New Orleans Race Takes Curious Twist
NEW ORLEANS — MEMBERS of New Orleans' small but politically active Jewish community are expecting anger and confusion in the wake of charges that Donald Mintz (D), a Jew and top candidate for mayor in tomorrow's election, has created and distributed anti-Semitic literature as a fund-raising device.
``It is totally inconceivable that Donald Mintz could ever be involved in something so ugly,'' said Ann Eisner, the director of the Jewish Community Center.
David Goldstein, the rabbi of Touro Synagogue, where Mr. Mintz frequently worships, is equally vehement: ``He is a healer, not a hater. There is just no way on earth he would have anything to do with garbage like this.''
Although the source of the hate fliers was discussed during this city's mayoral primary last month, it has only been in the past two weeks that the matter has evolved into a full-blown crisis for Mintz. Not only has his runoff opponent, state Sen. Marc Morial (D) charged that Mintz produced the fliers, but a grand jury has indicted a top Mintz aide for distributing them.
``A lot of weird things can happen in New Orleans politics,'' said Abner Tritt, the publisher of the local Jewish Voice. ``But this one is too bizarre even for me. Mintz could never create this kind of material. His moral standards are too strong. He might have used the copy, though, to raise funds from American Jewry, which is something I have no problem with.''
The anonymous fliers were first seen in the city last summer, but by January, more than 100,000 homes had received a series of leaflets and pamphlets steeped in anti-Semitic, anti-black, and anti-gay rhetoric.
``I, for one, am not ready to sit back and dismiss this as `politics as usual,' '' said Rabbi Edward Gohn, a member of the city's Human Relations Committee, which is trying to enforce a fair campaign practices agreement signed by the candidates several months ago. ``Those fliers not only hurt me with what they say about my black brothers and sisters but also the suggestion that Jews be returned to Auschwitz.''
Mintz has denied any knowledge of the fliers' origins. ``This is the old-time politics - people making charges without any respect for the truth,'' he said. ``They know what they're saying isn't true, and I know what they're saying isn't true. But they continue to do so because they're afraid I am going to win.''
Although a top Mintz campaign official, Michelle Tierney, this week denied any knowledge of the fliers' origins, she did admit that some of the literature was sent out to outside political-action groups as a fund-raising device. ``The idea was to show Jewish people in New York and Los Angeles the kind of thing we're up against down here,'' one Mintz campaign worker said. ``We didn't create the flier, but we sure used it.''
Investigations for the city's district attorney last week said Mintz had generated more than $200,000 from outside sources.
Whether or not the fliers have any political effect is still not known, according to most pollsters here. Susan Howell, a political pollster with the University of New Orleans, last week said the fliers controversy registered as an important issue with less than 10 percent of the voters. But because the election is said to be close - a poll done over the weekend by local television station WDSU showed Senator Morial barely out front - further developments in the fliers controversy could be decisive.
Although the only legal question surrounding the fliers concerns their origins - in Louisiana it is illegal to distribute unsigned political material - many here believe the fliers' effect is more serious: ``It has injected race and religion and hate into the campaign, and that has made this campaign ugly when it didn't need to be,'' said Robert Tucker, campaign manager for Morial.