comment
Alliance Debates Set
The Alliance for Good Government will continue its tradition of hosting the first major candidate forums after qualifying for New Orleans elections, says chapter president Robert K. Moffett. Even though nearly half the bipartisan group's 55 active members are still living outside the city, the Alliance has scheduled forums within days of the candidate qualifying period (March 1-3) for the April 22 primary. The forum for mayor begins at 7 p.m. on March 7 in the Grand Ballroom of the downtown Marriott Hotel. Forums for City Council races will be March 8 and 9 (times to be announced) at the Cirque Hotel, located on Lee Circle. Moffett says hurricane-weary New Orleanians are looking for one thing in the race for mayor -- "leadership." "People feel like there is no long-range plan for this city," Moffett says. "We have no one who says, 'Follow me.'" By contrast, Moffett says, St. Bernard Parish President "Junior" Rodriguez and Council member Joey DiFatta are "showing a lot more leadership than anyone around here." The Alliance membership is 40 percent black and 60 percent Democrat. -- Johnson

Decision Time
As qualifying approaches, we can add one lawyer and subtract another from the list of potential challengers to Mayor Ray Nagin. Attorney Bernard "Bunny" Charbonnet said late last week that he would meet with family and friends over the weekend to decide whether to run in the April 22 primary. "My heart is heavy for the city and I'm not convinced the current list of candidates is suitable," Charbonnet says. He quickly adds that he has the "utmost respect" for Rev. Tom Watson, the fiery black minister who announced his candidacy for mayor late last week. Charbonnet previously ran for state Public Service Commissioner. Meanwhile, attorney David Oestreicher, president of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation Inc., says he is no longer considering the race. Oestreicher weeks ago said he thought his Jazz Fest duties would be finished by the March 1-3 qualifying period, but he has since decided to focus on ensuring the success of the first Fest since Hurricane Katrina. In a television interview late last week, Nagin said all of his announced opponents are "opportunists." -- Johnson

Vote Late, Vote Often -- That's Still the Rule
One of the biggest controversies that accompanied the failure of the first levee-consolidation bill in November was the number of lawmakers who changed their votes from "nay" to "yea" after the bill failed in the House of Representatives. By custom and House rule, representatives (not senators) are allowed to switch their floor votes, or even vote late, as long their actions don't change the final outcome of a vote -- and as long as they were physically present in the House Chamber when the vote was taken. The Times-Picayune and others blasted the process, and in response, Rep. A.G. Crowe, a Slidell Republican, filed a resolution to clarify the rules during this month's special session. Crowe's resolution would have allowed House members to change their recorded votes, or vote late if they are absent, only on the same day that a bill passes or fails. But, when House Resolution 1 received its initial hearing on Valentines Day, the House and Governmental Affairs Committee showed no love for the proposal. A tie vote in committee killed the measure. It was no great loss, however, because the resolution would have changed nothing. Even under Crowe's proposal, House members could still suspend the rules and continue to vote however they want, whenever they want. "You can always suspend the rules," said Rep. Peppi Bruneau, a New Orleans Republican, during the committee hearing last week. "That's the only consistent rule you have." -- Alford

Softball Realities
Gov. Kathleen Blanco made national headlines for her recent comments about standing up to the feds. "It's time to play hardball, as I believe that's the only game Washington understands," she told lawmakers at the beginning of this month's special session. What Blanco means by "hardball" is her threatened refusal to approve future federal offshore oil and gas leases off Louisiana's coastline. Such approvals were more or less automatic in years past. The feds get more than $5 billion a year from drilling off the Louisiana coast, but the state gets less than 1 percent of that. States such as New Mexico get upwards of 50 percent of oil and gas revenues generated by federal lands within their borders. Blanco wants the same cut for Louisiana, and she's willing to withhold her approval of future leases to get it. Her hand, however, might be easier spoken than played. Gary Strasburg, a spokesman for the Minerals Management Service, told The New York Times last week that Blanco's approval of the leases is only an "intergovernmental courtesy" and wouldn't stop the feds from getting their cash. Additionally, even if Louisiana were to get a greater share of offshore royalties -- partly for coastal erosion, as campaigned -- the fund to hold such dedicated monies wouldn't be ready. A constitutional amendment defining the fund was supposed to face voters in late April, but lawmakers have voted to move it to the fall. Of course, if Blanco's refusal to cooperate ends up in court, there's no telling where her hardball tactics might lead, as there is no precedent for a governor bucking the Coastal Zone Management Act. -- Alford

Coming Home to Vote
State lawmakers passed a bill last week establishing satellite voting centers across Louisiana for New Orleanians still living outside the city, but what about displaced New Orleanians outside the state? Some voters are coming home to vote in the April 22 primary, ignoring the mail-in ballot system set up by the state. "There's communication between people living elsewhere and people living here," says June Sanchez, a veteran voting commissioner in Orleans Parish and a displaced resident of the Lower Ninth Ward. "People want to come home and vote in person. They think it's that important." However, media consultant Jeff White, a former WWL-AM radio producer who now lives in Houston, says New Orleanians there have all but given up on their hometown. "Most of the people I bumped into at the disaster-recovery center in Houston, which is now closed, are interested in staying in Houston because housing and job opportunities are better in Houston," says White, who lost his Gentilly home to Katrina's floodwaters. -- Johnson

Health-care doubts
Health-care issues were overlooked during the just-ended special session, but a recent survey of New Orleans physicians offers a preview of some issues that might be taken up in the regular session beginning March 27. The poll, conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, shows that the post-Katrina health-care situation may be worse than thought. Fifty-four percent of the physicians polled, all practicing within a 75-mile radius of New Orleans, believe that it will take five years or longer for the health-care system to return to its pre-Katrina state. The survey also uncovered concerns about inadequate staffing, lack of government assistance, care of the uninsured and return of the local population. Meanwhile, 89 percent of the physicians surveyed said state government desperately needs to answer the call in a meaningful way -- but only 32 percent actually expect it to happen. The poll was commissioned by the Touro Infirmary Foundation and co-sponsored by the Louisiana Hospital Association. -- Alford

Elections first, trade later
A Chinese trade representative last week said he would postpone an international "Rebuild New Orleans" business conference scheduled for April 18-20 in Shanghai, China, after hearing the dates conflicted with New Orleans' citywide elections, set for April 22 and May 20. The change of plans followed a request by Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee, a Chinese-American who has imported Carnival novelties from China for more than a decade. Lee's suggestion came after a recent presentation by the Chinese delegation at the World Trade Mart. The delegation is encouraging Louisiana business people to attend the Shanghai conference. Xie Zhen, general manager of the Shanghai International Merchandising Center, quickly acceded to Lee's request. "This is a preliminary [date]," Zhen said. "We want to hear from the people here. ... We can postpone until the end of May." "Maybe June," Lee suggested, adding, "Let the new people get in." Zhen said China wants at least 80 Louisianans to attend the Rebuild New Orleans conference. Justin Xu, a professor of computer science at Dillard University and the New Orleans representative for Shanghai International, said a one-week stay in Shanghai would cost less than $4,000, including hotels and roundtrip airfare from New Orleans. -- Johnson

Political storm surges
According to a new report by FairVote, a nonprofit elections think-tank, Katrina and Rita will have wide-ranging effects on the upcoming mid-term congressional elections -- and two Louisiana congressmen will have a particularly tough time getting re-elected. The Maryland-based group says Reps. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, and Richard Baker, R-Baton Rouge, could be on the bubble because of the storms and their aftermath. The displacement of the Democratic population in Louisiana's 3rd Congressional District could make campaigning difficult for Melancon, the report states, while the doubling of constituents in the 6th District will dilute Baker's Republican base. FairVote officials admit things could turn around for either or both. "Democracy itself is now a disaster area," says David Moon, program director. "But unlike when the storm hit, if we act now, we will have enough time to prepare a solution to the representation problems Louisiana faces." Among other prescriptions, FairVote recommends redistricting, even though that would mean a premature and unreliable mid-decade census. For the full report, visit www.fairvote.org/katrina. -- Alford

Carville at BGR lunch
James Carville
, America's best-known political consultant and one of Louisiana's hottest exports, will be the guest speaker at the Bureau of Governmental Research's 2006 annual luncheon on Thursday, April 6. Incisive, insightful and always entertaining, Carville is much sought after for his quick wit and penetrating analysis of the political world. Often seen on network "talking head" political programs, Carville burst onto the national political scene as the media strategist for then little-known Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992, and he hasn't let go of the spotlight since. The BGR's annual luncheon was postponed from its usual November date because of Hurricane Katrina. It will be at Hilton New Orleans Riverside, which is sponsoring the event. Luncheon tables of 10 are available for $750; individual seating is available for $75 per person. For more information or for reservations, visit BGR's Web site, www.bgr.org, or call BGR at (504) 588-2055. -- DuBos

Off to Mardi Gras World
After a day of sales pitches to Louisiana business people, the Shanghai trade delegation to New Orleans visited Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World in Algiers -- after an impromptu meeting with the float builder in the lobby of the World Trade Center. "I fell in love with the Chinese in 1945," Kern told the group. "I'm a World War II veteran." Kern also has business interests in Southeast Asia. Xie Zhen, leader of the trade delegation, told Gambit Weekly that the visit was his first trip to New Orleans. Like other foreign dignitaries who have visited the city since Katrina, he expressed sorrow after touring neighborhoods destroyed by Katrina. "I feel so sorry for it," Zhen said. "I just hope we can do something for the people of New Orleans." -- Johnson

Add a comment