Inside Report: Black vote split in Port Allen recall

There were many who doubted an effort to recall Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter would be successful, based on the racial demographic of Port Allen’s registered voters.

Black people make up approximately 60 percent of the city’s voting population while white people make up 39 percent.

Skeptics believed Slaughter, a black woman, would remain in office due to racial solidarity among the same black voters who helped her snatch the mayor’s spot from incumbent Roger Bergeron, a white man, in the 2012 general elections.

The recall effort against Slaughter was launched less than six months into her first term as mayor by residents who said Slaughter had racially divided the community and embarrassed the city through several controversial decisions, including attempting to fire the city’s chief financial officer without council approval and by hiring her brother-in-law as her nonsalaried chief of staff.

Slaughter’s 11-month tenure as mayor officially ended at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 25 — after the expiration of the 10-day time limit she had to contest the recall election.

Racial discrimination has been an underlining theme in the string of controversies tied to Slaughter.

At one time, the mayor accused the three white members of the City Council of conspiring with the white officials in her administration to leak to the public information about the inner workings of her administration and about her trip to Washington, D.C., so the community would turn against her.

Giving the impression of a community divided along racial lines was the manner in which audience members chose their seats at most City Council meetings.

The mayor’s passionate supporters, who were mostly black, sat on one side of the council chambers while the city’s white residents, many of whom were her loudest critics, sat on the opposite side of the room.

But the results of the Nov. 16 recall election show Slaughter was ousted from office because the community wasn’t as racially divided as it seemed, said John Couvillon, of JMC Analytics and Polling in Baton Rouge.

In the Nov. 16 recall election, 57 percent of the voters supported the recall effort against Slaughter and 43 percent tried to keep her in office.

Studying the city’s precinct and voting/demographic data from the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office, Couvillon estimates 95 percent of the city’s white people who voted supported the recall while 71 percent of black voters that day voted against it.

“Her defense was basically playing the race card,” Couvillon said. “Had that appeal worked, you would have had 100 percent of the blacks in the community vote against the recall and 100 percent of the whites support it. When you’re talking about a town where 60 percent of the voting population is black, she could have theoretically avoided a recall even if every white person voted for it.”

Couvillon said two factors possibly contributed to Slaughter’s recall: the fact that two black women led the recall effort and his belief that the novelty of having black elected officials has worn off among voters.

“You had more (racial) solidarity in the ’60s and ’70s when you had the first generation of black elected officials,” he said. “Once you reach that pinnacle …, we can be more critical of (black elected officials) now because it’s almost certain you’ll have another black mayor based on the racial demographics of the city. While it’s true there was some polarization, a substantial number of black voters were willing to turn around and support the recall effort.”

Terry Jones is the Westside bureau chief for The Advocate. He can be reached at tjones@theadvocate.com.