Ben C. Toledano
| Benjamin Casanas Toledano
(Republican candidate for mayor of New Orleans in 1970 and for the United States Senate in 1972)
|Born|| September 17, 1932 |
New Orleans, Louisiana
|Died|| November 6, 2021 (aged 89) |
|Political Party||Democrat-turned-States' Rights Party-turned-Republican|
|Spouse|| (1) Roulhac Bunkley Toledano (divorced)|
(2) Margaret Bretz Toledano
Benjamin Casanas Toledano, known as Ben C. Toledano (born September 17, 1932 – November 6, 2021), was a paleoconservative author, activist, and attorney who was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for mayor of his native New Orleans in 1970 and for the U.S. Senate seat from Louisiana in 1972, a post now filled by Moderate Republican Bill Cassidy.
Toledano was born in New Orleans to Frederick Albert Toledano and the former Beecye Casanas. He outlived a sister, Suzanne Angele Toledano. He died a week before the 2021 New Orleans' mayoral election.
Running for mayor of the Crescent City
Prior to filing as the lone Republican candidate for mayor, Toledano had been a member, first, of the Democratic Party, and, then, of the States' Rights Party, not to be confused with the National States Rights Party, a neo-Nazi organization. He sought to succeed the retiring two-term Democratic Mayor Victor H. Schiro in 1970. The Democrats had a slugfest for the office in two primaries held in the fall of 1969. The more liberal candidate, Maurice "Moon" Landrieu was placed in a runoff — this having been before Louisiana had its nonpartisan blanket or jungle primary format — with the more conservative former City Councilman James Edward "Jimmy" Fitzmorris, Jr., who would be elected lieutenant governor three years later and served from 1972-1980.
When Landrieu defeated Fitzmorris with a vow to carry on the liberal legacies of his predecessors, including deLesseps Story "Chep" Morrison, Sr., the mayor from 1946 to 1961), and Republicans sensed a rare opportunity in the Crescent City. Early polls showed Toledano a distinct underdog in the race, but he soon picked up the support of many Fitzmorris leaders. He ran a strong campaign within the limitations of the $70,000 that was raised. Toledano noted that blacks had voted overwhelmingly in the runoff pimary for Landrieu, who would later serve in the Jimmy Carter administration as secretary of housing and urban development, but he mostly stressed the "need-for-a-change" theme always available for nearly any southern Republican seeking office at that time.
The 1970 mayoral race concluded with the highest turnout until that time in the history of the city, some 70 percent of registrants. Black participation in the general election surpassed what it had been in the Landrieu-Fitzmorris runoff. It was estimated that 80 percent of blacks cast ballots, and 98 percent supported Landrieu, the father of the state's current Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and former Lieutenant Governor and current Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Indeed, the Landrieus built a political dynasty, with their strength also demonstrated statewide.
Moon Landrieu received 94,332 (59 percent) votes, compared to 65,558 (41 percent) for Toledano. The Republican won 60 percent of the votes of whites. Two shifts in the voting behavior of whites in New Orleans, soon to become a distinct minority of the city's population, occurred between the Democratic runoff and the general election. A number of upper and middle income precincts in the Uptown University area and in Algiers, switched from Landrieu to Toledano, mostly those which had voted Republican for president in the past. The 25 white precincts with the highest socio-economic status switched from Landrieu to Toledano. The other white voter change occurred in the mid-city area, where numerous middle-to-lower economic status precincts which had favored Fitzmorris in the runoff remained with the Democratic nominee in the general election. Otherwise, the Toledano vote pattern was similar to that for Fitzmorris.
Toledano's vote was patterned more on that of the 1968 George Wallace support in New Orleans than the tabulation for the Republican ticket of Richard M. Nixon and Spiro T. Agnew. Nixon had won 26.7 percent in Orleans Parish, compared to 32.7 percent for Wallace, and 40.6 percent for Vice President Hubert Humphrey. In the runoff, Landrieu scored well with former Nixon supporters, but he lost to Toledano a number of white precincts which Nixon had carried less than two years earlier. Three Louisiana political scientists who analyzed the New Orleans mayoral returns concluded that Republicans could not become competitive unless they appealed to "the more moderate instincts of the upper and upper-middle socio-economic status white voters . . . as well as the black voters." Of course, the racial composition of New Orleans changed drastically in the coming decade, and the white vote was significant thereafter only as a swing bloc vote between two black candidates. The political scientists underestimated the attrition of the white population from New Orleans. In 1978, New Orleans elected its first black mayor, and all the mayors from that time until 2010 had been African American.
Challenging J. Bennett Johnston and John McKeithen
Toledano's showing for mayor propelled him in 1972 to seek the U.S. Senate seat held by 36-year incumbent Democrat Allen J. Ellender, a native of Houma in Terrebonne Parish in south Louisiana. The late Charles M. McLean of Lafayette was unopposed for the Republican senatorial nomination, but he was persuaded to withdraw in favor of a better-known candidate, and the Republican State Central Committee tapped Toledano as its nominee for the November general election. Meanwhile, former state senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., of Shreveport, who had nearly won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in December 1971, had challenged Ellender in the Democratic primary. Ellender died on July 27, and Johnston was left as the de facto Democratic nominee. Former Governor John J. McKeithen of Columbia in Caldwell Parish in north Louisiana filed as an Independent because the time had passed for other Democrats to enter the primary. Johnston entered the general election as the prohibitive favorite even though McKeithen had been the only governor until that time to have served two consecutive terms and despite Richard Nixon' apparent likelihood of an easy reelection at the top of the Republican ballot.
Johnston polled 598,987 votes (55.2 percent); McKeithen drew 250,161 (23.1 percent), and Toledano finished third with 206,846 (19.1 percent), only 42,000 votes behind the former governor. Hall M. Lyons of Lafayette, son of Charlton Lyons, the "grand old man of the Louisiana GOP," polled another 28,910 votes, or 2.6 percent, as the nominee of George Wallace's former American Independent Party. Hall Lyons had also filed for governor earlier in 1972 on the AIP ticket but was persuaded to withdraw in favor of Republican David C. Treen. Thereafter, Treen was elected to the United States House of Representatives from the 3rd congressional district in this same 1972 general election.
Toledano's best showing was 30 percent in Jefferson Parish, which also supported Treen for Congress and Nixon for president. In previously inclined Republican parishes Iberia and Caddo, for instance, Toledano won less than a fourth of the ballots.
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan considered nominating Toledano to a vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans. The civil rights lobby objected to Toledano's previous affiliation with the States' Rights Party, the Republican-majority Senate showed no enthusiasm for the choice, and Reagan never made the nomination. Ironically, in 1987, Reagan tried to place former Governor Treen on the same court, and the then Democratic Senate majority refused to consider his nomination. Toledano and Treen both had past ties to the Louisiana State's Rights Party. Treen had been a State's Rights Party presidential elector in 1960.
Moving temporarily to Virginia
In 1983, the Toledanos — Ben, his first wife Roulhac Bunkley Toledano (born December 16, 1938), from whom he was later divorced; three daughters, Gabrielle Beauregard Toledano Gantert, Roulhac d'Arby Toledano, and Cleanth Brooks Toledano Raja, and a son Philip Macon Cheek — relocated to Charlottesville, Virginia, where they renovated a $200,000 warehouse building into an elegant home true to cultural tastes in the home city of Thomas Jefferson. Toledano bought five copies of classical books, one for his wife and himself and one for each of their children. He particularly stressed southern Agrarians and classicists such as Walker Percy and Eudora Welty.
In 1991, Toledano returned to the New Orleans area and gained a license to practice law in Pass Christian, Mississippi.
Toledano emerged as a columnist, author, and political thinker, writing for William F. Buckley, Jr.'s National Review, The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, Texas Monthly, and Thomas Fleming's Chronicles Magazine, a paleoconservative publication from Rockford, Illinois. Paleoconservatives generally follow the viewpoints of such individuals as the defeated presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan or the columnist Samuel T. Francis (1947-2005). They believe that "neoconservatives" in national Republican administrations have "sold out" traditional Republican values to keep the United States involved in endless war to promote "democracy" and international trade agreements which lead to outsourcing and decline of American jobs. Toledano hence writes in the Buchanan-Francis mold by taking what the media would call "hard-right" positions on issues.
Over the years, Toledano spoke out against the "barbaric" practice of New Orleans Mardi Gras, the most popular of his city's annual festivals. He praised the Jewish community in the city, who he claimed had primarily preserved the best of New Orleans social culture.
In 1981, Governor Edwin Edwards said that he expected to draw considerable Republican support when he ran for a third term in 1983 against sitting Republican Governor David Treen. But, Edwards clarified, "I would not want Ben Toledano supporting me … he’s poison. I don’t want him involved in my campaign." Toledano replied: "Most people don’t receive very many special compliments in a lifetime. I am deeply flattered by Edwards’ remarks. Love me most for the enemies I have made."
In 2004, Toledano wrote a review of American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush by Kevin Price Phillips (born 1940), the author of the better-known 1969 work, The Emerging Republican Majority. Toledano wrote: "There was a time when people in high places believed in avoiding even the appearance of impropriety. Phillips' book suggest that the Bushes do not even know what propriety is." Toledano continued, in reference to the religious conversion of George W. Bush: "I choose not to question the sincerity of George W.’s conversion and faith . . . Unlike his father, whose deeds defy and defile his words, he may well be a true believer even if he uses his beliefs to obtain political support and votes."
At the time of Hurricane Katrina, Toledano penned a well-known column entitled "New Orleans -- An Autopsy" about the political implications of Katrina on New Orleans, having concluded that the city was in rampant social decay for a generation before the storm struck so severely in August 2005.
- Benjamin Toledano obituary. New Orleans Times-Picayune (November 12, 2021).
Billy Hathorn, "The Republican Party in Louisiana, 1920-1980", Master's thesis, Northwestern State University at Natchitoches, 1980.
Mark T. Carleton et al., Readings in Louisiana Politics, 1975.