Jimmy Fitzmorris

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For those of a similar name, see James Fitzmaurice (disambiguation).
James Edward "Jimmy" Fitzmorris, Jr.
Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana
In office
1972–1980
Preceded by Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock
Succeeded by Robert Louis "Bobby" Freeman
President of the Louisiana State Senate (ex officio)
In office
1972–1976
Preceded by Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock
Succeeded by Michael H. O'Keefe
New Orleans City Councilman
In office
1954–1966
Personal details
Born (1921-11-15) November 15, 1921 (age 92)
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Gloria Lopez Fitzmorris (married 1945-1995, her death)
Children Lisa Marie Clement
Occupation Railroad executive
Religion Roman Catholic

James Edward "Jimmy" Fitzmorris, Jr. (born November 15, 1921), is a New Orleans businessman and civic leader who was the Democratic Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana from 1972 to 1980. He was the first full-time lieutenant governor in state history, and in his first term, prior to implementation of the Constitution of 1974, he was the last lieutenant governor whose duties included presiding over the Louisiana State Senate.

In 1979, he ran third in the nonpartisan blanket primary for governor. In 1983, he was unsuccessful is his effort to regain the lieutenant governor's office.

Early years[edit]

Fitzmorris was born in New Orleans to James Edward Fitzmorris, Sr., and the former Romolia E. Hanning. He graduated from Jesuit High School and attended Loyola University of New Orleans in 1946, but did not graduate. In 1940, at the age of eighteen, Fitzmorris went to work for the Kansas City Southern Railroad as a messenger boy. He was in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1945 and rose from the rank of private to major.

In 1945, he married the former Gloria Lopez (July 7, 1923–July 1995), and they had a daughter, Lisa Marie, who is now married to Bruce Clement. He has two granddaughters, Madeline Gloria and Meredith Rose Clement.

By 1946, not only had he returned to KCS, but he had entered management and was recognized as one of the youngest railroad executives in the nation. Fitzmorris, who served as vice president of the KCS Railroad for many years,[1] is currently serving as a consultant to the railroad providing more than sixty years of experience.

City council and first mayoral bid[edit]

Fitzmorris was a Democratic member of the New Orleans City Council from 1954 to 1966. He was the District 6 member from 1954 to 1962 and councilman at-large from 1962 to 1966. In the election of 1965, Fitzmorris challenged incumbent Mayor Victor Schiro in the Democratic primary and appeared to have a strong chance of success. One of the other candidates, Gerald J. Gallinghouse, later the crusading U.S. attorney for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, withdrew from the race to support Fitzmorris,[2] who also had the endorsement of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Former Louisiana state senator, secretary of state, and insurance commissioner James H. "Jim" Brown maintains that Fitzmorris would have unseated Schiro had not Hurricane Betsy struck New Orleans on September 10, 1965. The storm changed the dynamics of the race, as the media depicted President Lyndon B. Johnson with Mayor Schiro offering repeated personal assistance to hurricane victims, Brown explained. Fifty people died, and thousands of homes were destroyed. The mere challenger, Councilman Fitzmorris, was by virtue of his position nearly outside the loop. "But such is politics, and after it's over you learn to laugh it off, which I did," Fitzmorris said, of Hurricane Betsy and the dashing of his mayoral hopes.

Losing to Moon Landrieu[edit]

Fitzmorris ran again for mayor in the election of 1969. He led in the Democratic primary with 59,301 votes. Maurice "Moon" Landrieu was second with 33,093, and future state attorney general and newly elected State Senator William J. "Billy" Guste, Jr., was third with 29,487 votes. Nine other candidates shared some 50,000 votes as well. In the primary runoff, Landrieu prevailed, 89,554 (53.9 percent) to Fitzmorris's 76,725 (46.1 percent). Landrieu then won the general election in the spring of 1970 over the Republican nominee, Ben C. Toledano, a member of a prominent family whose origin dates to the earliest years of New Orleans. A number of Fitzmorris's organizers defected to Toledano.

Twice elected lieutenant governor[edit]

In 1971, Fitzmorris entered a crowded Democratic primary for lieutenant governor to fill the position being vacated by gubernatorial hopeful Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock (1915–1987) of Franklin in St. Mary Parish. Fitzmorris went into a runoff with three-term State Senator Jamar William Adcock (1917–1991), a Monroe banker. Other Democratic candidates were Minden businessman Edward Kennon, two state representatives, Parey Branton of Shongaloo and P.J. Mills of Shreveport, and Pete Heine, the mayor of Baker in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Fitzmorris won the runoff by a wide margin and then faced the Republican former state representative Morley A. Hudson of Shreveport, who ran on a ticket headed by David C. Treen, then of Jefferson Parish. Fitzmorris scored a knockout over Hudson and went on to serve two terms in the state's second highest office. He polled 815,794 votes (76.8 percent) to Hudson's 218,169 ballots (20.5 percent). Hudson failed to win a single parish but fared best in his home base of Caddo. (A third candidate in the race, Gertrude L. Taylor, also of Shreveport, nominee of George C. Wallace's former American Independent Party, received 2.7 percent of the vote.)

In 1975, Fitzmorris was reelected in the first ever Louisiana jungle primary. One of his minor opponents, Lance Allan Britton (born c. 1943) of Baton Rouge, later Mansfield, was the only Republican seeking statewide office that year. Britton polled 67,821 votes (6 percent), compared to Fitzmorris' 924,325 (81.7 percent). At the time, there were 54,862 registered Republicans in Louisiana. Britton hence polled only some thirteen thousand more votes in his race than the total number of GOP registrants in 1975.

As lieutenant governor, Fitzmorris promoted tourism and was head of the Louisiana Tourist Development Commission. He encouraged the establishment of the defunct outdoor drama Louisiana Cavalier presented in Natchitoches on summer nights in the middle 1970s. He also encouraged industrial development, and by the late 1970s, Louisiana was among the more successful states in recruiting new businesses and industries.

In 1976, Fitzmorris appointed the first woman, Evelyn Blackmon of West Monroe, to the Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry.[3]

Fitzmorris adhered strictly to timetables. When he chaired meetings, he always started exactly on time and finished accordingly. One of his chamber of commerce associates recalled that Fitzmorris ran committee meetings "railroad-style. When an agenda was scheduled for 9 a.m., he would look at his railroad watch and start the meeting at 9 a.m. sharp (not 9:01) - even if I was the only member who had shown up on time. If the meeting was scheduled for one hour, Jimmy Fitz would look at his watch again at 10 a.m. sharp and summarily close the meeting, even if a pontificating member was in mid-sentence! When people came in late, he would give them the kind of look that only railroad men give late passengers sprinting after a moving train."

Running for governor[edit]

Fitzmorris entered the October 27, 1979, jungle primary for governor amid a large field, including then Republican Congressman David C. Treen, outgoing Democratic secretary of state Paul Hardy of St. Martinville in St. Martin Parish, Public Service Commissioner Louis J. Lambert of Ascension Parish, House Speaker E.L. "Bubba" Henry of Jonesboro, and State Senator Edgar G. "Sonny" Mouton, Jr., of Lafayette. Fitzmorris had wide but somewhat shallow support and an impressive campaign reservoir.

Treen led the primary with 297,674 votes. Fitzmorris at first appeared headed into the general election with Treen, with 280,490 votes. Lambert had 279,014. Lambert correctly predicted that "there will be changes in the final results." Paul Hardy finished fourth with 225,058 votes, while Henry and Mouton trailed with 135,299 and 123,126, respectively. The official results switched the positions of Fitzmorris and Lambert: Fitzmorris polled 280,760 votes; Lambert, 283,266. Lambert hence got into the general election by a margin of some 2,000 votes over the tablulation of Fitzmorris.

Fitzmorris sues Lambert[edit]

Five days after the jungle primary, on November 2, 1979, Fitzmorris filed suit against Lambert. He claimed that he, not Lambert, deserved the general election position to challenge Treen. Should the court declare Lambert the winner of the second spot, Fitzmorris requested nullification of the primary results. "I do not understand how in just a few days, I could have lost over 2,000 votes, while Mr. Lambert gains as many," said Fitzmorris. The suit listed thousands of alleged acts of election fraud and irregularities in twenty parishes. To win the suit, Fitzmorris had to prove that there enough votes cast under questionable circumstances to make a difference in the total. Fitzmorris declared that he believed "in miracles" and expressed confidence that the election could be re-staged, or the results nullified.

The suit was heard by the only Republican judge in East Baton Rouge Parish, Douglas Gonzales, a former federal attorney. Gonzales threw out three hundred Lambert votes in three precincts in St. Helena Parish (one of the Florida parishes) because Lambert's total in each precinct increased by one hundred votes between election night, October 27, and the release of the final tabulation on October 30. Gonzales, however, dismissed the suit and told the lieutenant governor: "You have proven your courage and integrity, but the facts have not proven your case." Gonzales added that he took his action "with a sad heart." After attempts at appeal, Fitzmorris realized that he would not achieve his lifelong dream of becoming governor. He told the media: "I am now more convinced than ever that this election was stolen from Jimmy Fitzmorris." The Fitzmorris-Lambert rivalry aided Treen in securing support in the general election against Lambert. The dispute created a major issue of the governor's race: election reform.

Endorsing Treen in 1979[edit]

Treen and Louis Lambert hence went into the general election. Treen realized that he was fortunate in that Fitzmorris may well have been a stronger opponent than Lambert. Fitzmorris, Hardy, Henry, and Mouton, all losing Democrats in the primary, then surprised the Louisiana political world by endorsing Treen to a man. Still, Treen won by fewer than ten thousand votes. Lambert said that he believed that Fitzmorris' suit had cost Lambert the governorship.[4]

After the election, Treen appointed Fitzmorris as a special assistant for industrial development, a speciality that Fitzmorris had fine tuned during his years as lieutenant governor. Fitzmorris described the position as "a salesman with unlimited opportunities" in seeking the location of new businesses into the state. He also stressed the foreign trade component of economic expansion.[5]

Freeman succeeds Fitzmorris[edit]

Democratic State Representative Robert Louis "Bobby" Freeman of Plaquemine in Iberville Parish was elected to succeed Fitzmorris as lieutenant governor in 1979. He defeated fellow Democrat (later Republican) James "Jim" Donelon of Metairie, a Jefferson Parish suburb of New Orleans. In 1998, Donelon, then a state representative, would be the defeated Republican candidate against popular Senator John Breaux. Donelon became insurance commissioner in 2006.

Failed 1983 comeback attempt[edit]

In 1983, Freeman sought reelection, and Fitzmorris tried to regain the lieutenant governorship. In the October 22, 1983, primary, Freeman led a four-candidate field, but Fitzmorris ran strongly enough to qualify for a general election berth on November 19.

Freeman prevailed in the general election, held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving Day, 1983, with 627,224 votes (59.7 percent) to Fitzmorris' 424,091 (40.3 percent).[6] Some 400,000 who had balloted in the primary did not participate in the lieutenant governor's general election.

The governor's race that year between Treen and Edwin Washington Edwards, making his third-term comeback, had been decided in the jungle primary in favor of Edwards by a wide margin. The irony was that Fitzmorris had won twice as lieutenant governor with Edwards at the top of the ballot. This time Edwards supported Freeman. It was a political oddity that was devastating to Fitzmorris. He never politically recovered from the defeat.

Fitzmorris as civic leader[edit]

Fitzmorris had been close to the late DeLesseps Story Morrison, mayor of New Orleans from 1946 to 1961. He was grief-stricken when Morrison and a young son died in an airplace crash in Mexico in the spring of 1964. Fitzmorris was a board member of the Chep Morrison Memorial Scholarship Fund. In 1965, he was presented with the Morrison Memorial Award.

Fitzmorris has also been a leader in civic affairs for many years. In 1950, he was named "Outstanding Young Man of New Orleans".[7] He served on the New Orleans Board of Public Welfare. He is a member of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater New Orleans. He has won the "Leadership Award" of the Leukemia Society. In his early years as lieutenant governor, he was chairman of the state employees division of the United Way. He is Roman Catholic.

Fitzmorris' long legacy[edit]

Clancy DuBos, a New Orleans political writer, recalls Fitzmorris' spectacular career: "No one in New Orleans or Louisiana politics has known as much electoral heartbreak as [Jimmy] Fitzmorris. In 1969, he was upset by the younger Moon Landrieu in a . . . race for mayor of New Orleans, and ten years later the governor's race was, in the opinion of many, stolen from him.

Through it all, Fitzmorris retained his indomitable spirit, clinging to the notion that the measure of the man is not how high he climbs but how many times he can get back up after being knocked down.

"Nobody has gotten back up more than Jimmy Fitz, and few have climbed higher. [At his 80th birthday celebration in 2001], hundreds of friends from his five decades of public life packed the Mount Carmel High School gym . . . The party was supposed to be held in the school auditorium, which bears his name, but so many people RSVP'd for the party that it had to be moved to the larger gymnasium. That, too, is a measure of Jimmy Fitzmorris.

"I admit to a bias in favor of Fitz. It goes all the way back to my childhood, when I would listen to my father discussing politics with the men of the neighborhood. My dad was one of the few business owners in our little community. He . . . knew most of the established as well as aspiring political leaders of his day. Other men in the neighborhood naturally sought his opinion at election time. He loved to talk politics, but there were few politicians whose integrity he would vouchsafe unconditionally. Jimmy Fitzmorris was one of them.

"I remember seeing TV coverage of Fitzmorris' stunning defeat in the 1969 mayor's race. What I remember most was a very gracious concession speech.

"Two years later he bounced back and became Louisiana's first full-time lieutenant governor. . . . Fitzmorris served as lieutenant governor from 1972–1980 [and headed] up Louisiana's economic development efforts. It's hard to imagine now, but back then our state was tops in the nation in economic development."

Fitzmorris'city council papers are in the municipal archives of the New Orleans Public Library.

In 1999, Fitzmorris was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.

In 2001, Fitzmorris was also honored by the naming of the "Jimmy Fitzmorris Presidential Suite" at the New Orleans Sheraton Hotel. Mobashir Ahmed, managing director of the New Orleans Sheraton, declared: "We are pleased to honor one of Louisiana's greatest living citizens in this special and unique way. For many years Jimmy has represented the best in public service, touching the lives of thousands of citizens through his dedication to making our community a better place to live. We believe that he exemplifies the kind of positive energy that provides lasting positive change."

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Lieutenant Governor Will Be Guest Speaker at Lions Club", Minden Press-Herald, Minden, Louisiana, January 9, 1974, p. 1
  2. ^ ""Gallinghouse's goal: Fill Void, Clean Up State", April 28, 1972". New Orleans States-Item. Retrieved June 29, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Evelyn Blackmon obituary". Monroe News-Star. Retrieved May 23, 2014. 
  4. ^ Ron Gomez, My Name Is Ron And I'm a Recovering Legislator: Memoirs of a Louisiana State Representative, Lafayette, Louisiana: Zemog Publishing, 2000, ISBN 0-9700156-0-7, pp. 64-65
  5. ^ Vicky Harris, "Jimmy Fitzmorris: He's selling Louisiana", Minden Press-Herald, June 18, 1982, p. 1
  6. ^ "Louisiana general election returns, November 19, 1983". staticresults.sos.la.gov. Retrieved March 10, 2012. 
  7. ^ Minden Press-Herald, January 9, 1974

References[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock
Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana
1972–1980
Succeeded by
Robert "Bobby" Freeman
Preceded by
Clarence C. "Taddy" Aycock
President of the Louisiana State Senate (ex officio)
1972–1976
Succeeded by
Michael H. O'Keefe