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Chapter One: Finally, New Orleans

 

Thursday, February 19th, would be another busy day. To this point, I had not yet visited New Orleans, Louisiana’s largest and best-known city, capital of the Mardi Gras celebrations. I had a long-standing reservation for the night at the Motel 6 in Slidell. That city was east of New Orleans almost to the Mississippi border. My starting point was Lafayette. The first order of business was to mail the envelope with my campaign literature to Keith Magill of The Courier. He should have enough time to look at it by Monday when I called. There was a post office not far from the motel on a road paralleling I-49. After mailing the packet of materials to Houma, I entered the interstate.

South of Lafayette about twenty miles is a town called Abbeville. A young man named Steve, who was a sports editor, received me and then introduced me to Kathy, the boss. She had me write a one-page statement about my campaign. I also gave her a photo. Steve made a point of telling me that he was a liberal Democrat, which I took to mean that his views were in the minority around there.

I needed directions to the highway leading toward my next stop, New Iberia, which was twenty miles to the east. Instead of retracing my previous route, someone told me of a short cut in the other direction. That worked despite construction detours in town. I found Louisiana highway 14 which went straight to New Iberia, Louisiana’s tenth largest city.

Editor Steve Bandy of the Daily Iberian talked with me in his office for about ten minutes. We stuck to economic issues. It was a good interview. Bandy took one of my photos and said he would put a story in the paper that weekend. The town of St. Martinville was seven miles north of New Iberia. I placed a cell-phone call to the St. Martinville Teche News which, together with the Breaux Bridge Banner, belong to Louisiana State Newspapers. I was told that the editor, Henri Bienvenu, was out of the office but was expected back in perhaps an hour. That was too long to wait.

Instead, I decided to take Louisiana highway 182 southeast toward several of my other planned visits. In Jeanerette, I stopped for lunch at a roadside place which advertised Cajun chicken. I bought several pieces and ate them in the car. The cashier told me that the offices of the Jeanerette Enterprise were straight down the same highway. I should pass through three stop lights and look for T-Bob’s seafood restaurant on the left. However, the front door was locked. I wrote a note for the editor on my campaign leaflet and stuck it under the door. Then I drove out of town heading east.

Four miles up the road, my cell phone rang. It was the receptionist at the St. Martinville Teche News. This required a quick decision. Should I head back towards New Iberia and St. Martinville or continue traveling east? Being the politician eager to please, I said I would turn around and come to St. Martinville. The journey required some close work with a map. After driving back on highway 182 for ten miles, I needed to turn right on highway 320, turn right again on highway 86, and then, shortly after Loreauville, take highway 345 north which would lead straight into St. Martinville. All the while, I was skirting New Iberia on the east.

I did find the newspaper office in St. Martinville. Mr. Bienville, the editor, talked with me for awhile at the counter. He was interested in my arguments concerning employment. St. Martinville had been home to the mother plant of Fruit-of-the-Loom, which had once employed many people. However, its production had gone to Honduras after the local factory closed down. Unlike many other places in Louisiana, St. Martin Parish had a solid majority of Democrats - perhaps 70 percent. Bienville said he could not promise me much coverage but might mention my visit in his column.

The trip back to highway 182 by a combination of routes was easier this time. I rejoined the highway to Jeanerette and again stopped at the town’s newspaper office next to T-Bob’s seafood. The door was still locked; this must have been the editor’s day off. Then I drove to the next large town, Franklin, twelve miles down the road. Here I talked with the editor of the Franklin Banner-Tribune, Allan Von Werder.

After listening to me for several minutes, Von Werder said that the main problem in Franklin was finding qualified people to work in the aluminum-boat factories. The companies could hire many people today if they could find the skilled labor. Was this a problem with the school system? Partly it was, but there was also a problem of young people’s attitudes toward work. Even so, Von Werder said he agreed with much of what I said. He was pleased that I, a presidential candidate, was visiting Franklin. The last such candidate was Pat Buchanan. In 1996, Buchanan had unexpectedly won the GOP primary in Louisiana after stumping the state.

After the visit with Von Werder, I placed a cell-phone call to what I had hoped would be my last stop of the day: offices of the Daily Review in Morgan City. It was, however, too late in the day. Most reporters had already left the office. The man who answered the phone said that this newspaper office would be closed tomorrow, Friday. It would be open again on Monday for part of the day. Then it would be closed on Tuesday, the final day of Mardi Gras. My best bet was to stop by on Monday morning but be sure to call ahead. Also, I should consider attending Sunday’s Mardi Gras parade in Morgan City. I was then beginning to formulate my plans for Mardi Gras and was not sure then what I would do.

There was nothing left to do that day other than to head for the Motel 6 in Slidell. The trip required another 132 miles of travel. Much of it was fast interstate driving. I passed the Thibodaux exit, and then Houma and Raceland, en route to New Orleans on routes I-49 and U.S. 90. The town of Boutte marked the beginning of metro traffic. There were stop lights for the first time in many miles. Struck in traffic, I saw a bumper sticker that read: “My money and my daughter go to Tulane.” Here was a man after my heart, making a not too subtle political statement.

There was a chance to avoid a toll bridge and downtown New Orleans traffic by turning off on Interstate 310 and then taking I-10 through the northern part of the city east and across the causeway to Slidell. I chose to take the business route staying on I-49. I’m glad I did. The toll bridge crossing the Mississippi river from the south offered a beautiful view of New Orleans at night. As my car climbed up the ramp on one side of the bridge, I could see the glistening lights of the city spread out in front of me. New Orleans must be a much larger city than Minneapolis, although I had always thought they were comparably sized.

The traffic moved quickly through the city on the elevated portions of I-49 and then I-10 downtown. It stalled twenty miles later on the causeway crossing the eastern part of Lake Pontchartrain. Slidell was on the other side of the bay. Eventually the cars moved again. My motel was near the intersection of I-10 and U.S. highway 190. It was the closest I would get to lodging in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

Friday morning, February 20th, I was scheduled to do a radio interview with station KNOC-AM in Natchitoches starting at 9:10 a.m. I handled this from my room at the Motel 6. The interview with George Sluppick lasted twelve minutes and, I think, went quite well. Then I set up my appointments for the day. As the state’s thirteenth largest city, Slidell was itself a prime spot for campaigning. However, the editor of the Slidell Sentry-News asked me to postpone my visit until Monday, February 23rd. The whole part of the state north of Lake Pontchartrain but below Mississippi remained unvisited. Some of the major cities were Bogalusa, Hammond, Ponchatoula, Hammond, and Covington. I thought I would start with the tier of cities along the eastern border with Mississippi and gradually work my way west. Friday’s visits, starting in Bogalusa, would also include Franklinton and Amite.

I also wanted to place my ad with the Times-Picayune, New Orlean’s daily newspaper. The paper had a satellite office in Slidell a mile down from the Motel 6 on U.S. highway 190 (also known as Gauss Boulevard). I spoke with Janice Parker in the advertising department. We discussed art work and positioning. The text was the same as for the other newspapers. While in the office, I thought I might ask someone in the editorial department about the possibility of news coverage during Mardi Gras. Carol Wolfrum, a reporter, said that the Times-Picayune had a section called “carnival gems”. She would pass along to the editor the information that I would be joining the Mardi Gras crowds wearing a large purple Mexican hat. In what locations? Ed Anderson’s suggestions of Woldenberg Park and a busy intersection in Metairie came to mind although I had not yet had a chance to inspect either site.

To begin the day’s travels, I drove north on I-10 to Pearl River and then exited to Louisiana highway 41. After traveling this road for some distance, I took Louisiana highway 21 the rest of the way to Bogalusa. The distance between Slidell and Bogalusa was 44 miles. A young reporter named Eleanor Evans interviewed me at the Daily News as she sat in front of a computer. I was impressed by how she seemed to be writing up the story even as we spoke. Evans’ story, now posted on the Internet, said that I was hoping for 10 percent of the vote to “send a strong message” on trade to the other candidates. It mentioned my twin proposals, “employer-specific tariffs” and shorter work time; its effect on personal lives I characterized as “another definition of freedom”. She also took a photograph of me.

It was hard to find the road to the next town, Franklinton, after I left Bogalusa’s newspaper office. An African American man from whom I asked directions guided me to the right intersection in his car. The 20-mile drive west to Franklinton took me through beautiful countryside. The editor of the Franklinton Era-Leader, Moggie Bickham, was out of the office when I arrived. During her absence, a woman with the unusual name of Ettine Sue kept me entertained. Louisiana, she said, was a state with much rain but little snow. In fact, it had only snowed three times since her 20-year-old daughter was a child, and they were light dusters.

I excused myself to go to the car parked in back so I could make some more cell phone calls and plan the rest of the day. I thought I might drive next to Covington, straight south, but the editor of the Covington News-Banner told me his paper did not cover national politics. Then I thought I would take care of the newspaper in Kentwood. It had a small circulation and was located in an out-of-the-way place that I might never visit again. The answering machine delivered the message that this office was open Monday through Wednesday before noon. Today was Friday.

By this time, the editor of the Franklinton paper had returned. She was a pleasant, older woman, much involved in community life. She said that, while she was a Republican, she had many friends who were Democrats. One was a man named Brad (Orman) who worked a few doors down at the H&R Block office. He was quite active with the local Democratic party. They often had friendly arguments about politics. Perhaps I could drop by to introduce myself once we were done.

I introduced myself to a group of women, perhaps six, when I entered the H&R Block office. Brad Orman was not there but his wife was. It caused a minor stir to have a presidential candidate among them. Orman’s wife made a telephone call to her husband and put me on the line. Orman said he was on the Democratic Party executive committee, not the parish “leader”. But he would be happy to circulate some of the literature left with his wife to the other members.

I then drove east into Tangipahoa Parish on Louisiana highway 16, bound for Amite. Along the way from Franklinton, I saw some David Duke campaign signs nailed high up on trees. The former Ku Klux Klan member had been the Republican candidate for Governor a decade earlier, running against Edwin Edwards, the Democrat, who was elected but is now serving a prison sentence for corruption. This type of race gave Louisiana a reputation for wild, wide-open politics, many people said.

Amite was a town about the size of Franklinton, having a rather more industrial appearance. Carol Brook, editor of the Amite Tangi-Digest talked with me in her office. I gave her a photograph. She said she might mention my visit in her column. She then invited me to introduce myself to others in the office. It was my last stop of the day.

As previously disclosed, motel rooms in New Orleans were booked solid for the Mardi Gras period. My best bet was the Motel 6 in Port Allen. Not only were rooms available there, but Baton Rouge would have its own Mardi Gras parade on Saturday. This was the Spanish Town parade. Pushing my luck, I called an organizer of this event to see if I might participate in the parade as a political candidate. I was told that the entrants had already been determined. Having never been to a Mardi Gras parade before, I could not have been expected to know that a solitary marcher with a sign displaying a serious message and with a colorful hat would not be enough to sustain crowd interest. Mardi Gras is something else.

I still had some time left in the day. This gave me an opportunity to scout the downtown area of New Orleans. I expected to be there both for Mardi Gras and in the closing days of the campaign. I drove down I-55 west of Lake Pontchartrain toward the city. It was an unsettling experience to pull off I-10 at the Claiborne exit, wind around the New Orleans Superdome, and be driving on unfamiliar city streets, having little idea where to go. Fortunately, there was an empty parking space on Tulane Avenue. Wearing my purple Mexican hat and carrying a campaign sign, I walked down Tulane for several blocks and then back to my car. No one paid the slightest attention to me. This was enough exploration for one day.

It was a lucky discovery to learn that Poydras street going north had an entrance ramp to I-10. A sign pointed to Baton Rouge. I took this, of course. Several miles up the road, I exited I-10 to take a look at the intersection of Causeway Boulevard and Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie. I could not imagine where the pedestrian traffic might be. Entering I-10 once more, I drove back to Baton Rouge.

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