New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas has been telling his closest friends and top supporters that he has decided to run for mayor. Thomas has been inching toward the mayor's race since Hurricane Katrina, and Mayor Ray Nagin's intemperate remarks on Martin Luther King Day may have been just enough to nudge Thomas over the line and into the fray. Qualifying is March 1-3, with the primary set forApril 22 and the runoff May 20. Also said to be close to a decision to run are Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, whose political family has been close to Thomas for years, and Audubon Nature Institute CEO Ron Forman, who has been close to every major politico in town for decades. Any combination of Thomas, Landrieu and Forman reportedly may meet soon to discuss their respective plans -- and chances of success -- beforeany of them announces formally. The three are easily the most high-profile names in what could become a very large field ofchallengers to Nagin. -- DuBos
Jazz Fest first,politics second
Add attorney David Oestreicher to the growing list of possible candidates incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin may face in the April 22 election. Oestreicher, who also is president of New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation Inc., a nonprofit board that oversees the operations of Jazz Fest, says: "Once I put the festival to bed, I'm going to take a hard 'look and see' at [theelection.]" The dates for the first post-Katrina Jazz Fest have not been announced, but the Fest traditionally begins the last weekend in April. During Oestreicher'spresidency, the 30-member board of directors has established a $3 million surplus, pulling the Jazz Fest out of a $600,000 deficit after the rain-washed festival of 2004. Oestreicher ran an impressive citywide campaign for judge of Criminal Court in 1996, but lost to Judge Charles Elloie, who was re-elected in 2002. -- Johnson
Jesse Jackson coming?
Most media reports have stated that the Louisiana Legislature and the U.S. Department of Justice are expected to sign off on Gov. Kathleen Blanco's call for municipal elections in New Orleans on April 22. But sources say Rev. Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition may come to the city this week to support an attempt to delay the election by filing a federal lawsuit or letter of complaint with the Justice Department. John Mitchell, Jackson's chief of staff at the Rainbow Coalition's national headquarters in Chicago, was unavailable for comment at press time. Any opposition to Blanco's order may face rough sledding. Blanco last week issued the call for the city elections after Federal Judge Ivan Lemelle threatened to call the elections himself. Blanco used the same election dates favored by the judge, including March 1-3 for qualifying and May 20 for any runoffs. In addition, the Justice Department earlier approved election plans drafted by Secretary of State Al Ater. -- Johnson
End of discussion?
In the wake of the local and national uproar over Mayor Ray Nagin's "chocolate city" remarks, it may be hard to believe that the mayor called for a "serious dialogue" on race relations just nine months ago. "We are a city stuck back in the '50s and '60s," Nagin said in an April 7 address to a majority-white audience at a meeting of the Bureau of Governmental Research. "I am talking about race relations and the need for us to come together in different ways." In an editorial, Gambit Weekly agreed with the mayor's call for racial dialogue, but warned, "if the discussion is mishandled, it could do more harm than good." ("Dialogue on Race," April 26, 2005) We urged Nagin to consult with four local organizations with nationally recognized expertise in racial dialogues -- a recommendation that, to no one's surprise, went unheeded. Nine months later, Nagin found himself apologizing on local and national television for his assertion on Martin Luther King Day that New Orleans should repopulate as a majority-black "chocolate city" -- because God wants it that way. His remarks werewidely viewed as racially offensive to non-blacks. -- Johnson
Who'll cut the grass?
Several New Orleans lakefront neighborhood associations are stirring with concerns about the movement to combine levee districts in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin into one regional levee board. The groups are not opposed to putting flood control functions under a single board, but theyare quite concerned about who -- orwhat entity -- will assume responsibility for "quality-of-life" functions currently handled by the Orleans Levee District. Among the prime concerns are the future of the Levee Board police force, which patrols and responds to 9-1-1 calls in lakefront neighborhoods, as well as the grass-cutting and litter-abatement functions currently handled by the Levee Board. Residents in Lake Terrace and Lake Oaks held neighborhood association meetings recently and expressed opposition to those functions being taken over by a regional or state board that may not be as responsive to local neighborhood concerns. Those and other neighborhood groups are preparing to lobby area lawmakers to keep the "non flood" functions of local levee boards out of any combined agency. -- DuBos
See you in court
The Louisiana Ethics Commission is threatening to play hardball with Orleans Parish School Board member Jimmy Fahrenholtz, a mayoral hopeful who owes the state board more money in fines and fees than any other elected official in the state. Fahrenholtz recently acknowledged to Gambit Weekly that he owes the state $26,800 for violations of state campaign finance disclosure laws. But the board says he still has not made arrangements to pay the debt, and the board is going to court -- and winning. The ethics panel is preparing to sock Fahrenholtz's campaign fund and possibly block his candidacy in future elections if he fails to pay up. Fahrenholtz has failed to file one report after his successful 2004 re-election to the School Board, which drew an $8,000 fine. Last week, State Judge Janice Jones of Baton Rouge approved the ethics board's request for a $10,000 judgment against Fahrenholtz for a campaign reporting violation. It was the second $10,000 judgment the ethics board has won against him in the last year. The board has garnished $629 of his $10,000 annual school board salary to start paying the first judgment. Meanwhile, on Feb. 6, the board will go back to court to seek a third $10,000 judgment -- this time forlate fees totaling $7,440. "The judgments against Mr. Fahrenholtz will allow us to contest his candidacy when he runs for any future office," said Alesia Ardoin, staff attorney for the ethics board. "Further, Mr. Fahrenholtz is prohibited from making expenditures using his campaign contributions until his late fines have been paid." It's not just the money, Ardoin said. The board still wants Fahrenholtz to disclose all of his campaign fund sources and expenditures. -- Johnson
Cigarette Tax Redux?
After a successful campaign to increase cigarette taxes in Mississippi, the American Heart Association has set its sights on the Bayou State. "We are exploring the possibility of a tobacco tax increase campaign in Louisiana," says Terri R. Broussard, the group's local advocacy director. She was mum, however, on whom the AHA contacted in Louisiana as well as what form the proposal might take. The tax recently passed by lawmakers in Mississippi was a swap -- a tobacco tax increase for a grocery tax decrease. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed the measure, but there appeared to be enough votes to override him. Last spring, Gov. Kathleen Blanco tried to institute her own tobacco tax increase, without the AHA taking the lead, and it failed miserably. The issue was so embroiled in controversy, in fact, that it never even made it to a floor vote. Such a tax could not be introduced during the March regular session, but it could be debated during the 12-day special session that begins Feb. 6. Blanco says her official call for that gathering will be released no later than Jan. 31. -- Alford
Rallies and race
Rallies and demonstrations are becoming more commonplace in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, and the race and age of protesters varies from rally to rally. "I see a lot more grassroots activity, noquestion about it," says District Attorney Eddie Jordan who attended a demonstration of about 300 protesters outside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' headquarters recently. Jordan, who says he lost rental property in Gentilly because of post-Katrina flooding, was among a handful of African Americans in the mostly white crowd. Jordan says he saw a more racially mixed crowd at a Martin Luther King Day march in the Lower Ninth Ward, where demonstrators called for the repopulation of the nearly all-black neighborhood that was ravaged by Katrina. The Ninth Ward march also featured more racial diversity -- and youth -- than the older, majority-black crowd that attended the King Day rally at City Hall, says Jordan, who attended both events. The two events Jan. 16 also featured different messages. Mayor Ray Nagin made his now-infamous "chocolate city" comments at the City Hall rally. Meanwhile, television news reports of the Ninth Ward march showed some of the 150 protesters chanting: "Mayor Nagin must go!" -- Johnson
GOP pressure unlikely
Republican legislators were able to wiggle quite a few issues into the governor's special session call last November, but a repeat on the same scale is unlikely for the hurricane-recovery session that begins Feb. 6. Rep. Jim Tucker of Terrytown, chairman of the House GOP delegation, says that's because there is already some duplication. "About 70 percent of the stuff we've been talking about is already in the call, like levee reform," he says. Other issues on the Republican agenda include health care, insurance and elections. According to Tucker, Republican lawmakers were scheduled to meet this past weekend to discuss their priorities -- the same time Blanco said she would finish crafting her call. -- Alford