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Adrian Perkins is a candidate for US Senate In Louisiana

You can’t.

You can’t.

That’s what Adrian Perkins has heard every step of the way. It began before he graduated from Captain Shreve High School in Shreveport as the grandson of sharecroppers and the son of a single mother.

It continued after Perkins won admission to West Point.

He graduated from the military academy, became a field artillery officer and later passed the grueling test to become an Army Ranger. He saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then Perkins won admission to Harvard Law School. And just after his final year there, he was elected as mayor of Shreveport in 2018.

A Democrat, Perkins is now gunning for an even bigger prize – a seat in the United States Senate held by Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican.

“He’s got a very compelling personal narrative,” said Melissa Flournoy, a former Democratic state lawmaker from Shreveport who heads a progressive nonprofit. “He’s obviously a very talented and ambitious young man. He is a rising star in Louisiana politics, much like Bobby Jindal was.”

Jindal, a Republican, held a series of senior government posts before running for governor at age 32, in a 2003 race he narrowly lost to Kathleen Blanco. He was elected governor four years later.

Perkins, 34, is challenging Cassidy after less than two years as Shreveport’s mayor.

It’s a long shot bid, though supporters say Perkins has the background and training to better represent the people of Louisiana than Cassidy.

“Mayor Adrian Perkins is a proven and courageous leader who is ready to meet this moment in our country’s history,” said Mary Landrieu, who held the seat for 18 years until Cassidy defeated her in 2014.

But much like Jindal, Perkins faces questions about his propensity to jump from position to position in an apparent race up the political ladder. He has lost the support of Republican businessmen in Shreveport who helped elect him mayor.

From them and others in Shreveport, you’ll hear this question: Is Perkins the kind of leader who wants to do something or the kind who just wants to be somebody?

Perkins dismisses the notion, saying he eschewed a lucrative salary as a corporate lawyer coming out of Harvard to become mayor where he could make a difference in his hometown and give voice to those who grew up like him on the margins of society.

He is now running for Senate, he said, to have a bigger platform to push for a more just country.

“If I’m in the Senate,” Perkins said, “I would fight every single day and talk about the urgency of getting a bill so the American people can make it through Covid-19, so that our working class families can have the resources they need to put food on the table for their children, to pay rent and mortgage to stay in their house while there is a pandemic going on, while they know that the housing moratorium has expired. That’s the reason I stepped up. Louisiana needs a fighter more than ever right now.”

Perkins wants Congress to pass another major aid package for ordinary citizens, opposes Republican efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act and wants Congress to pass a major infrastructure measure to create jobs and invest in the future. Siding with national Democrats, he favors a woman deciding whether to have an abortion.

A Black Democrat in a Republican state, Perkins faces steep odds.

Democrats have won only one of the last five Senate races in Louisiana, in 2008, when Mary Landrieu won a third term. She lost her 2014 re-election bid badly to Cassidy, who benefited from the rising red tide in Louisiana that has given Republicans control of every lever of state government except the governor’s office. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, narrowly won re-election last year. He has endorsed Perkins.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball, at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, rates Louisiana’s Senate election as a safe Republican seat.

Perkins has a ready answer for those who say he can’t win.

“I’ve been told I can’t do things my entire life,” he said. “At no stage has anyone just opened up a door without any resistance and said you should be at Harvard, you should be at West Point, you should be the mayor of Shreveport. I’ve had to fight and claw for everything that I’ve ever had.”

As a boy, Perkins said, his mother often worked three jobs to put food on the table for her three sons. Perkins’ father left when he was three but returned when his son was in high school.

Perkins said the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks inspired him to join the military.

West Point recruited him, Perkins said, because he had top grades, had served as class president every year and was an all-state athlete in the 800 meters.

At the military academy, Perkins said he was president of his class all four years, was a conference champion 10 times in track and field races and majored in economics.

About 18 months after graduation, he was deployed to Iraq, where he was a platoon leader. During two tours of Afghanistan, he was a company commander with over 200 soldiers.

After seven years in the military, Perkins, a captain, left at 28 to enter Harvard Law School.

“I had already jumped out of planes and rappelled out of helicopters,” he said. “I wanted to do something intellectually stimulating.”

Perkins was elected class president for his third and final year at Harvard but spent most of his time in Shreveport that academic year challenging the one-term incumbent, Ollie Tyler.

Perkins presented himself as a fresh face, not tied to the traditional power structure, in an economically stagnant city that has lost population over the last decade. He won with 64% of the vote and took office in December 2018.

Crime fell in 2019 to what Perkins said was the lowest level in 45 years.

But murders have sharply increased this year, from 43 in all of 2019 to 56 so far in 2020, according to the Shreveport Police Department. To be sure, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, to name the two cities in Louisiana that are bigger than Shreveport, also are seeing more murders this year.

Perkins said he worked closely with his police chief to prevent civil disturbances in Shreveport this year in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

A group of Republican businessmen who helped elect him in 2018 turned against Perkins after he awarded an insurance contract to the first cousin of his campaign manager. The man had no experience in that area of insurance. The businessmen said Perkins had broken his promise not to engage in politics as usual.

A city internal audit said the new contract appeared to provide less coverage for more money.

Perkins said it was a good deal for the city and added, “We introduced minorities into insurance coverage for the first time in the city’s history. Minorities should have an opportunity, outside of the well connected class.”

Perkins has been pulled over twice as mayor, once for speeding and once for driving on a one-way street the wrong way – infractions that sent tongues wagging in Shreveport.

He dismissed the attention to this as overblown.

In March, two important White supporters, Graham Walker, president and CEO of Fibrebond, and Cheryl White, a history professor at LSU-Shreveport, wrote in a Shreveport Times column that Perkins had gotten off track because of bad decisions and then compounded the problems by attacking critics as racially motivated.

“Adrian’s administration suffers from a lack of public trust, not from a prejudice of color,” they wrote. “It’s a matter of right and wrong, not black and white.”

Perkins has also lost the dean of Shreveport’s legislative delegation, state Sen. Greg Tarver, a Black Democrat, who wrote one of Perkins’ recommendations for Harvard.

“I don’t care how many degrees he has,” Tarver said recently. “You got to have a little common sense. The man does not know what he is doing. Before you move up, you have to do a good job where you are.”

Perkins dismissed Tarver’s comments as a “personal vendetta” against him. He declined to discuss specifics, but others said Perkins had ended a relationship with Tarver’s daughter.

Adrian Perkins

  • D-Shreveport
  • Age: 34
  • Education: United States Military Academy (West Point), Harvard Law School
  • Political experience: Mayor of Shreveport since December 2018
  • Family: Single, no children
  • Campaign website: https://perkinsforla.com/

Email Tyler Bridges at tbridges@theadvocate.com.