Viewpoint: Gov. Edwards introduces candidate Shawn Wilson to New Orleans heavy hitters
By Danae Columbus, opinion columnist
Local Democratic elected leaders, small business owners and deep-pocketed donors eagerly lined up Monday night (March 27) to meet Shawn Wilson, who they hope will be the next governor of Louisiana. Wilson resigned earlier this month after seven years as Louisiana Secretary of Transportation and Development under Gov. John Bel Edwards to run for governor. He also worked as legislative director for former Gov. Kathleen Blanco. A native of Algiers, Wilson graduated from the University of Louisiana in Lafayette with a degree in urban and regional planning and completed a doctorate in public policy and urban affairs at Southern University.
More than 100 movers and shakers crowded into the venue Calcasieu for the chance to chat privately with Edwards and Wilson, who calls himself a “bridge-builder.” As DOTD chief, Wilson was responsible for the successful execution of $5.5 billion of transportation and infrastructure projects in almost every city and town in Louisiana. He’s relying on those relationships to create a winning statewide network of Democrats as well as some Independents and moderate Republicans.
Many members of the region’s minority business community came with their checkbooks, obviously excited about new opportunities that could arise if Wilson reaches the Governor’s Mansion. Among those working the room were Four Season Hotel investor Lee Jackson, Black Marlin Marine CEO Arnold Baker, construction exec Todd James, consultant Darryl Saizan, author Debra Gould, real estate influencer Shawn Barney, communications pro Ed Marshall, business developer Renee Lapeyrolerie, public relations consultant Geneva Coleman, former S&WB director Cedric Gran and electrical contractor Tina Balthazar. Wilson has chosen Brandin M. Campbell, a New Orleans political consultant and small business owner, as his campaign manager.
Other business leaders present included philanthropist Janice Parmelee, who with her husband Bill Hammack hosted the event, author Walter Isaacson, Superdome exec Kyle Francis, Greater New Orleans Foundation president Andy Kopplin, attorney Blake and Lois Jones, retired banker King and Ann Milling, and former president of the Public Affairs Research Council Jim Brandt, standing in for the vacationing Pres Kabacoff. “I like him,” said Brandt about Wilson. “I heard Shawn address a group of business leaders in Baton Rouge recently. He was conversant on a range of issues and willing to stay and talk. Everyone left with a positive impression.”
A number of women active in politics also joined the crowd — such as former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, the candidate’s mother Sandra Wilson, former State Rep. Melissa Flournoy, who is co-founder of 10,000 Women Louisiana, United Way COO Charmaine and Rod Cacioppe, nonprofit consultant Julianne Nice, and attorneys Lindsey Cheek, Meaghan Impastato, Lynn Luker and Kelsey Cheek.
State Rep. Delisha Boyd greeted Wilson on behalf of U.S. Rep. Troy Carter. Other elected officials in the mix included Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Piper Griffin, St. Charles Parish District Attorney Joel Chaisson, and state legislators Matt Willard, Kyle Green Jr. and Candace Newell. Council members Joe Giarrusso and Helena Moreno, who introduced Gov. Edwards, vowed their support. The generosity of Wilson’s donors that night led Edwards to quip, “I am very jealous. I never had a $100,000 fundraiser by this time in my first race.” Of course, Wilson will need to raise millions before Election Day.
Edwards called Wilson “a dedicated, competent, committed leader who loves the state and its people and is going to continue to serve us so well. Shawn is a wonderful family man. I am excited about his candidacy,” he said. The governor encouraged attendees to support Wilson so that the progress made during the last eight years would continue. Edwards cited as an example the expansion of Medicaid, which has created better health outcomes for Louisiana families. “I don’t have to ask Shawn if he would fight to keep Medicaid expansion. He would absolutely do that,” Edwards said.
In thanking the governor for his support, Wilson said, “I don’t think I would be standing here today if Gov. Edwards had not allowed me to help change the face of Louisiana for the better,” Wilson said. “I am humbled by the financial support and encouragement I have received. It is no less than amazing. I was born in Algiers Point, and I am a big believer in the city of New Orleans. My mother, Sandra, still lives in Algiers. My wife, Rocki, has been an educator for 28 years.”
A quality education, says Wilson, is fundamental to building the workforce and the economy in ways that work. He wants to create job opportunities and do so in a safe environment. “We have to lift everyone so that my grandkids will want to stay in Louisiana,” he said. “This race is going to be brutal. It’s an interesting field. Help us build a movement in every community. We don’t want to go back,” referring to the many hard cuts to health care, mental health and other areas enacted during Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration.
Edwards also recognized Dustin Granger, a financial planner and life-long Democrat who has announced his candidacy for Louisiana state treasurer.
FUNDRAISER SET NEXT WEEK FOR STATE SEN. ROYCE DUPLESSIS
State Sen. Royce Duplessis is just getting comfortable in his new office, and it’s already time for re-election. Two attorneys, Lindsey Cheek and Lance Unglesby, have teamed up to host a fundraiser for Duplessis on Wednesday (April 5) at Unglesby’s home Garden District home. Suggested donations begin at $500.
For more information contact Kate Magsamen at 504-265-3936.
Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, former City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.