Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Months away from the fall contest, a campaign in north Lafayette is already getting ugly. By Walter Pierce

If politics really is a contact sport, it’s boxing. And three and a half months out from the October election, the gloves are already coming off in District 44.

A couple of weeks ago Vincent Pierre, a 47-year-old Lafayette businessman, announced his intention to seek the seat held by first-term Rep. Rickey Hardy, a former school board member. Before Hardy won the seat in a runoff four years ago, it was held by Wilfred Pierre, Vincent’s uncle. A longtime former Lafayette city councilman, Wilfred Pierre held the state House seat for 16 years, or four terms, beginning in 1992.


Literally within minutes of posting a workaday story at theind.com on Monday of last week announcing the younger Pierre’s candidacy, the comment section started overflowing with vitriol, beginning with some pretty serious accusations against Pierre involving his family, his past employment and his relationship to his uncle and a certain imbroglio involving a grant-supported program Wilfred Pierre operated in Lafayette. I’m disinclined to repeat those accusations here because, as I write this on a holiday-shortened week, we’re still trying to ascertain whether there’s any truth to them.

Vincent Pierre had an opportunity, however, to clear this up with me on Friday morning but he balked. He has not yet demanded — or asked or pleaded — that we remove those comments from our website.

This fracas between Hardy and Pierre — or more properly between their supporters — goes much deeper than this fall’s election; it springs from a fissure in Lafayette’s black community, especially its leadership. On the one side you have former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams, whom Hardy defeated in that November 2007 runoff to replace Wilfred Pierre. Williams, of course, was a key player in the fiasco that was the Lafayette Housing Authority, which Hardy helped expose. Williams, it can be fairly said, is part of an old-school political persuasion that assumes an “us against them” posture — “them” being the white political structure in Lafayette. He played this up famously in the fight over renaming Willow Street in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s honor several years ago, resorting to sophomoric acts of graffiti in the council auditorium.

On the other side there’s Hardy, whose campaign slogan in 2007, “The Man for All the People,” at once underscored his willingness to reach across the racial aisle and highlighted Williams’ confrontational style.

Overall, District 44 is 66 percent black. Hardy won that runoff against Williams with 57 percent of the vote, but he captured 77 percent of the vote in the seven precincts with the heaviest majority of white voters. In the 11 precincts that are predominately black, Williams, who in the weeks leading into the runoff picked up the endorsement of not only the also-rans in the primary but the outgoing Pierre as well, won 57 to 43. Hardy, meanwhile, was endorsed by several members of Lafayette’s legislative delegation, most of them white, as well as City-Parish President Joey Durel, whose battles with then-Councilman Williams were legend. Joey Durel will not win the “District 44 Man of the Year” award. Not this year. Not ever. His endorsement of Hardy in 2007 could have been an albatross, but it most certainly helped Hardy capture that sizable majority of the white vote, which was likely the factor that figured most importantly in his victory over Williams.

We can assume that Hardy will again be endorsed by all the rich whiteys in Lafayette as the election draws closer.

Consequently, and especially after Hardy helped topple the definitely dysfunctional and possibly criminal LHA, bringing down Williams with it, the former school board member and now state rep has been slapped with the “Uncle Tom” label. It’s unfair and unfortunate, but, as they say, it is what it is.

Can this race get uglier? Yes.

Will it? The columnist in me, for whom political bickering is manna from heaven, says, “I hope so.”

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