Jackie Clarkson’s career deserved a better closing act.
Clarkson, who served on the city council off and on for a period covering 15 years, plus a term in the state legislature, was set to retire this year because of her Council At-Large seat being term-limited. She was prevailed upon, however, to run for her former district seat after the incumbent Kristen Gisleson Palmer said she would not run again. (Among those urging her was Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who was hoping to hold a friendly coalition on the council.)
Clarkson could have easily been justified in turning down the call to arms. To go from council at-large to a district council seat is a step down in prestige and a step up in stress. Besides, she was of an age where she deserved to enjoy retirement.
Like any career-long lawmaker, Clarkson had her detractors – including at one time some of her own staff members who complained of being over-worked. Any lawmaker with a career’s worth of votes that can be scrutinized is bound to have offended someone along the line. Yet there was never any scandal associated with her, never a reason to question her passion for the city, and the only complaint her fellow council colleagues could have had about her energy level was in trying to keep up with her.
In many ways she was a classic old-school politician, especially at attending events. There were many constituent’s birthdays, anniversaries and special activities along her trail that were brightened by her signature red dress.
What we admired most about her was her commitment to causes. Her father, Johnny Brechtel, was a founder of the theater programs for the city’s recreation department. Clarkson, whose progeny includes actress Patricia Clarkson, was especially passionate about the performance arts. (Patricia was generous in bringing star status to theater fundraisers.) The last thing a city councilmember needs is another fight, but Clarkson took on battles even outside the scope of her office. She was very involved in an often-bitter struggle to reorganize Le Petit Théâtre, allowing part of the building to be sold to become a restaurant so that the rest of the building, and the theater, could survive. Ultimately her side won. The theater is now on sound footing and the building is in better shape than ever.
She was also a dedicated West Banker. The emerging Federal City development was one of her projects. There are still some bumps to be smoothed out, but the military village will one day be praised for reviving the neighborhood’s economy.
Jackie Clarkson tried to do right and succeeded. A career in politics is not always a happy place at which to look back. Clarkson can feel proud of her time on the political stage. May she one day feel the applause.