Poll: Voters say no to possible third term for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Nick Felton, president of the firefighters union, right center,and Mayor Mitch Landrieu go their separate ways after announing a settlement in the decades long dispute between the city and firefighters union over pension and back pay..

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has a 57 percent approval rating, but voters are overwhelmingly opposed to changing the city’s charter to allow him to run for a third term, according to a poll by a University of New Orleans researcher. The poll also found more New Orleanians oppose than support removing Confederate statues in the city.

The survey was not affiliated with Landrieu or his supporters.

Tony Licciardi, a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of New Orleans, conducted the survey of 657 voters by automated calls Dec. 13, four days before the New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 to take down four Confederate monuments.

Licciardi said the poll was aimed at gathering information for his own research, which includes studying the differences between the preferences of those who vote early and those who cast their ballots on election day. He said the questions were drafted based on interesting topics that were under discussion at the time.

Landrieu’s recent announcement that he will not seek U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s seat in 2016 sparked the question about changing the city’s charter to allow the mayor to run for a third term, Licciardi said. Mayors are now limited to two consecutive terms in office.

Voters appear to be happy with that restriction. Only 32 percent of the people surveyed said they would support a measure allowing for three-term mayors, with 49 percent in opposition.

The poll also found that only 34 percent of voters support “removing Civil War memorial statues in New Orleans from their current locations,” with 43 percent opposed.

The poll sparked curiosity in some circles when residents reported getting the robocalls, leading to speculation that Landrieu was testing the waters for a third term.

That wouldn’t exactly be a shocking development. Rumors that the mayor is contemplating seeking another four years crop up frequently. The presence of a Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion when Landrieu’s current term is up in 2018 — cutting off an obvious office for the mayor to pursue — has only provided more grist for the rumor mill.

Such an attempt would not be unprecedented. Former Mayor Marc Morial made a push for a third term in 1999, and his father, Dutch Morial, made two attempts at a similar charter change in the 1980s. Voters rejected all those efforts by sizable margins.

The good news for Landrieu in the poll is that 57 percent of the city’s voters view him favorably, compared with 26 percent who hold a negative view of him. About 66 percent of black voters back the mayor; only 15 percent have an unfavorable view of him. About 44 percent of white voters view the mayor unfavorably, compared with 41 percent who said they support Landrieu, who is white.

About 42 percent of voters said they believe the city is headed in the right direction, while 28 percent believe it’s going the wrong way and 30 percent said they didn’t know.

The poll surveyed voters by land phone lines only and has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.

Debate reveals Head, Landrieu hostility

Councilwoman Stacy Head and Mayor Mitch Landrieu have always had a tense relationship. But their differences exploded in a public and acrimonious back-and-forth during Thursday’s debate over the Confederate monuments, with the mayor blasting the councilwoman for her criticisms of the process that led to the vote.

It began when Head, who cast the sole vote against removing the four monuments, raised concern that the process would not stop with the four statues under discussion and that other historic markers could find themselves in the crosshairs as well because the people they depict also can be seen as racially divisive.

That, Head said, could include Battle of New Orleans victor Gen. Andrew Jackson’s statue in Jackson Square because he was later responsible as president for the “Trail of Tears,” the notorious forced removal of the Cherokee nation from its lands east of the Mississippi River to present-day Oklahoma.

Landrieu, sitting at the council dais at the time to hear public comment on the statues, told Head he wanted a chance to respond to that comment with what he described as “the eradication of myths in this city and your participation in them.”

Landrieu paraphrased the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by saying that “every time there is direct nonviolent action, the first accusation is, ‘Why are you being divisive? Why are you creating tension?’ ” Instead, Landrieu said, slavery and the Civil War were the sources of tension.

What followed was a lengthy exchange over both substance and procedures that saw Head and Landrieu try to one-up each other and talk over each other.

Landrieu said he was listening to the people of New Orleans in seeking to remove the monuments. “You could have led this effort, but I suppose you chose not to,” he said.

“I speak for the people,” he said a few minutes later.

In response to Head’s questions about plans for perhaps removing other statues, Landrieu floated the idea of forming a commission that would be charged with creating a park to house the Confederate statues and evaluating other monuments in the city.

Those decisions, Landrieu said, would be made by future administrations and councils that “neither you nor I, Stacy, will be a part of.”

That draw a “Thank God” from Head.

Cantrell’s views on monuments shifted

In recent weeks, Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell has been hard to predict when it comes to the question of the monuments.

Cantrell actually proposed an ordinance to remove the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis before Landrieu made his call to take down that monument and three others, and she initially co-sponsored the mayor’s legislation. But she reversed course two weeks ago, saying the process had been too driven by Landrieu’s office and was taking attention away from other pressing issues in the city.

Cantrell reiterated those concerns as she spoke about the monuments at Thursday’s meeting before eventually calling for unanimity on the issue and voting along with the majority of the council to take down the statues.

She scrapped her prepared remarks during the meeting and gave an extemporaneous explanation of her thoughts on the matter, arguing that the process should not have been driven by a “man of privilege.”

As some members of the crowd heckled her, Cantrell said she was a “process person” and felt the procedures leading up to the vote were flawed and did not unify the city.

“Respect, if we want it, we really have to give it,” she said.

The speech then veered into a plea for unity and a focus on other needs.

“I do plead to our mayor that as you move forward that you work with us, you ask us what we feel and how we feel,” Cantrell said. “And not only asking but let it mean something, and let it show in the processes as we move forward. I don’t think that’s much to ask. We deserve that.”

Compiled by Jeff Adelson