Thursday, February 04, 2010

Louisiana politics at its most jaw-dropping best

Among the many things I miss about living in New Orleans, one that tops the list is election season. That's because politics in the Big Easy is side-show entertainment.

There's no doubt that my nostalgia for the bizarre characters and outrageous mud-slinging battles that surface in races for even the most benign offices in NOLA has some connection to the pedestrian nature of politics in San Diego.

If New Orleans is the Jerry Springer of local elections then surely San Diego is the political reincarnation of Martha Stewart.

Some people thought Hurricane Katrina and its boot-strapping aftermath would infuse more civility into the Crescent City's political culture. But this year's race for coroner is proving the naivete of such predictions.

The race pits 80-year-old incumbent Dr. Frank Minyard against Dwight McKenna, a surgeon who served on the Orleans Parish School Board for five years until a federal court convicted him of tax evasion.

Minyard, who famously flaunts his jazz trumpet playing skills in campaign posters, was first elected to the post in 1974.

He became more widely known in the aftermath of Katrina as his office struggled to identify the hurricane's victims while dealing with its own devastation. The effort was chronicled in this NYT piece.

More recently, Minyard has become the target of what can only be called one of the craziest political commercials ever made. The B-horror-movie-themed spot hits on a mild scandal from years ago when, according to The Times-Picayune, families of several dead people sued Minyard for removing small pieces of bone and cornea during autopsies without their permission.

Those fine points are lost in the ad, which features "Dr. Minyard" and his hunch-back sidekick Igor discussing the night's organ harvest and sale over a corpse.

It won't win an Oscar, and it probably won't win McKenna the election. But it might just get a few voters in New Orleans to think, at least for a minute or two, about something other than the Saints playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

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