Fair housing non-profit executive James Perry’s underdog bid for mayor of New Orleans has garnered significant fanfare in the media that may not manifest itself as voters at the polls on Election Day.
When Perry launched his campaign a year ago, it was uncertain that he’d make it this far, considering his youth and his lack of personal wealth, name recognition and political experience. Perry has dominated the conversation online, using social media to spread his message to pretty much everyone in New Orleans with a high-speed connection at almost no cost. He also has had some standout debate performances. Some might dispute the extent to which Perry’s oratorical skills surpass expectation, but he certainly has demonstrated an attention to policy detail beyond that which has been articulated by more seasoned opponents.
Yet, when the final blog is written about the 2010 Perry campaign, how will it be judged?
Will the Perry campaign have surpassed all expectations for an inexperienced politician with limited community stature or will it be judged as a disappointment for failing to capitalize on a rare political opportunity?
What percentage of the vote would Perry need to receive for his campaign to be classified as a success or a failure? For supporters, would a third place finish with 10% of the vote be considered a pleasant surprise or a disappointment? What about a fifth place finish with 5%?
The lengthy profile of James Perry by Katy Reckdahl of The Times-Picayune concedes some degree of long-term political potential. but political observer Silas Lee’s quote is emblematic of the profile’s tacit acknowledgement that Perry’s campaign will not yield victory in this election.
“No one knows who James Perry is…”
Regular consumers of online media may find that hard to believe given the ubiquity of Perry’s e-mails, tweets, Facebook status updates, and his noticeable profile among national progressives and African-American thinkers, but it is true.
Perry has demonstrated remarkable success courting high-profile support with the help of his girlfriend, Princeton professor and rising star Melissa Harris-Lacewell. The endorsement of Harvard’s Skip Gates, one of the leading African American minds in the country, demonstrates the breadth of his national profile.
But Perry’s footprint in local media and on the streets hardly reflects that.
Have you seen a single Perry for Mayor bumper sticker or lawn sign? Have you heard one radio ad for Perry? Have you seen Perry volunteers canvassing crowds at second lines, grocery stores, or churches? Did Perry invest resources into registering the young transplant voters he has courted throughout his campaign?
The truth is that Perry doesn’t even have a sign on the front door of his own campaign office, which, sitting on the corner of South Dorgenois and Palmyra streets in Lower Mid-City, appears unoccupied at first glance.
Is that a reflection of the difficulty of running a campaign with limited resources? Or did Perry waste what little he had by concentrating on the cultivation of national support?
In many ways, Perry could not have hoped for a better political opportunity for an outsider candidacy like his. The mayoral campaign was quiet for months, allowing unlikely contenders ample time to invest in community organizing. The field of candidates, as it took form, never attracted most of the well-known candidates –Karen Carter Peterson, Cheryl Gray Evans, Warren Riley, Marlin Gusman, and throughout most of 2009, Mitch Landrieu – who would have been able to garner financial support and media attention almost automatically.
Even since the debates began, Perry has survived a war of attrition that has claimed his primary competitor for young transplant professionals, Leslie Jacobs, and the likeliest beneficiary of voters from the African American civil-rights community, Ed Murray. Still, it remains unlikely that Perry can escape Nadine Ramsey, Rob Couhig, and the back of the field to join Troy Henry, John Georges, and Mitch Landrieu, who are conventionally considered legitimate contenders to win the election or force a March runoff.
I’ll be weighing the debate throughout the next few days. I’d like to hear from Perry supporters especially about their Election Day hopes, expectations, and the difference between the two.