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Monday, March 9, 2020

Perkins Lets Voters Down

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Shreveport mayor is not whom we thought we elected Mayor Perkins' inauguration speech on that cold, Saturday morning, Dec. 29, 2018, seemed incontrovertible confirmation of what so many voters hoped his election represented — a commitment to unifying the city across racial lines: A break from the "old guard" of the past. He represented an uprising of frustrated voters who had seen too many family and friends move away for jobs, while those who remained endured rising crime rates, increased poverty and a culture of corruption and double-dealing in local government that had been tolerated for too long.

Listening to him that December morning, you couldn't help but think, "Right on, right on, right on," as he checked all boxes (so to speak) in his speech, saying, "Shreveport is stronger when we work together" and proclaiming that "(t)he table is big enough for all of us." He reminded us that "when it comes to Shreveport's success, division is a luxury we cannot afford."

Since then (and actually, even before his inauguration speech), Adrian Perkins hasn't necessarily offered everyone that proverbial "seat" at the table, which he said was big enough for all of us — and "division" seems to be his administration's top accomplishment since he was sworn in. From the switching of the city's insurance policy (which the city's internal auditor concluded was unlawful), to disregarding the city council's vote on delaying a $250,000 payment to the first-cousin of Perkins' campaign manager, to double-dipping on his mayoral car allowance (which the city's internal auditor concluded needed to be paid back to the city), to ordering Shreveport police and fire departments (at the last minute) not to provide assistance to the Secret Service during the president's visit last year (even as the mayor calls on the president for assistance with our EPA consent decree work), and even to awarding over $7 million in "no-bid" contracts under "public emergency" declarations that were never made (and that are now under investigation by the Louisiana Attorney General's office) — there seems to be more division now than before.

And despite the rhetoric from the campaign about "one" Shreveport or how Perkins says "disagreements do not have to end in gridlock" or how we can find "common ground," his governing seems altogether contradictory to such. I can't help but be reminded of Ephesians 5:6: "Do not let anyone deceive you with empty arguments."

And so far, that's all they appear to be. His governing has been more divisive than inclusive and more opaque than transparent. Those who disagree with him are shouted down and shut out —characterized as prejudiced (if they are white), and by shaming them as disrespectful to their own race (if they are black) — all because they won't go along to get along.

And recently Perkins doubled-down on this divisive tone and told an audience at SUSLA that all of the "wealth and resources are south of 1-20, and east of 1-49," and, he added, "we have to change that." He likened citizens living in those neighborhoods as "oppressors," citing the MLK Jr. speech where he said, "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."

Yet, his "oppressors" are the same ones whose broad support elected him voluntarily in his victory over Mayor 011ie Tyler in 2018. That's when Perkins garnered 64% of the votes cast — in a campaign where those "oppressors" also chose Perkins over candidates who looked more like them and whose political party was their own.

Instead of acknowledging this unity and leveraging it to bring our city closer together (as so many hoped he would), Perkins unapologetically continues to antagonize. He most recently said that, because Shreveport is "minority-majority," it will always have a black mayor. And if it doesn't, he warned, "African-Americans will be forced to live with those radical changes for generations."

So, if Perkins is right, and he continues dividing us in the most uncivilized, elementary and ignorant way — by our skin color — then maybe Shreveport should never have another mayor again. After all, if any of us are "forced to live" under the rule of any mayor who is not our same skin color (as Mayor Perkins put it), then maybe Shreveport needs a different form of government altogether, without a mayor (like a council-manager form of government).

But new form, old form, new mayor, old mayor — it's important to remind ourselves that our faith in government is not the answer to whatever ails us. I Corinthians 2:5 says, "That your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."

That's why so many are praying for our community. Praying for those who are hurting in our community, so they might be healed; for those who are seeking a job, so they might find employment; for those who feel unsafe, so they might feel secure; for those who feel left out, so they might feel included again.

This is how we can dissolve the hurt in our community and replace it with strength, hope and joy — not more division.

While Mayor Perkins may not be providing a seat at the table for everyone, this doesn't mean those who disagree with him shouldn't be at the table, because at the end of the day, as Perkins said so long ago at his inauguration, "When it comes to Shreveport's success, division is a luxury we cannot afford." Or vote for, ever again.

Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of "Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great." He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in 318 Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by email at louisavallonearnac.com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.

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