To hear Ray Crawford tell it, the contest between him and Jimmy Harris for the House District 99 seat brings to mind the story of David and Goliath.
Harris, to his opponent, is the figurative giant, bolstered by cash and political connections. And Crawford — a pastor — is the apolitical David, seeking to beat back the government muscle he claims has stagnated recovery in the distressed New Orleans East and 9th Ward.
Harris — who admittedly is well-funded and has ties to several elected officials — scoffs at Crawford’s depiction of him, dismissing him as a malcontent upset at politicians who didn’t back his candidacy. Recovery is happening in the district, he says, and a vote for him would help speed it along.
In the Oct. 24 primary, Harris captured 47 percent of the vote to Crawford’s 31 percent. It was enough to propel both men to Saturday’s runoff.
The district now is represented by Wesley Bishop, who was elected to the state Senate last month.
Holding a clear financial advantage is Harris, 41, who has netted more than $116,000 in campaign contributions since May. About $10,500 of that is his own money.
The rest includes contributions from state Reps. Kirk Talbot and Walt Leger III, two lawmakers re-elected without opposition last month; U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, who employs Harris as an office director; and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s campaign fund. In addition to elected officials, Harris has secured support from various political action committees, lawyers and business owners.
His money has gone to canvassing, to paying firms owned by or tied to local political operatives Blair Boutte and Ike Spears, and to advertising, among other uses, finance reports show.
But Harris insists he’s no cog in anyone’s political engine.
“He told you that I’m a crony for the congressman (Richmond). But the reality is the congressman is just one person,” Harris said, highlighting many others who back him.
Over his years in politics, Harris has worked with two state attorneys general, two New Orleans mayors and Richmond, during the latter’s tenures in both the state House and Congress. And he’s happy to have the connections that have resulted from that service.
Crawford is lobbing accusations, Harris said, because he’s upset at the political power brokers who chose Harris over him.
Further, Crawford’s apparently empty campaign coffers — his finance reports show no contributions in the past two months — might be deceiving, Harris added.
The reports show that Crawford paid $500 to five workers who canvassed for him during the primary voting. He also has had signs up around New Orleans East and distributed pushcards, Harris noted. Money for all that had to come from somewhere, Harris said.
State ethics rules require candidates to detail the money their campaigns receive. They also must report the value of in-kind contributions. Candidates who do not receive contributions totaling more than $200 or who do not spend more than $5,000 may file an affidavit in lieu of a campaign finance report.
Asked about the questioned spending, Crawford denies any wrongdoing. “That was a pushcard that my wife and my daughter and I, we did ourselves,” he said, adding that he has detailed all of his expenses in his finance reports. He also said he had more finance reports on the way.
However, Crawford, 57, has yet to detail any contributions, including any he made to himself. Not many people contributed to him, he said, because “Cedric Richmond has done an excellent job” of blocking his fundraising efforts.
Richmond, Harris and political consultant Spears are part of a “black Mafia” designed to wipe him out politically, Crawford charged.
He blamed Harris and his allies when a judge initially ejected Crawford from the race after a challenge to his residency, though Crawford regained his ballot space upon appeal.
He also has said the black political establishment Harris is tied to has done little for African-American voters.
In the same conversation, Crawford pledged to run a clean campaign. “I am an ordained minister, and besides that, I don’t want to play dirty politics,” he said.
Crawford is endorsed by sisters Markeita and MissKeith Prevost, the former of whom ran against him and Harris in the primary.
Harris is endorsed by nearly everyone else, including Bishop, state Sens. J.P. Morrell and Ed Murray, and former Sen. Ann Duplessis, whom Crawford once ran against.
Harris said he plans to work to attract businesses to the district through tax-incentive financing and other means, while Crawford said helping people rebuild their homes is more important.
Asked about education issues, both men agreed that children shouldn’t have to stand outdoors at odd hours waiting for buses.
Harris added that teachers should be certified and qualified before they are put in front of children.
Both men also said crime is a problem in New Orleans East, with Harris lambasting the New Orleans Police Department’s sluggish response times on calls to that area and Crawford calling for more crime prevention programs.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.