As a long-time follower and practitioner of New Orleans campaign politics, I read Gambit Weekly's recent story on Sen. Paulette Irons ("The Perils of Paulette," Jan. 15) with great interest. The reporting was excellent and interesting. What was missing was any sense of context.
We are told that Irons accepted employment on a part-time basis from a state agency. What we are not told is that this is a common practice among legislators, many of whom receive hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from their employment. It is a well-known fact that our state legislators are terribly underpaid. What is missing from your story is the fact that Irons chose not to enrich herself, as others routinely do, but chose to earn just enough to provide for her family. The fact that Irons had $34.46 mistakenly deducted from each paycheck for the city's retirement system was significant because the amount was so small.
Irons' involvement in the system stands in stark contrast to the tens of millions of dollars in raw patronage doled out by politicos without any pretense of system or competition.
Irons has said she will set up a competitive, open system for the awarding of city contracts. If she does that, it will be a major, historic reform. Your story seeks to raise doubts that she will not do what she promised. The failing in your story is you have not provided any significant proof that Irons does not intend to do exactly as she promised. In fact, your story could have been written about any other candidate for mayor and would have revealed far more shocking involvement in the political patronage system. In contrast to her peers, Irons has demonstrated only that she is a woman of conscience who has chosen not to wade like a hog into our seamy patronage system. If Irons is elected mayor, the revolution will not be that she is New Orleans' first woman mayor but that she will be the first mayor to dismantle the raw mayoral patronage that has dominated the city's politics for more than a century.
It is not at all clear just what Clancy DuBos and Allen Johnson Jr. were trying to accomplish with their "investigative" piece on Paulette Irons. If it was a hatchet job, the blade was pretty dull. One expected more from the titillating cover cartoon, but the article revealed much less than promised. Nothing new was reported about the multiple job issue or contract awards, nor do they report that she was not performing her duties or that there was a conflict of interest. If they were trying to present a fair and accurate piece of journalistic reporting, this failed as well. For example, I personally called and talked to the undersecretary of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism who confirmed that the department "welcomes recommendations" from legislators of qualified people so the department does not have to interview unknowns cold.
Furthermore, the decision to award contracts is "totally independent," and Irons did not exert any undue influence in the awarding of the golf trail contract to Bernard Charbonnet. In fact, the work performed was "exemplary" and has gained "international recognition" for the state. If the intent of the article was to be fair, accurate and balanced, then why were these significant facts excluded? But if the intent of the article was to be a cheesy attempt at character assassination, then that would explain everything, from the cartoon cover and the exclusion of relevant and important facts right down to that cute little placement of Troy Carter's ad opposite the article's lead page. When it comes to yellow journalism, Gambit's inaccurate and biased reporting differs sharply from its rhetoric.
Editor's Note: Gambit Weekly stands by our story.
Stop Picking on Paulette
Re: Paulette Irons. For years and years men (aka "The Good Ol' Boys") have been doing this and worse. But let a woman do something wrong and you print it. No one talks about Richard Pennington and his ties to Marc Morial and what happened in Washington, D.C. I think I'm like a lot of people in this city: fed up with papers printing what they want and not the stuff that would rock the boat. I thought Gambit was different. I hope you look into Pennington. Do six pages on him and let the voters know the truth about all the candidates running for mayor.
Elodie E. Schaeffer
read with interest your story "Top 10 Political Stories of 2001" (Dec. 25), especially concerning Gov. Mike Foster's disappearance. I could not agree with you more, and I voted for him.
He was on a radio show hosted by WWL, and I was shocked at his comment when asked about traveling around the world to attract foreign business. He said something to the effect that the people of Louisiana want him to be at home, that he could be just as effective using the telephone, email and faxes.
I have been in sales for more than 22 years, and I can assure you few people, if any, will ever buy anything from you until they know you, like you and trust you. Why do Mississippi and other states attract foreign business to their states? Because they go there and meet the decision-makers.
I am appalled at his apparent lack of understanding of sales. He is a salesman for the state of Louisiana. If he were working for me, I'd fire him.