On March 7, 2006, I launched CenLamar as an interactive blogsite. Since then, the site has received well over 100,000 hits and thousands of comments from the community. For this, I am thankful and continually amazed.

We’ve covered a wide range of issues– downtown revitalization, smart growth, education, crime, health care, the environment, the cultural arts, affordable housing, and Louisiana state politics. For better or worse, the site also became an important resource for those seeking information or expressing their opinion on the race for Alexandria mayor.

2006 was an exciting year for Central Louisiana.

Alexandria elected its first new mayor in twenty years. Our new multi-million dollar airport terminal opened to tremendous praise. Two of our hospitals broke ground on major new facilities. And, as the year closes, it appears as if the Hotel Bentley, one of Alexandria’s most prized possessions, will reopen in time for its one hundredth birthday.

During the course of the year, Alexandrians have been engaged in a serious conversation about our shared future. The mayor’s race allowed us to define (and in some cases redefine) our priorities. It also allowed us to confront our problems: the relationship between the mayor’s office and the city council, the dearth of contracts awarded to minority-owned businesses, the need for smart planning as a way of accommodating our growth, and the burden of the high costs of utilities (among other things).

Back in March, when this blog was first created, I was still finding my voice. I had, at first, considered the blog to be akin to a case study, a way of exploring ideas, and a means of understanding the community I call home. The initial entries were perhaps a little too preoccupied with very specific issues, namely the work I was doing in a professional capacity on affordable housing and downtown revitalization. But as the blog grew, its scope expanded.

Sure, there were some growing pains; it was difficult, at first, to accurately articulate the mission of this blog– for one, because its mission changed as it attracted more readers, but also because the concept of a blog was relatively new to Central Louisiana. As I have stated before (and I certainly don’t mean this as any slight or insult), Mr. Carriere’s blog, which was created in October of 2005, serves a different purpose than CenLamar; it is more like a message or bulletin board. I certainly believe there is a need for this, and despite the frivolous name-calling that sometimes occurs on Cenla Antics, Mr. Carriere is providing all of us with a valuable service.

However, during those first few weeks, it was important for CenLamar to distinguish itself from Cenla Antics, and undoubtedly, it took some readers awhile to understand that I had a different objective.

By April, CenLamar became more consistent in its approach. People began seeing it as an alternative news source. And although the election was still months away, CenLamar featured its first interview: a question and answer session with Councilman-at-Large Myron Lawson and his opponent Dr. Alex Slatkin.

During the month of April, CenLamar tackled a variety of issues: Bob Dean’s on-going turmoil with Alexandria City Government, the notion of changing the route for the Alexandria Mardi Gras Parade, and the concept of academic freedom at Louisiana College. On April 26, I posted the 100th entry on CenLamar, a piece about what I had learned about the community since creating the blog.

Read about May through December after the jump.

In May, we began tackling more state and national stories: the war in Iraq and the allegations surrounding Representative Bill Jefferson, in particular. CenLamar also covered an important local news story that would later become a major issue in the mayor’s race, the Alexandria Housing Authority’s relocation contract. By May, CenLamar also took on a more professional presentation.

June was an important month for CenLamar. We continued to discuss the housing authority story, which, by then, had been elevated to “scandal” status.

But I had become preoccupied with another story: Bringhurst Golf Course. When The Town Talk reported that the Trotter family would not be renewing their lease on the course, a group of friends approached me about plans to renovate the historic course. We drafted a proposal, sent it to members of our local government, and published it on CenLamar. Understandably, the proposal was met with both skepticism and praise, and though there are still people who believe the old golf course may be better suited for another use, today, Bringhurst is in better shape than ever. And no, our group has not signed an agreement with the City. (I will address the reasons for this in a future post).

In June, two new Central Louisiana blogs were launched: Cenla Antix (which has since become defunct) and Michele Godard’s Video Blog. Godard’s blog provided ten-minute long interviews with the candidates and also proved to be an excellent resource for those interested in the up-coming election. CenLamar also launched its own feature during the month of June, Ten Under Thirty, a series of articles featuring Central Louisianans under the age of thirty.

By July, the mayor’s race was taking shape, and it became obvious that the field would be crowded. Coincidentally, on July 5th, I posted a link to an article in the New York Times regarding inmate labor. The article itself wasn’t what interested me; I found it to be relevant for CenLamar because it included quotes from two Alexandria lawyers, Jacques Roy and Michael Brewer, both of whom I had never met at the time.

By the end of the month, we followed another story about Mr. Roy, the rumor that he would run for mayor of Alexandria. The first post concerning Mr. Roy’s intentions was on July 22, and though at the time it was only a rumor, the post generated over sixty comments. It was immediately apparent that Roy’s entry into the race would really shake things up.

In addition to the mayor’s race, CenLamar also covered a number of other topics during the month of July: the on-going Cleco lawsuit, the closure of Parata, Robert Wolf and the Georges Lane nuns, the Alexandria Police Department, and most notoriously, a report (which has since been refuted) that a local businessman wanted to open up a pawn shop on Horseshoe Drive. Believe it or not, this story, more than any other, generated the most interest during the month of July.

Not surprisingly, during the month of August, we all became preoccupied with the mayor’s race. Of course, we covered other stories as well– the proposed sports arena, Operation Fast Track, and the sale of the Hotel Bentley– but the real story was the election.

Jacques Roy officially announced his candidacy on August 7th, and Joe Fuller became the seventh and final candidate for mayor when he announced on August 10th.

As a side note, I first met Jacques Roy a few days before he announced, and after having a conversation about his plans for Alexandria’s future, I decided to publicly express my support for his candidacy. There is absolutely no doubt that this colored the blog’s coverage of the election; indeed my first letter of support was posted on the same day as Roy’s announcement. But I believed (and continue to believe) that it would have been disingenuous (and perhaps even manipulative) for me to stay silent.

On August 17, CenLamar reported on the first mayoral forum. A week later, another event was scheduled for the mayoral candidates, a debate sponsored by the Crime Fighters organization, but upon learning that the front-runner, Delores Brewer, would not be attending, four other candidates dropped out. There was also speculation, widely reported, that one of the debate organizers was actually a member of Dr. John Sams’s campaign.

Also during the month of August, The Town Talk launched its own blog, StoryChat, proving that the local blogosphere was a force to be reckoned with by the mainstream media.

In September, CenLamar continued its extensive coverage and conversation about the mayor’s race, but surprisingly, another story proved to be even more popular.

On September 13, I posted a small piece about Bolton High School. I had read that Bolton’s enrollment was down in the 600s, which is nearly half of what its enrollment was only five years ago. Throughout the next two weeks, hundreds of comments began pouring in about Bolton. Current and former students, current and former faculty members, parents, concerned citizens, and even former principal, Penny Toney, offered their assessment of Bolton High School. Although many offered a candid (and often irreverent) criticism of Bolton, what emerged, more than anything, was a collective pride in Bolton’s traditions and a hope for its future.

During the month of September, CenLamar began to regularly feature information on Alexandria’s music and nightlife scene, and it also experimented with liveblogging– a way for contributors to respond, in real-time, to the televised mayoral debate.

There was another interesting story that occurred in September: a theft of political signs worth thousands of dollars. During the course of a single weekend, over two hundred political signs were lifted. Jacques Roy, who was hit hardest, vowed to find the culprit, but the suspect still remains at large.

Throughout September, the campaigns of both Delores Brewer and Jacques Roy sent out a series of negative (or informative, depending on who you ask) mailers. Roy pointed back to the story reported in May that Brewer, while chief of staff for Mayor Randolph, had sought a lucrative, six-figure relocation contract from the Alexandria Housing Authority. Brewer accused Roy of protecting drunk drivers, suing doctors, and suing the City of Alexandria. Roy ran a television commercial that recapitulated Brewer’s attempt to win the relocation contract. Both campaigns were criticized for “going negative,” though it’s uncertain whether or not this actually had any bearing on the results of the primary election.

On September 30th, Alexandrians went to the polls to vote for (among other things) their next mayor and their next city councilmen. All of the incumbent city councilmen– Harry Silver, Myron Lawson, and Everett Hobbs– were re-elected by a comfortable margin, but the story of the night was the seventeen votes that separated second and third place in the mayoral election.

With 90% of the precincts accounted for, KALB reported that Roosevelt Johnson, a city councilman and employee of KALB, would be facing first place finisher Jacques Roy in the run-off. However, the remaining precincts were in Charles Park, a historically conservative neighborhood, and once those votes were finally counted, Delores Brewer eeked out a second place finish by only seventeen votes.

That night, both Delores Brewer and Jacques Roy vowed to avoid negative campaigning during the run-off, a promise that would soon be broken by Mrs. Brewer.

With over a month separating the primary and the run-off election, CenLamar focused, almost exclusively, on the election during the month of October. There were a few other stories, most notably the report from the Louisiana State Auditor which revealed that the City of Alexandria had engaged in improper cost-sharing agreements with developers to the tune of around $800,000. But for the most part, CenLamar offered continuous coverage of the run-off between Delores Brewer and Jacques Roy.

On October 12, Delores Brewer announced a press conference, and many contributors in the blogosphere believed that Mrs. Brewer would be announcing her withdrawal from the race. Instead, however, Brewer used the press conference to launch a new component of her campaign strategy: She implied that her opponent, Jacques Roy, was engaged in fleecing Alexandria’s taxpayers due to his representation of a client in a lawsuit against Cleco. Brewer asked Roy to sign a document pledging to return any taxpayer money he made as a result of his work against Cleco. (The problem, as later revealed, was that Roy’s case was employment related and had nothing to do with the ongoing litigation between Cleco and the City of Alexandria). Breaking from her allegiance to Mayor Ned Randolph, for whom she was chief of staff, Brewer also argued that the City of Alexandria had entered into “illegal contracts” with the lawyers representing the City of Alexandria in a separate case against Cleco.

It quickly became evident that Brewer’s intentions were to “confuse the voters” and that she had, in fact, misrepresented Mr. Roy’s involvement in the Cleco lawsuit. Despite the claim that the event was a “press conference,” KALB refused to report it, citing their belief that the event was similiar to a staged campaign rally. Neil Kavanagh of the Northside Journal, however, did report on the press conference, arguing forcefully that the Brewer campaign was “like a senile relative who stayed too long at the party.”

Throughout the next few weeks, Brewer’s campaign, under the direction of Baton Rouge consultant Roy Fletcher, became increasingly negative. On October 19, Brewer launched a thirty-second campaign commercial, which has since been covered throughout the nation, revealing that she had been a victim of the Garden District rapist “several years ago,” a fact that, until then, had not been made public. Brewer goes onto state that she was “also (italics mine) unfairly attacked” by her opponent, Jacques Roy, in the “first primary.” The commercial can still be viewed, in its entirety, on YouTube.

Brewer’s “rape” commercial was met with swift criticism by people across the political spectrum. The commercial generated scores of comments on CenLamar, Cenla Antics, and The Town Talk. It was even covered the online edition of the Times-Picayune with the headline “LA Politician Compares Opponent to Rapist, Expects People to Vote for Her.”

Roy refused to respond to the commercial.

On October 28, Delores Brewer launched another campaign commercial, and though it did not generate nearly the publicity as the rape commercial, it was not without controversy. Brewer’s depiction of the Cleco lawyers as “pigs at the trough” and Jacques Roy as (apparently) the pig farmer (complete with a super-imposed pig snout on Roy’s face) was met with criticism. Many argued, both on CenLamar and elsewhere, that Brewer’s depiction of Bridgett Brown, an African-American attorney representing the City against Cleco, as a brown piglet, coupled with the depiction of the two white Baton Rouge lawyers, who are also representing the City, as adult white pigs, amounted to race-baiting. Additionally, the commercial implied a non-existent financial tie between Roy’s case and the City of Alexandria’s case.

CenLamar’s coverage of the mayoral election extended into the month of November.

With the election just a week away, CenLamar reported on November 1 that the Brewer campaign had improperly obtained the mailing list of the Crossroads Soccer Association and had used the list in order to send mail-outs regarding Brewer’s role in the construction of the Johnny Downs Sports Complex. The very next day, CenLamar reported that another mailing list was improperly used by the Brewer campaign, the membership list of the Friends of the Alexandria Zoo or FOTAZ. Both the Crossroads Soccer Association and FOTAZ are non-profit organizations and as such, they are prohibited from engaging in any political election.

Later on November 2, Brewer and Roy sat down for the first of two debates, a thirty-minute long discussion on KALB. The second debate, broadcast on KSYL radio on November 4th, was fairly heated, with Roy offering a line-by-line refutation of Brewer’s claims regarding the Cleco lawsuit.

Earlier on November 4, Billy Gunn of The Town Talk reported that Mayor Ned Randolph was “no longer supportive” of Delores Brewer’s campaign. In hindsight, this was perhaps the final blow to Mrs. Brewer’s campaign. Brewer’s boss, lifelong friend, and the godfather of her son Morgan had withdrawn his support.

On November 7, Jacques Roy became Alexandria’s next mayor by a landslide- 76% to 24%.

Throughout the next week, CenLamar featured a three-part series on lessons learned during the Alexandria mayor’s race, and looking back, if there is anything to add, it is this: It is unfortunate that during the final month of the election, Mrs. Brewer reneged on her promise not to go negative. In doing so, Mrs. Brewer essentially changed the subject, and although Mr. Roy continued to run a positive, issues-based campaign, as promised, the community still spent an inordinate amount of time and energy dissecting, refuting, and unpacking Brewer’s television commercials– time and energy that could have otherwise been spent discussing the issues.

During the second and third weeks of November, CenLamar reported on Jacques Roy’s transition team, of which I was a member. Roy had a novel idea: Instead of relying on a small group of people to advise him, he assembled a group of over seventy people from all walks of life, organized them into committees and subcommittees, and charged each of them with a specific task. The transition team produced a large body of work, which is currently being compiled into a comprehensive report.

In late November, CenLamar was featured in Virtuocity, a website that focuses on smart growth.

December was a month of great change for this blog. With the mayoral election over, CenLamar began to focus more attention to state and national news stories: the media’s treatment of Kathleen Blanco, John Edwards, the reelection of Bill Jefferson, and Keith Ellison. This is not to suggest, however, that there haven’t been local stories of interest: Mayor Roy’s inauguration and his subsequent appointments of Chuck Johnson as City Attorney and Kay Michiels as Operational Assistant, the downtown sports arena, and downtown revitalization have all been popular topics of discussion.

On December 20, CenLamar moved locations and took up residence at WordPress. Along with the change of address, we’ve implemented a few more changes, some of which may take awhile to take hold. I understand that some people may be slightly disappointed that CenLamar no longer freely allows anonymous posting, though it is relatively easy to post under a nickname (and I hope people will continue to take advantage of this).

We’ve also added a new writer, Geoff Clegg, and have commitments from at least three new writers, who should be joining the team within the next three or four months. Geoff is a local educator, a fantastic writer, and an outspoken proponent of smart growth.

If you had told me, back in March that by December, CenLamar would have received more than 100,000 hits, I would have never believed you.

In many ways, it’s slightly embarrassing for me to go back and read the archives from March and April. I was overly concerned with the criticism leveled against me by anonymous contributors on Mr. Carriere’s blog. I wondered why people who didn’t even know me seemed angry and even threatened by my opinions, and I attempted to engage in an ad hominem debate I could never win. One of the lessons I have learned (and someone said it perfectly today on Mr. Carriere’s blog) is that sometimes “people don’t even know what they are fighting for, just who they are fighting against.”

And so, if there is any advice that a young punk like me can impart to those who may be worried about signing their name to their opinion, it is this: You will never be universally accepted. You will be misread and maligned. You may be called arrogant and condescending. You may even find yourself defending your family and your livelihood. None of this will be easy to stomach, though, over time, it does become easier.

But, I believe that if you are up for the task, if you are passionate and concerned about the world in which we live, and if you want to express yourself and truly engage in the conversation, you will find that openness and honesty are ultimately empowering.

Thank you all for reading. Happy New Year.

One thought

  1. Good job this year. As Louisiana resident who look foward to a better state for us and our children, we need to keep up the fight of holding our elected “leaders” responsible for their votes and their actions.

    Happy New Years.

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