“Fiber victory gives Durel boost”

One of today’s stories–it appears on the front page of the Sunday newspaper–is more about the next mayoral race than it is about fiber. The gist is that the court victory gives Durel a leg up in his first re-election bid and the subtext is that maybe he’s doing so well he doesn’t need it.

Prevailing in the long-fought fiber battle “is the tallest feather in Joey Durel’s cap,” Cross said.

But even if the state Supreme Court had ruled against LUS, it probably would not have been enough of a failure to hurt Durel’s re-election bid, he said.

No two ways about it—the fiber campaign has been the defining issue of Durel’s tenure. Durel ran as a Republican “reform” candidate and was backed by some of the city’s most powerful power brokers. That got him elected but it didn’t, couldn’t, unify the community enough to make him a powerful and effective mayor in his own right.

The downside to running as the business/Republican candidate is that, even among the moderate wing of your own voters, that support and stance raises inevitable concerns that in office the interests of the few and powerful will be served and fears that ideology rather than the good of the community will rule decisions.

Early mistakes on budgetary and symbolic matters heightened concerns. (The suggestion that the city rename Louisiana Ave., one of the most trafficked streets on the predominately black north side after the failed Confederate general, Johnson–now, really.) The fiber initiative, undertaken in his fourth month has served to redefine Durel…and one suspects that the experience has been to some degree transformative; abstract beliefs may well have been tempered by practical experience. —Durel is now willing to define himself as “a progressive Republican.”

Even running an honest, open administration will only go so far in countering such suspicions–the fiber campaign and Durel’s willingness to get out in front of his power base in support of fiber and to defy large corporations in uncompromising, arguably populist terms has gone a long way toward defusing that sort of low-level distrust. It is no longer credible to worry that Joey Durel will be mindlessly ideological or incapable of following a star to which the local king-makers haven’t given prior approval. Nor can anyone think that Durel is unwilling to take political risks to achieve things he thinks are valuable for the community. In retrospect winning a battle against Cox and BellSouth seems quite possible. We tend to forget that going into that combat history showed that the incumbents almost always found a way to turn their money and influence into victory. Many, even most, of the sage, wise heads thought it couldn’t be done–and hence were late to the party. Durel went on without them and in spite of them. And in the end Lafayette won against all the bets of all the oddsmakers.

For long months he and Terry Huval were the highly visible leaders of a Lafayette genuinely unified against a dauntingly powerful set of opponents. And the city won. The fiber referendum came largely down to trust and Lafayette decided that it didn’t trust Cox and BellSouth–and that it trusted Joey and Terry. That battle defined Joey as an independent, capable of forging his own path and allying across divisive lines to achieve good things for his community.

That sort of trust is hard to earn.

Those things last.