The Landrieus of Louisiana

Posted October 14, 2003 at 6:18pm

The last year has been a good one for the Landrieus of Louisiana.

The dominant Democratic political family in the Bayou State now boasts a U.S. Senator and a lieutenant governor-elect, both progeny of a legendary former mayor of New Orleans.

In December 2002, Sen. Mary Landrieu won a tight re-election race that drew the attention — and dollars — of both national parties.

Just two months later, her brother, state Rep. Mitch Landrieu, announced his run for lieutenant governor. He was elected Oct. 4, avoiding a runoff next month by taking 53 percent of the vote against five opponents.

“We were able to plug back into the network we built with Mary and turn it on for Mitch,” said Louisiana Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux.

Both are the children of Moon (born Maurice Edward) Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans during the 1970s and secretary of the Health and Human Services Department for part of the Carter administration. He then served as federal judge in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and briefly contemplated a 1984 presidential bid.

Moon Landrieu even has a walkway along the banks of the Mississippi named after him — the “Moonwalk.”

“The name speaks for itself,” said former state party Executive Director Trey Ourso, now a political consultant. “It’s not just an Orleans Parish name anymore; they now have a broad base of support around the state.”

Much of the credit to expanding the Landrieus’ political base goes to Mary Landrieu, who already has run for statewide office five times, four times successfully. She is the oldest of Moon and Verna Landrieu’s nine children — each of whom has a name that begins with the letter “M.” At 43, Mitch Landrieu is almost five years younger than his sister the Senator.

After being elected to the state Legislature at 23, Mary Landrieu was elected state treasurer in 1987 and, after an unsuccessful 1995 gubernatorial bid, won a closely contested 1996 Senate election over former state Rep. Woody Jenkins (R).

Mitch Landrieu jumped into the open lieutenant governor’s race after spending four terms — 16 years — in the state House representing New Orleans’ Uptown. Like his sister, Mitch had one political loss under his belt — a 1994 bid for New Orleans mayor.

As the only Democrat in the race, Landrieu was expected to lead the field but receive less than 50 percent of the vote, necessitating a Nov. 15 runoff election.

But Landrieu drastically outspent his rivals (expending roughly $800,000 on the race) to win the job outright. His closest rival was former Republican Rep. Clyde Holloway, who received 19 percent of the vote. Holloway was coming off an unsuccessful run for his old 5th district seat in 2002 where he placed third, narrowly missing a runoff.

In the campaign Holloway made an issue of Mitch Landrieu’s political pedigree, promising to “block the liberal Landrieu establishment from growing. One Landrieu in a top post is enough.”

Landrieu retorted that Holloway didn’t seem to have a problem with the fact that the Bush family has produced two presidents and the governor of Florida.

But Mitch Landrieu’s campaign was clearly cognizant of the potential perils of running solely as a political legacy, and Mary Landrieu was not highly visible during the race.

Due to fundraising restrictions placed on federally elected officials by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, she was also not able to raise large sums of money for her brother’s campaign but did hold one hard-dollar event, according to knowledgeable sources.

Mary Landrieu was a major factor behind the scenes, however, helping her brother out organizationally and with key contacts around the state.

Although the lieutenant governor has few responsibilities outside of overseeing the state’s tourism industry and stepping in if the governor is incapacitated, many observers point to it as a stepping stone to higher office.

Former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) held the post since 1995 and is currently embroiled in a gubernatorial runoff with former Bush administration official Bobby Jindal (R).

During the campaign, Landrieu touted himself as a potential ambassador for the state and ran heavily on an economic development platform. As a state legislator, Landrieu was intimately involved in bringing the Charlotte Hornets NBA basketball team to New Orleans.

Although Mary and Mitch are the most well-known of the Landrieu politicos, their younger sister, Madeline, is an elected judge in Orleans Parish. She is regularly mentioned as a potential candidate for the state Supreme Court down the road.