Sunday, October 05, 2008

Bet your bottom dollar on Bill

Click picture for video.

Don't be surprised if "Dollar Bill" Jefferson, the indicted congressman from Louisiana's 2nd District, is the next congressman from Louisiana's 2nd District -- that's New Orleans to you and me.

William Jefferson's Democratic runoff opponent will be Helena Moreno, a 30-year-old former TV anchorwoman. Jefferson, who finished first in the primary Saturday, has a good shot at doing the same in November.

THE UNKNOWN REPUBLICAN in the race has no shot at finishing first in the December general election.

The Times-Picayune reports:
Despite the dual impediments of an upcoming federal trial on public corruption charges and a slew of well-financed opponents, U.S. Rep. William Jefferson ran first in Saturday's Democratic Party primary for the 2nd Congressional District seat that he has held for 18 years.

He will battle former TV news anchor and first-time candidate Helena Moreno of New Orleans in the Nov. 4 contest. With two-thirds of the district's voters registered as Democrats, the winner of the party runoff is almost certain to claim the congressional seat.

With 482 of 492 precincts reporting late Saturday, Jefferson led the seven-candidate Democratic field with 25 percent of the vote, followed by Moreno with 20 percent. The general election is Dec. 6.

For Jefferson, it was only the second time since he captured the seat in 1990 that he has been forced into a runoff. Two years ago, he handily defeated state Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, though she outspent him by a 2-to-1 margin.

This time, Jefferson managed to fend off a field of primary opponents who together raised $1.5 million -- compared with his $200,000 cache -- in their effort to unseat him.

Jefferson has seen his fortunes crumble since the federal probe into his business dealings became public more than three years ago.

Six months after he was sworn into a ninth term, a federal grand jury indicted him on 16 counts of public corruption related to his business dealings. Earlier this year, two of his siblings were indicted on separate charges that they stole money from charities; six other Jefferson relatives also were implicated in that case.

The congressman's trial is set to start Dec. 2.

Flanked by his wife and daughters at the eastern New Orleans eatery Flavorz by Mattie, Jefferson, 61, thanked supporters for sticking with him.

"I cannot tell you how much gratitude I have in my heart tonight for what you have done to undergird the work that my family and I have undertaken for so many years together," he said. "Give us your support, give us your prayers as you have, and we'll keep delivering for our area."

Moreno, 30, was a well-known news personality at WDSU-TV before she quit in March to explore a run for Congress. With support from local business executives and political power brokers from both parties, she managed to surge ahead of five opponents with extensive political resumes.

Moreno is vying to become the second woman ever elected to represent Louisiana in the U.S. House, following former Rep. Lindy Boggs, a New Orleans Democrat who held the 2nd District seat before Jefferson.

As the only white candidate in the primary field, Moreno also would make history by winning in a district where 62 percent of registered voters are African-American. Jefferson is black.

TWO YEARS AGO -- when everybody and his uncle knew the dishonorable member from Louisiana was going to be indicted -- Dollar Bill beat a black woman backed by the Democratic Party regulars and all the big money. Now we're supposed to believe the indicted Jefferson is going to lose to a white woman backed by the Democratic Party regulars and all the big money?

I don't think so.

Here's what's going to happen: Moreno will run a fierce anti-corruption campaign, arguing that Jefferson is almost certainly guilty, likely will go down in flames soon after the election, has no clout left in Washington and is, on principle, unfit for public office.

Jefferson will counter thus:

The white woman is calling the black man a crook. The white establishment has been after me, they want their white woman candidate in power, and they want you under their thumb.

You know me. I've been bringing home the federal bacon. Did I mention that my opponent is a white woman?

AND DID I MENTION that Barack Obama is on the November presidential ballot?

I'm not saying Jefferson absolutely will win -- I'm not a political scientist, and I don't play one on TV. I'm not a soothsayer, either. But I think it's likely he'll win next month, and then again in December . . . days after his public-corruption trial begins in federal court.

Let me repeat that -- days after his public-corruption trial begins in federal court.

If New Orleans and Louisiana in some ways resemble a failed state, there are reasons for that. And they span not only present day white flight, the challenges facing African-Americans and the state's ongoing "brain drain" but, in reality, reach back to the days of Jim Crow.

And not only back to the dysfunctional era of "separate but equal," but also back to Huey Long, and beyond the Kingfish to the corrupt reign of the "Bourbon" Democrats . . . and beyond even that to the Civil War . . . and beyond even that to Spanish and French colonial rule.

If you want to understand -- in part -- a place like my home state, you need to know a little about places like Haiti, Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. You need to understand the French and Spanish colonial mindsets. You need to understand class-based societies.

If you want to understand Louisiana, you need to understand me a little bit. You need to understand how I have lived for 20-plus years now in the Midwest -- in a great, up-and-coming city like Omaha -- but oftentimes still feel like a stranger in a strange land.

That the "America" I, in Louisiana, was enculturated into wasn't necessarily America as the vast majority of Americans understand the concept. Turns out we were still a colony and didn't quite realize it.

If you want to know how this congressional election in New Orleans is going to work itself out, just assume the cynical worst, like you might in much of American politics. Then double down on your bet.

'Cause dat's Louisiana for you.

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