The new coroner of New Orleans, Jeffrey Rouse, looks back on the harrowing experience that was his first ever political campaign with a level of bemused humor — now that he’s in office, that is. He is the first to say he was naïve beyond belief when he decided to throw his hat into the ring.
A psychiatrist, he had been working in the mental health division of the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office for a decade and had made a number of connections throughout the community, enough, he figured, to support a campaign to succeed octogenarian Frank Minyard, who had been coroner for nigh on 40 years.
“I naively assumed that all of those connections would translate into automatic political support,” he recalls. “That’s not the way it works, because deciding who to support politically is a very personal, very thought-out discussion by anyone who’s in power or in elective office. They don’t give that out just because you’re a nice guy.”
And with that harsh realization Rouse hit campaign trail. Used to being the go-to expert about other peoples’ medical lives and emotional needs, he now had to learn some things himself, particularly about the logistics of a political race: Someone has to put out the signs and distribute the flyers. He also had to pick up on some of the unspoken rules of campaign meet-and-greets that had never crossed his mind; no eating and no drinking, for example. Who wants to talk to a candidate with his mouth full of food?
“It was a unique experience,” he says.
It wasn’t just unique for would-be coroner Rouse. It was an adventure through the looking glass for his wife and three children. He recalls the first political call he made, right after he had almost decided to run. It was to his wife.
“She said yeah, go for it,” Rouse says. “We both said, how hard could it be?” He laughed at the thought of that conversation. “Little did we know, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.”
Rouse’s three children had their own thoughts about it, too.
“They were as new to this whole thing as I was,” Rouse says. “Their reactions were unique to where they were in their developmental stage. My boy, he’s 12, was absolutely mortified that his picture was on my push cards. The public appearance stuff was not for him. But he was absolutely intrigued by the strategy of the campaign — the war games aspect.”
Rouse’s 10-year-old daughter was pretty bemused by the whole aspect of the race, although “she could take it or leave it,” he says. “But the 7-year-old, she was in it to win it.”
To his credit, Dr. Rouse, good psychiatrist that he is, recognizes where his major debt really lies: with his wife.
“There is no more relationship capital for me, none whatsoever,” he says, grinning. “I mean, she can go out every night for the next two years and I can’t say nothing.”