31 Mar 2006 Project 21 Press Release: Black Activists Support Judge’s Ruling to Hold New Orleans Elections on Time
As Reverend Jesse Jackson and others prepare to march in opposition to scheduled city government elections in New Orleans, members of the black leadership network Project 21 are supportive of a New Orleans-based federal judge’s ruling clearing the way for voting to be held on and leading up to April 22.
In his March 27 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle acknowledged inherent difficulties in holding the election so soon after the chaos and displacement caused by Hurricane Katrina, but also stressed it is necessary for the elections to take place on schedule. To accommodate New Orleans voters displaced by Hurricane Katrina, voting stations will be set up across the state of Louisiana with extended voting schedules. Additionally, many thousands of residents have already requested absentee ballots. To stimulate interest in the election, the state paid for informational television and radio ads in areas with large numbers of the displaced. Candidates are also campaigning and debated in cities such as Atlanta and Houston.
Reverend Jackson, the NAACP and other groups are questioning the legitimacy of the election in advance of voting and pushing for additional relaxation of regular voting rules such as absentee voting for brand-new voters and out-of-state voting centers. They allege the election is a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
While citing that the voting process would not be without problems, Judge Lamelle, a black man appointed by President Bill Clinton who himself was displaced by Hurricane Katrina, said, “we have a burning desire for wholesomeness, completeness, normalcy.” Additionally, on-time elections are supported by New Orleans City Council president Oliver M. Thomas, Jr., who is also black.
Project 21 members support the ruling of Judge Lamelle and criticize the Reverend Jackson and his allies for trying to create racial unrest during a difficult time, and do not rule out the notion that these protests are driven more by political interests than virtuous concern for the electoral process.
“The victims of Hurricane Katrina cross every color, creed and economic and social line, but Jackson and his supporters are taking their poisonous race-baiting to a new level of political grandstanding and potential vote-herding,” said Project 21 member Kevin Martin, who helped with initial Katrina clean-up efforts. “Sadly, many of those planning to march are using the race of those displaced by Hurricane Katrina as a means of remaining politically relevant.”
Project 21 member Gregory Parker, a county commissioner in Comal County, Texas, notes that many of the displaced in his area now have no desire to return to the Gulf Coast. He is concerned the movement to put off a vote in New Orleans may be motivated more by the goal of some politicians to retain power in the face of voter anger. Parker said: “It appears to me that the current leadership of New Orleans has failed and now wish to shift, redirect or mask blame and guilt under a cloak of racism. I can understand their desire to make the situation right and correct their mistakes by staying in power, but that means they need to acknowledge they made a mistake and stop passing the buck.”
“One could argue that Jesse Jackson and others are not as interested in the displaced as a whole as much as those who fit into the right category to create the ‘chocolate city’ current New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin promised back in January,” said Project 21 member Mychal Massie. “It seems that these protests are more about maintaining the status quo that created much of the chaos of last year than protecting voting rights.”
For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 x11 or [email protected], or visit Project 21’s website at http://www.project21.org/P21Index.html. New Visions Commentaries can be found at https://nationalcenter.org/P21NewVisions.html.