this campaign require a high-risk maneuver like this after an eight month head start on the remaining Mayoral field?

  • After the initial online excitement over Perry, I did start to wonder why he didn’t build on very early momentum. While I was excited to see him shaking hands and talking to folks in the CC’s on Esplanade, that was pretty much it.

    I started to think, as my deep layers of cynicism are wont to do, that he was just campaigning to heighten awareness of his law practice or causes (as this practice is quite common back east). I would see that fundraisers were happening elsewhere, and wonder what all that was about. Could he just be running for Mayor in order to raise his national profile and progressive bonafides?

    For all I know, he still could be. The ad has gotten him national attention.

    Maybe he was just biding his time, raising funds quietly and formulating a political message that has traction while watching who jumped into the Mayor’s race. Maybe it was just campaign inexperience. Maybe the strategy was to get all the online activism lined up before he got into neighborhoods (please see also: & DFA fundraising nationally). I don’t have a clue.

    But I do know this: none of the other candidates have done much with their momentum, either. The only other candidates I can name off the top of my head are Murray and Georges, and that’s because Perry put them in his ad. I wouldn’t have even known what’s-her-face was running if she hadn’t blown the Youth Studies Center question and got taken to the woodshed by Perry during the forum. I still can’t remember her name.

    And was this a “risky” move? Really? I have hats edgier than that commercial.

  • Superdeformed

    People calling the guy immature for a comedic commercial need to look at other political ads. Beeped curse words and claiming to be an Eagle scout are the least offensive remarks ever made in the medium.

    The real controversy is his campaign manager claiming the beeps could mean anything and that he’s an Eagle scout. I mean really who claims that? Most guys will say “Boy Scout” or “yeah about that, I don’t like to talk about my childhood.”

  • Mike

    On a serious note, does anyone really think he’ll do what no other mayor has ever done: cut the murder rate by 40 percent? And does anyone really believe that he’ll not run for re-election if he doesn’t? I’d love to see him sign document affirming both.

  • Charles Buddy Bolden

    Mike, a fact check for you. . .

    One recent mayor and police chief did cut the murder rate more than 50 percent. In 1994 New Orleans had more than 400 murders.. . . by 1999, the murder rate was 169. The mayor was Mark Morial and the police chief was Richard Pennington.

    As soon as Nagin was first elected in 2002, he appointed his high school pal and crony Eddie Compass chief, returned the NOPD old guard to power and began to reverse the reforms that Pennington put in place, such as strict discipline, an aggresive internal affairs division, limits on outside details, better training, more effective deployment of manpower, accountability of commanders, etc. And within a year the murder rate began to soar.

    Everyone who voted for Nagin the first time, back in 2002 bears some responsiblity – for buying Nagin’s total b.s. job and believing that a self styled businessman sociopath without a record of public service had the first clue about running a city government. Don’t get me wrong, Nagin is most responsible, and the blood of the murder victims is on his hands. Nagin made the conscious decision to roll back the Pennington reforms for self interested political reasons. . .Nagin has always believed that public service and government is some kind of game, not the serious, often life and death undertaking that it is.

    I just hope the majority of the voters who were fooled by Nagin in 2002, the people who first put this disaster in office, will be more thoughtful and less emotional and reactionary in their decisions this time around. Nagin claimed he was going to usher in an era of efficiency and integrity, and what we’ve suffered through is anything but that. The Meffert/Bentech/NORA/S&WB/Municipal Auditorium/Public Library scandals will make the past corruption scandals look like a kid shoplifting a candy bar. Just the crime camera scandal alone likely cost dozens lives, since it was Nagin’s only response to the soaring murder rate and the whole thing turned out to be nothing more than a way for Meffert and Nagin’s other cronies to rip off tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

    All that said, and history aside, the challenge is on James Perry now to convinces us and tell us exacly how he will cut the murder rate by 40 percent. Promises are nice, but for voters to have confidence, Perry needs a real plan, not just the rhetoric. We should demand the same of all of the candidates, especially the ones who didn’t even know what the Youth Study Center was.

  • Mike

    I stand corrected.

    But wouldn’t Perry have to reduce the murder rate to 107, using 2008’s 179, if he wanted to cut by 40 percent?

    Can me a pessimist but it would take a miracle to cut murders in New Orleans to that number.

    And I couldn’t find year-by-year numbers, but I’d love to know the last time there was only a 100 murders in a year in New Orleans? I guess in the early 80s.

  • Mike

    Here’s the link to a DOJ list. Only goes to 1985.

    The lowest ever during that time was was 134 in 2005, but that’s not a good number because of Katrina. Next is 152 in 1985. There’s no way he’s getting the murder rate at a 20-plus -year low.

  • Charles Buddy Bolden

    Actually after Nagin ran Chief Pennington out of NOLA, Pennington became police chief of Atlanta, where in less than five years he cut the murder rate to a 30 year low. .. so it can be done. . . but we need a no nonsense chief from outside of New Orleans, a proven law enforcement leader. . . AND a mayor who will put his political muscle behind the chief, demand results and not interfere with the management of the police department. . .That was the key to Pennington’s success in both New Orleans and Atlanta.

  • Mike

    I’d like him to prove this isn’t a campaign gimmick, which I suspect it is, much like the curse ad.

    Let’s see him step up and sign a binding contract that he’ll cut murders below 110 per year or not run for run re-election if he were to win.

  • Charles Buddy Bolden

    Mike, such a contract would not be enforceable or binding. . . once a candidate is elected, he has a right to hold office until his or her term ends, unless he or she is disqualified by felony conviction, or found to be incapable of holding office because of a medical disability, or if the office holder is recalled by the voters.

    What we really need from Perry and the other candidates are real, substantive proposals on crime reduction. We should demand it, but considering that most of the candidates (Perry excepted) didn’t even know what the Youth Study Center was, I don’t think we can expect much.

  • mike

    “Mike, such a contract would not be enforceable or binding”

    Why, people sign performance-based contracts all the time? Even if it’s not legally binding, why not do it anyways. It would be quite a gesture. I mean, if he’s such a different candidate, out to shake things up with bold promises and sharp language, let’s see him do something different.

  • Charles Buddy Bolden

    Mike. . . I would prefer to see some real detailed and substantive proposals, some thoughtful ideas, what they might cost and how city government might pay for them before another stunt to “shake things up,” . .