To some observers, one attraction of Ron Forman as a mayoral candidate is that he is "not a politician". This is a dangerous misunderstanding, firstly because New Orleans needs a mayor who is
a skilled politician and secondly, because Ron Forman's record amply demonstrates his skill in consolidation and centralization of power, jockeying of influence and allocation of patronage, to name just a few of the political skills that will be important and necessary in our new mayor. No other candidate displays anything like Mr Forman's acumen in these important areas.
Membership on the Audubon Commission is more or less unrestricted. Forman, though he is actually a contractor of the Commission, cleverly controlls its membership, which subsequently almost always supports the position of its contractor, ANI.
For years, Forman sat at the head of the table at Commission meetings, which reflects his true role.
In January 2002, the Audubon Commission proposed a change to its management agreement with its contractor, the Audubon Nature Institute, to make Ron Forman, the Institute's CEO, also
the CEO of the Commission. After a brief period of controversy, including a mildly hostile editorial by James Gill in the Times-Picayune, this efficient idea was dropped.
In any case, the real decisions continue to be made not by the Audubon Commission (the employer
), but by Ron Forman and the staff of the Audubon Nature Institute (the employee
), a shrewd centralization of power through which the important goals can be met in the most effective manner possible.
The Audubon Commission is said to be loaded with members who have received patronage contracts from other government entities, such as former AC president Bill Grace and ANI Board member Sam Kogos, who skimmed millions off of the collection of back taxes due the City by acting as middle men in referring the collection work to a Texas firm. By stacking the Audubon Commission with patronage seekers, Mr Forman is less likely to be challenged either for his development plans or for his handsome salary, creating a far more streamlined process for getting things done.
One of the ways in which Mr Forman is able to dispense patronage as head of the Audubon Institute is to reward those who contribute to his private organization (the ANI) with public largesse. When the Commission was hearing from residents whose properties had encroached on the park for years, one (Jeff Parker) attempted to justify his encroachment by reminding the Commission that he had chaired a fund-raiser for ANI, the private partner.
Donors to ANI also end up getting contracts with the Commission. Audubon's perennial architect (who has no degree in architecture) and engineer are examples.
For many years, the Audubon Nature Institute was a dues-paying member of an organization, the National Wetlands Coalition, that was created by petroleum and chemical companies but masqueraded as an environmental group.
The Sierra Club accused ANI of engaging in "greenwashing" by lending credibility to the industry group. Some of the exhibits at the Zoo and Aquarium have a "pro-exploration" bent. It is no coincidence that big oil and chemical companies support ANI: Ron Forman's legendary skills at fundraising are in large part due to his political mastery of unabashedly juggling such odd bedfellows as environmentalists and oil companies, a skill that will be quite handy in a mayor.