NEW ORLEANS (AP) - When Mary Matalin heard a baby cry during a Super Bowl news conference this week, she paused midsentence, peered in the direction of the fussing child and asked: “Is that my husband?”
Matalin, the noted Republican political pundit, isn’t shy about making jokes at the expense of Democratic strategist James Carville, who went from being her professional counterpart to her partner in life when they were married _ in New Orleans _ two decades ago.
This week, though, and for much of the past few years, the famous political odd couple have been working in lockstep for a bipartisan cause _ the resurgence of their adopted hometown.
Their passion for the Big Easy and its recovery from Hurricane Katrina was why Carville and Matalin were appointed co-chairs of New Orleans’ Super Bowl host committee, positions that made them the face of the city’s effort to prove it’s ready to be back in the regular rotation for the NFL’s biggest game.
“Their commitment to New Orleans and their rise to prominence here locally as citizens made them a natural choice,” said Jay Cicero, president of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, which handles the city’s Super Bowl bids. “It’s about promoting New Orleans, and their being in love with this city, they’re the perfect co-chairs.”
Carville, a Louisiana native, and Matalin moved from Washington, D.C., to historic “Uptown” New Orleans in the summer of 2008, a little less than three years after Katrina had laid waste to vast swaths of the city. There was not only heavy wind damage but flooding that surged through crumbling levees and at one point submerged about 80 percent of the city.
The couple had long loved New Orleans, and felt even more of a pull to set down roots here, with their two school-age daughters, at a time when the community was in need.
“The storm just weighed heavy,” Carville said. “We were thinking about it. We’d been in Washington for a long time. The more that we thought about it, the more sense that it made. We just came down here (to look for a house) in late 2007 and said we’re just going to do this and never looked back.”
“It’s authentically creative, organically eccentric, bounded by beauty of all kinds,” she said. “People pull for each other, people pull together. … Seven years ago we were 15 feet under water. … This is unparalleled what the people here did and that’s what you want your kids to grow up with: Hope and a sense of place, resolve and perseverance.”
An LSU graduate, Carville has been a regular sight in Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, often wearing a purple and gold rugby-style shirt.
In New Orleans, he and Matalin have lent their names not just to the Super Bowl host committee, but to efforts to prevent the NBA’s Hornets from leaving when the ownership situation was in flux.
“I was scared to death they would leave the city,” said Carville of the Hornets, who were purchased by the NBA in December of 2010 when club founder George Shinn wanted to sell and struggled to find a local buyer. “We were starting to do better (as a community). It would have been a terrible story to lose an NBA franchise at that time.”
Saints owner Tom Benson has since bought the NBA club and signed a long-term lease at New Orleans Arena, ending speculation about a possible move.