Aaron Broussard's laughable attempt to write his own political epitaph speaks volumes about the once-popular Jefferson Parish politician — and about many a fallen leader.
"This might be my last quote," he quipped to reporters last week on his way into federal court, where he pleaded guilty to two counts of corruption. "At 23 years old, I came into politics as a dragon slayer. At 63 years old, I'm going out as a dragon."
I hope he didn't stay up all night working on that one. It would be a shame to lose a good night's sleep only to have so little to show for it.
But isn't it just like a disgraced politician to cast himself in larger-than-life terms? Truth is, Broussard was neither dragon slayer nor dragon. Ever.
At 23, he entered Jefferson Parish politics as an ambitious huckster who was easy with a joke and a handshake — and a tireless campaigner. He won a seat on the parish school board in 1974. Less than four years later, he parlayed that into a seat on the parish council. In 1982, he waged a white-knuckle campaign for mayor of Kenner against Skip Galan, who lost that race to Broussard but beat him to the federal pen by more than two decades.
Broussard served four terms as Kenner's mayor before winning an at-large seat on the parish council in 1995. He served two terms on the council, then won the parish presidency in 2003. He resigned from that post in 2010 amid reports of the federal investigation that led to his conviction last week.
At his best, Broussard was passionate, energetic, eminently quotable and often self-effacing. At his worst, he mastered the ropes of Jefferson's political kleptocracy and played the game to his full selfish advantage.
But dragon slayer? Not a chance.
Or dragon? He was never that strong or that ferocious. More likely, he was the one-eyed man in the land of the blind, a political snake oil salesman who succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
How did he get to be so successful? Simple: Over the years, he developed a singular ability to dissuade formidable potential opponents from running against him; failing that, he attracted opponents far less viable than he. Thus, after his rueful decision to evacuate pump operators in the face of Hurricane Katrina — a decision that many blamed for the floods in Metairie after the storm — he nonetheless managed to win re-election in 2007.
That he sees himself as a dragon slayer-turned-dragon speaks to his ego, the Achilles' heel of many a shamed politician.
The ancient Romans believed that in wine there is truth, and there's much wisdom in that timeless maxim. For some, truth comes not in drink but in dishonor.
After his plea, as he walked away from a bevy of reporters, Broussard encountered a tourist who wondered what all the fuss was about. Thinking he must be a celebrity, she shook his hand and asked who he was.
"Honey," he replied, "you're shaking the hand of a crook."
Going forward, it will be interesting to see what tales Broussard tells about his years in the belly of the beast. Hopefully, he'll just stick to the truth and leave it to prosecutors and defense attorneys to sort the dragons from the dragon slayers.