Black voters remain key ingredient Louisiana political gumbo


In Louisiana, the race to replace David Vitter in the United States Senate continues to be a gumbo of possibilities.

With 24 candidates all competing on Election Day for one of the coveted top-two finishes needed to emerge from our so-called “jungle primary,” it’s really anyone’s game at this point. However, one candidate is stirring the pot and making things interesting.

{mosads}Caroline Fayard, a young attorney, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2011, has managed to land herself right in the thick of things on the Democratic side. She has run an insurgent, outsider campaign and relentlessly sought to characterize the frontrunner, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, as a backslapper of the state’s ensconced Democratic elite.

However, as Fayard doubled-down on her most recent round of desperate attacks, Democrats across the state started asking questions about her own background and uncovered some startling details that might explain her failure to make inroads with one key demographic: Louisiana’s black community.

Eight years ago, Fayard and her family — led by Caroline’s well-connected mega-donor father Calvin — helped raise millions to derail Barack Obama’s historic run for the White House. Calvin Fayard, who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primaries, bailed on Obama after he captured the nomination, jumping ship and becoming a vocal supporter of Republican John McCain.

“She wasn’t with us then,” said a prominent black political leader in a recent conversation, when I asked about the Fayards’ political efforts in 2008. “When we had the chance to elect this nation’s first African-American president, Caroline Fayard and her family weren’t just on the sidelines — they were playing defense and standing in the way of history.”

It’s understandable that many in the black community find the Fayards’ refusal to support Barack Obama in 2008 troubling, especially given that Caroline herself told a local weekly newspaper in New Orleans that she opposed the president during her 2011 run for lieutenant governor. However, it seems Fayard and her family have a much longer history of abandoning the black community when it matters.

In 1992-93, the Fayards made 12 donations — totaling $11,000, including $1,500 from a 15-year- old Caroline — in support of former Louisiana Congressman Richard Baker.

Baker, a right-wing conservative who represented suburban Baton Rouge for more than 20 years, made headlines in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for racially-charged, insensitive comments. 

“We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans,” he told a group of Republican lobbyists. “We couldn’t do it, but God did.”

Naturally, Baker’s outrageous remarks angered many in the black community, and more than a few considered his words to be a warning sign that the powers-at-be would make it difficult for displaced African-Americans to move back home to New Orleans.

Though the Fayard family’s donations came more than a decade before Hurricane Katrina devastated the Crescent City, it is hard to believe that Fayard — or at least her father — disagreed with Baker’s comment.

In 2006, Calvin Fayard was pictured in a Vanity Fair article about the city’s efforts to recover after the storm. He is seen posing in front of his Uptown New Orleans residence — the famous “Wedding Cake House” on St. Charles Avenue — with a shotgun in hand flanked by similarly armed cronies all ready to defend their wealthy enclave from “would-be trespassers.”

Of course, an image like this strikes a chord with many in the black community, especially those who experienced discrimination and down-right hate in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

For Caroline’s part, her father’s antics after the storm do not seem to conflict with her own associations just a few years prior, when she was president of Dartmouth College’s Panhellenic Council amidst a headline-grabbing scandal involving “ghetto parties” and other racially-charged events organized by Dartmouth’s white fraternities and sororities.

Given all of this, it’s no wonder why Caroline Fayard has struggled to find support in the black community. Her main opponent, Campbell, has not had the same trouble, and he has worked diligently to rack up endorsements from black political leaders around the state, including the powerful New Orleans-based Black Organization for Leadership Development, also known as BOLD.

It’s really anyone’s guess at this point how this Senate race is going to shake out. With 24 candidates in the field and Donald Trump causing trouble for Republicans at the top of the ballot, anything could happen — even a scenario that pits two both leading Democrats in the runoff.

However, one thing is certain: ​When Louisiana voters go to the polls on November 8, Caroline Fayard will not be able to count on much support from the black community — and it’s pretty clear why not.

Bergeron is a 40-year veteran of Louisiana politics and currently works as a political strategist and communications consultant.


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Tags Barack Obama Baton Rouge Caroline Fayard David Vitter David Vitter Donald Trump Election Foster Campbell Hillary Clinton John McCain Louisiana New Orleans Politics Senate race
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