Whether state Treasurer John Kennedy will fulfill political prophecies and switch from Democrat to Republican and enter next year's U.S. Senate race remains an open question, but last week he definitely showed that he remains in top political form. Kennedy's campaign launched a lightning-fast strike against legislation aimed at watering down the power of his office by making him rotate the chairmanship of the state Bond Commission, which he currently chairs all the time under state law. In addition to talk show appearances, www.JohnKennedy.com was transformed into a war room, with detailed explanations of the proposed bill and simple ways citizens could contact legislators. Digital banner ads were designed and emailed to political Web sites and bloggers, and mass emails were sent out to supporters updating them on every development. The Kennedy team even managed to land the public support of Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Wayne Carter, a Republican candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry. The nod isn't surprising, though, seeing how the entire fiasco involves Bob Odom, the state's sitting Democratic agriculture commissioner who is running for re-election. As head of the state Bond Commission, Kennedy blocked a $100 million sugar mill proposed by Odom and Senate President Donald Hines, a Bunkie Democrat. In response, Hines filed legislation to curb Kennedy's sway as chairman. It's a classic political brawl that wasn't anywhere close to being resolved at press time. All funds expended by Kennedy getting his story out came from his campaign account. While details of those expenditures are not yet available, the results, at least initially, reveal a detailed organization destined for something bigger. -- Alford
Bigger Fish to Fry?
After 15 years of leading the Louisiana chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association, the most powerful sport-fishing lobby in the state, Jeff Angers is moving on -- to take over a similar role with a national group. During his tenure at CCA, Angers led efforts to ban the commercial harvest of redfish, do away with those dreaded gill nets and limit commercial speckled trout fishing to a rod and reel. He redefined how fisheries issues could be lobbied at the state Capitol, focusing on a grassroots structure that eventually tripled local chapters and boosted overall membership sevenfold. "He worked tirelessly to help legislators gain a greater appreciation of marine conservation issues," says Jack Lawton Jr. , founder and chairman of CCA Louisiana. While he will remain a consultant to CCA, Angers, a Lafayette native, has already accepted the position of president of the newly formed Center for Coastal Conservation, which is based in Baton Rouge, and will focus on national marine issues. Sam Barbera, presently CCA's tournament director, will serve as interim CEO until the CCA board hires a new chief. -- Alford
Mardi Gras Tax Mambo
Lawmakers showed their fondness for Carnival last week when the House endorsed legislation that offers a special tax exemption for Mardi Gras krewes. They approved a similar exemption on Mardi Gras throws two years ago, continuing their long history of helping Mardi Gras organizations. In fact, if it were not for the Legislature passing the so-called "coconut bill" in 1987, the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club wouldn't be able to distribute its highly prized, decorated coconuts, which today enjoy an exclusion from liability in Louisiana. In 2005, the Legislature passed another bill that allowed krewes to sell throws and specialty items to their memberships -- as long as the official logos and krewe names are emblazoned on them -- without charging state and local taxes. That means everything from doubloons and LCD beads to plush toys and costumes are legally tax-free for float riders if the items are specific to their krewes. The exemption, however, does not apply to "probably 95 percent" of the throws a krewe member might purchase to complete the ride, says Rep. Damon Baldone, a Houma Democrat. "There's a lot of stuff that you throw that doesn't have the krewes' names on them," he says. His House Bill 92 would expand the current law so that all "tangible personal property" purchased or sold by Mardi Gras krewes would be excluded from paying sales and use taxes beginning Oct. 1. According to a fiscal analysis conducted by legislative staffers, there are at least 128 parading krewes in Louisiana, of which 48 are domiciled in the New Orleans area. -- Alford
School Board 'Lessons'
Money isn't everything, not even in politics. That may be one of the many lessons from the federal guilty plea last week by former Orleans Parish School Board president Ellenese Brooks-Simms, who says she took more than $100,000 in bribes from a brother of indicted U.S. Rep. William Jefferson for supporting a school contract. Brooks-Simms enjoyed strong political backing from the congressman's political family during her school board tenure. That backing helped her re-election campaign raise $154,819 in contributions in 2004, records show. But voters threw her out anyway amid voter outrage over her participation in a school board effort to oust then-Superintendent Anthony Amato. In fact, Brooks-Simms could not even force a run-off in the fall primary election in 2004 to keep her Algiers seat on the board. Political unknown Lourdes Moran won the seat in the primary with 56 percent of the vote, despite spending only $68,319 -- less than half of Brooks-Simms' war chest. Another political unknown, Camacia Smith-Ross, placed second with 18 percent of the vote; her campaign was self-financed with a $5,000 loan. Brooks-Simms finished third with 16 percent, followed by Ernest Marcelle Jr. , with 10 percent. -- Johnson
Ironically, one of the last campaign contributions that member Ellenese Brooks-Simms received as president of the Orleans Parish School Board came from an investment bond counselor who was later sent to prison on federal corruption charges. Glenn A. Haydel, a now-imprisoned former contractor with the Regional Transit Authority, donated $150 to Brooks-Simms' unsuccessful 2004 re-election effort, campaign finance records show. Before her election to school board, Brooks-Simms chaired the RTA Board of Commissioners from 1988 to 1994, an RTA spokesperson said. Haydel was an RTA contractor from 1994 until 2002. Last year, Haydel pleaded guilty to federal charges alleging that he stole $550,000 by diverting federal funds from the transit agency for his personal use. Haydel, 61, the uncle of former Mayor Marc Morial, admitted looting the RTA during his nephew's tenure. Brooks-Simms last week pleaded guilty to federal fraud and corruption charges but has agreed to cooperate in an ongoing federal investigation of the school board. -- Johnson
Capitelli Running for DA
The election for Orleans Parish District Attorney is more than a year away, but veteran criminal defense attorney Ralph Capitelli is already preparing to challenge embattled incumbent Eddie Jordan Jr. "The Capitelli for D.A. Campaign Committee" filed campaign organization papers recently, estimating its membership at 100 people. Retired banker Michael A. Flick is chairing the campaign committee and Thomas M. Kitchen, chief financial officer for Stewart Enterprises, is serving as treasurer. A native of New York, Capitelli, 59, has practiced law in Louisiana for 35 years -- starting as a state prosecutor. From 1972 to 1980, Capitelli worked as a prosecutor for then-DA Harry Connick, spending his last three years as Connick's first assistant. Today, Capitelli is a partner in the firm of Capitelli & Wicker, which he co-founded in 1987. Capitelli is perhaps best known in legal circles for criminal defense work, including white-collar cases in federal court. His law firm Web site notes the firm has "played a key role in many of the significant gaming issues from criminal, civil and regulatory standpoints" with the resurgence of legalized gaming Louisiana. He once worked as a paid lobbyist for a video poker concern, but discontinued that role in 2004. Capitelli says his gaming experience will be a "big plus" in his race for DA. "My experience across the board, including gaming, is extensive," he says. Legalized gaming is one of the few areas of the local economy to grow in recent years, and voters have come to accept the industry, he adds. Capitelli says he will not make a "formal announcement" of his candidacy for several weeks -- "but I'm definitely in the race." -- Johnson
See Ray Fight Crime
Mayor C. Ray Nagin this week is expected to preside over the disbursement of $1 million in federal crime-fighting funds. Judges, police and representatives of nonprofit organizations are expected to be on hand when the Mayor's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council convenes at 10 a.m. this Thursday (June 28) in the eighth floor conference room at City Hall, Room 8E10. Different pots of money will be allocated for various initiatives aimed at fighting the spread of illegal drugs and guns, and tackling juvenile crime, city officials say. -- Johnson
If you have to listen to political speeches, you might as well hear a Toastmaster. Marie Clesi, a candidate for the House District 79 seat, is a certified "competent toastmaster" and member of Toastmasters International, a nonprofit organization that promotes public speaking as an art form. Clesi will host an Independence Day barbecue fundraiser from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday (July 1) at Heritage Park, 303 Williams Blvd., in the Rivertown section of Kenner. Tickets are $35 per person and $50 per family. A Republican, Clesi is running to fill the seat of outgoing state Rep. Danny Martiny, who is term-limited. The primary election is Oct. 20. Clesi owns Marie Clesi Insurance Agency Inc. She has been an agent with State Farm Insurance and Financial Services for more than 26 years. Former Kenner Council-at-Large member Betty Bonura is serving as treasurer of Clesi's campaign. Mitch Gibbs is her campaign consultant. -- Johnson