Showing posts with label William Jefferson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label William Jefferson. Show all posts

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Blessed apathy

It seems good things happen in Louisiana when people stay away from the polls in droves. Make of that what you will.

This time, the beneficiary of voters' not noticing -- or caring -- an election was on ended up being . . . democracy itself. Saturday, only 12 percent of voters turned out in largely African-American precincts in the New Orleans area, while a comparatively robust 26 percent turned out in white precincts, and famously shady U.S. Rep. William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson was toast.


From the New York Times story today:

Representative William J. Jefferson was defeated by a little-known Republican lawyer here Saturday in a late-running Congressional election, underscoring the sharp demographic shifts in this city since Hurricane Katrina and handing Republicans an unexpected victory in a district that had been solidly Democratic.

The upset victory by the lawyer, Anh Cao, was thought by analysts to be the result of a strong turnout by white voters angered over federal corruption charges against Mr. Jefferson, a black Democrat who was counting on a loyal base to return him to Congress for a 10th term.

A majority of the district’s voters are African-American, and analysts said lower turnout in the majority black precincts on Saturday meant victory for the Republican.

With all precincts reporting, Mr. Cao, who was born in Vietnam, had 49 percent of the vote to 46 percent for Mr. Jefferson, who had not conceded as of late Saturday night.


Mr. Jefferson, shunned by national Democratic Party figures and low on money because of his pending trial, was counting on — and appeared to be getting — strong support from local leaders. In 2006, he was handily re-elected though the bribery scandal had already been aired.

This year, a number of the city’s top black pastors announced their support for him just days before the election.

But it was not enough. Mr. Cao, promising ethics and integrity, offered voters a break from the scandals associated with the incumbent and his siblings, several of whom have also been indicted.

Mr. Jefferson, 61, awaits trial on federal counts of soliciting bribes, money laundering and other offenses. Prosecutors contend that he used his Congressional office to broker deals in African nations, and say he received more than $500,000 in bribes.

Mr. Cao, 41 and known as Joseph, fled Vietnam at age 8 after the fall of Saigon. His father was a army officer who was later imprisoned for seven years by the Communist government. Mr. Cao, who has never held elective office, has been an advocate for the small but prominent Vietnamese community here and has a master’s degree in philosophy from Fordham University.
IT'S NOT OFTEN one finds reason for good cheer when talking about New Orleans electoral politics. Today there is reason -- lift up your song to Heaven and break out the good liquor!

And let's all say a little prayer thanking the Almighty for good ol' Louisiana apathy, Anh "Joseph" Cao (pronounced "GAO"), Democratic pols who crossed over to campaign for him . . . and a dedicated do-gooder minority of voters.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The terminal state

\trē-ˈäzh, ˈtrē-ˌ\

1 a: the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors b: the sorting of patients (as in an emergency room) according to the urgency of their need for care

2: the assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success.

(Merriam-Webster Online dictionary)

scarce resources, either medical or economic, from the hopelessly sick to those who have a fighting chance -- that is, with the added help -- isn't exactly new. If you've ever watched old M*A*S*H reruns, you understand the concept, as well as its application.

For an even longer time than the concept of "triage" has been around, Louisiana has been the Poor Man of America. The Sick Man of America, too.

In the late 1920s and early '30s, Huey Long thought a little all-American socialism funded by the Standard Oil and Refining Co., could cure what ailed his (Every Man a) Kingdom. It couldn't.

Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal couldn't make Louisiana look like a functioning, prosperous democracy, either. Nor, later on, could Huey's little brother, Earl.

More than a half-century down the timeline, Louisiana remains a place that's sicker, poorer and more uneducated than your average state. Crookeder and more licentious, too, as illustrated by this Associated Press report on the saga of indicted congressman William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson:

Despite the indictment, Jefferson won 56 percent of the vote in Tuesday's election, a primary runoff against former television reporter Helena Moreno. Jefferson, a stalwart Democrat who became Louisiana's first black congressman since Reconstruction when he took office in 1991, won more than 92,000 votes to Moreno's 70,159.

Moreno is white and struggled for support in a district where black registration is roughly 60 percent and where Jefferson has been a powerful political presence for nearly three decades.


But Jefferson has shown remarkable political resiliency though his fund-raising and support from political officials have waned. He survived a challenge from a dozen opponents two years ago after news broke that he was under investigation and that federal agents said they found $90,000 in alleged bribe money hidden in his freezer. He drew fewer challengers and won just as easily this year, even after the 2007 indictment.
State Democratic Party leaders, asked for a comment, issued a statement through spokesman Scott Jordan: "The Democratic voters of the 2nd District have spoken, and the Louisiana Democratic Party respects their choice and supports Bill Jefferson."

Jefferson, on Tuesday, scoffed at political opponents and pundits who, he said, "are perplexed" at his success.

"We work hard for the people we represent and we deliver for them day in and day out. . . . That's why we win elections," he said.

MEANWHILE, 80 miles up the Mississippi River in the capital, Baton Rouge, voters decided against taxing themselves to fix infrastructure and expand its convention and tourism base.

And on a more meat-and-potatoes level,
says The Advocate newspaper, Baton Rougeans also said no to building a new parish prison, replacing a police headquarters that's literally crumbling around the city's cops and rebuilding 38 dangerously substandard bridges.

Holden said many of the projects that were proposed as part of his half-cent sales tax and 9.9-mill sales tax are desperately needed.

As an example, Holden pointed to the $35 million needed to replace 38 bridges that are rated the same or worse as the bridge that collapse in Minnesota last year.

“We are not going to play Russian Roulette in this parish with those 38 bridges,” Holden said.

But Holden said that problems with the bridges and drainage are so severe because of past neglect that a new revenue source is needed to address them.


The mayor-president said the proposal would have qualified for an additional $137 million in matching federal funds.

Although Holden’s proposal did not receive any organized opposition, there was some criticism that the $989 million program benefited mostly the city of Baton Rouge.

Two of the biggest projects, a $247.5 million Audubon museum and a $144 million expansion of the River Center and its parking, were both in downtown Baton Rouge. If the River Center expansion had been approved, a Virginia developer had pledged to spend $100 million in private money to build two hotels there.

Holden’s proposal included a $135 million parish prison, a $43.5 million juvenile justice center, $89.7 million for a public safety complex, and $26.2 million to replace eight aging fire stations.

Also included was $45 million to modernize and synchronize more than 200 traffic signals and $49 million to convert the Governmental Building into a City Hall after the 19th Judicial District Court moves into the new courthouse that is under construction.
WHAT WE HAVE HERE, obviously, is a state that's grown accustomed to lying in its own feces. Its residents refuse to invest today to prosper tomorrow . . . or to pull together for the common good. At all.

Hell, whole segments of the Louisiana citizenry refuse even to deny high office to the obviously, and embarrassingly, corrupt. (Ninety grand in cold cash, anyone?)

What we also have here, particularly since Hurricane Katrina, is a state with its hand perpetually outstretched to the American taxpayer, seeking a quick infusion of cheap grace.

But with the national economy in shambles, the financial system in ruins and the federal till emptied by intractable foreign wars and immense domestic bailouts, Uncle Sam increasingly will reach into his pocket for a little something for the beggar . . . and pull out a whole lot of nothing.

Welcome to the Age of Limits. Welcome to the age when the federal government might be able to pull some chestnuts out of various fires, but not all.

WHO TO SAVE? How to decide? Triage. You save the ones you can. You don't waste time or money on the ones you can't.

The question for Louisiana is "Can this patient be saved?"

If you ask this expatriate who knows the patient well, the answer would be "Probably not. No will to live."

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.