Eileen Carter, one of the two lead organizers for the Mayor LaToya Cantrell recall effort, signs her name after submitting the boxes of signed petitions to the Registrar of Voter Office at New Orleans City Hall on Wednesday, February 22, 2023. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

It is highly likely that many an American burg is more competently run than New Orleans, but things could be worse.

Imagine what a fix we would be in if, for instance, the city were in the hands of the folks who just failed so spectacularly after spending $1.2 million on a campaign to recall New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

Those folks were so clueless that they hired a brass band a month ago to let the world know they would soon be announcing a major coup. This merely doubled their embarrassment, for, when the truth was out, Cantrell had survived comfortably.

Then came the news that among the 40,000-odd signatories rejected for verification were Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, Shrek and Princess Tiana — the last at least a fictional New Orleanian. Did organizers even bother to read the petitions before filing them with the Registrar of Voters?

The drive's lopsided failure should not have been a major surprise, for who among us can remember a successful recall campaign? For that matter, who can remember a recall campaign at all? Around here snowfall is more frequent than recall elections.

The smart money had nevertheless seemed to be on a changing of the guard. The mere fact that New Orleans was known as the murder capital of America was enough to guarantee as much, especially as Cantrell had appeared clueless in response. Adding to the woes of City Hall was the general air of malaise that had descended on a city which can't even pick up the garbage on time.

State law says that, in order to remain in office, elected officials must win a vote of no confidence if enough of their constituents sign a petition asking for one. In Cantrell's case, some 45,000 duly witnessed and validated signatures were required. The recall campaign managed only a sorry 27,000 after no fewer than 99% of a secondary batch — largely duplicates, it turned out — were rejected for failing to meet less than exiguous validation requirements.

This was a very well-financed campaign to oust a widely unloved politician, so its abysmal failure does not speak well of the folks who ran it. When a secondary batch of more than 32,000 signatures is submitted to election officials and a mere 24 pass legal muster, we are dealing with an epic level of incompetence.

The recall campaign claims to be “exploring all legal options” in response to its defeat but it would be better off facing reality for once. The best “legal option” when you screw up this badly, and get beaten this comprehensively, is to say as little as possible while the focus of the media moves to other matters.

While Cantrell is no doubt encouraged not to have been given the heave-ho, she will know better than to get carried away, having literally beaten nobody.

Students of the language will note a rare example of “literally” being used correctly. It is correct because a politician facing a recall petition appears alone on the ballot. It is a thumbs up/thumbs down proposition. If the nays have it, the official is out and a whole new election is called.

That's the way the system is supposed to work anyway, but, if Cantrell can survive a recall campaign so easily, it is hard to imagine that any public official around here could perform badly enough to get fired.

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