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Jindal Drubs VP Rumors
While Louisiana newspapers and evening broadcasts continue to report from the state Capitol without any direct comments from the Jindal Administration, even when the story is held for several days to permit an interview, Gov. Bobby Jindal made time last weekend for CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer. Not surprisingly, the exchange quickly touched on the question of whether Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, would tap Jindal as his veep. The rumors have been swirling in Louisiana since conservative mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh suggested Jindal as a VP pick and crowned him the 'next Ronald Reagan." When Blitzer pushed for an answer, Jindal all but turned down the gig. 'Look, he's not going to ask me. But, no, my focus is on Louisiana," the new governor told CNN's audience. 'I've been elected. I've told the people of Louisiana this is our chance to fix our state, and I mean that. I don't think we'll get this chance again in our lifetimes. So it is my responsibility to work with the Legislature and the voters. I promise your viewers this: We'll move Louisiana from the bottom five to the top five when it comes to ethics and good government." Jindal also told Blitzer that Louisiana is in the 'middle of an historic ethics session" and outlined a busy next few months for those involved with the legislative process. 'We have a second session coming up in a couple of weeks to cut taxes on businesses," he said. 'We have a third regular session coming up in March. We'll revamp workforce training, revamp our health care systems." — Alford



Lobbyists Under Fire
The first few days of the special session on ethics reform was chock full of 'lobbyist reform" bills, most notably a measure that would prohibit them from spending more than $50 per lawmaker per meal and reporting requirements that reveal financial and client information. Some of the more draconian bills, however, never came up for debate or weren't debated until the final hours of the session. Among them were measures to prohibit lobbyists from passing notes to lawmakers on the House floor, force them to wear special badges, forbid them from sitting in seats behind the House floor, and require them to be sworn in before providing testimony. — Alford

 

Counting Killings
Why did attorney and government watchdog C.B. Forgotston stop posting New Orleans' stubborn homicide rates on his popular Web site (www.forgotston.com) at the end of 2007? 'First, keeping up with the number of murders on a timely basis was a lot of work," Forgotston says. 'Then, there was the extra work of defending why my count was not the same as the New Orleans Police Department. Nobody ever asked the NOPD or The Times-Picayune to defend their under-counting of the murders. But the primary reason that I stopped counting the murders was because instead of motivating people to put pressure on the public officials to address the violent crime problem in New Orleans, I was blamed for spreading bad news about the city." It's a familiar problem. The Louisiana Weekly encountered a similar backlash (from ministers and militants alike) decades ago when it pioneered the practice of counting killings in an effort to stop black-on-black homicides. Disparities in the death toll are more easily explained than public reaction. Forgotston published figures from the Orleans Parish Coroner's Office, which counts all violent deaths (including, for example, justifiable homicides). NOPD's tally does not include justifiable homicides, of which there are six to 12 in a typical year. 'I've actually been told by people that it seems violent crime is less in the city since I stopped reporting the murders," Forgotston says. Ironically, there have been no justifiable homicides this year through Feb. 21. As a result, both the coroner and NOPD tallies were the same (25 total killings) as of that date. — Johnson

 

Safe Place to Visit, But
When will the city and NOPD come up with a strategy to keep residents as safe as visitors? The question arose anew last week as alarming crime statistics burst into public view just as once-skeptical NBA officials were praising Mayor Ray Nagin, Police Chief Warren Riley and exhausted cops for a peaceful NBA All-Star weekend. Except for an unrelated, nonfatal shooting in the French Quarter after the All-Star game, there were no major incidents — a welcome contrast to the violence that marred the event last year in Las Vegas. Rafael Goyeneche, president of the private Metropolitan Crime Commission, echoed earlier remarks by City Council President Arnie Fielkow and said new figures show that NOPD's citywide crime-fighting strategies are 'clearly not working." In 2007, incidents of violent crime (including murders, rapes, robberies and shootings) soared by 53 percent from the previous year — or by 22 percent per capita, using the department's liberal population estimate of 312,000 people. 'Keep in mind, the City Council gave the NOPD an extra $5 million during the last quarter for overtime pay," said Goyeneche. 'Even then, the department just held the line." Goyeneche is urging NOPD to issue summons for misdemeanor offenses and focus on violent offenders. 'We need to do some things differently," he said. NOPD did not respond to a request for comment. — Johnson

 

NOPD Recruiting Push
Armed with more than $1 million in city funding for a media campaign, NOPD is about to launch a 'massive" recruiting drive in March, says Heidi Unter, chief operating officer of the private New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation. Police Chief Warren Riley says the force is several hundred officers short of the 1,700 cops needed to protect the city, post-Katrina. The recent murder of a police officer has not discouraged potential applicants. 'Inquiries about recruiting have been up, not down, since the death of Officer Nicola Cotton," Unter says. Cotton was shot to death by a mental patient Jan. 28. NOPD training officers this week will receive special instruction on dealing with mental patients at a law enforcement seminar in Monroe. Dr. Jan Johnson, a clinical psychiatrist at Tulane University Medical Center, recently praised NOPD as one of the 'best-educated" police departments in the country when it comes to handling the mentally ill. Despite the strain of working long hours since the fourth quarter of last year, Unter says there have been no reports of major disciplinary problems in the ranks. However, she could cite no official statistics to support that claim because NOPD's Public Integrity Bureau has not posted its quarterly reports on the department's Web site (www.nopd.com) since 2004. — Johnson



New Way to Complain
Now you can point your finger at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers online. Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, the chief of engineers, has ventured into the blogosphere and is posting on a blog called 'Corps-e-spondence." The site includes RSS capability, so readers can subscribe and automatically receive updates. Readers also may post questions and comments. 'This is the way of the future," Van Antwerp says. 'We should be out there, too — clearly and openly communicating with the American public every chance we get." But don't get too excited. Despite being written in first person, the posts probably won't be any more revealing than a standard Corps press release. The first one deals with Iraq's reconstruction efforts. Other 'upcoming topics are likely to include the Gulf Coast recovery efforts in southeast Louisiana," a press release promises. The blog can be found on the USACE Web site at https://eportal.usace.army.mil/sites/blog. — Alford

 

Legislating Divorce
In one of the legislative session's more comical moments, Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, a New Orleans Democrat, wondered aloud if she would have to divorce her husband, a well-known political consultant, because an administration-backed bill would prohibit lawmakers from paying family members from their campaign accounts. 'I wouldn't want him running my campaign anyway," she joked. 'You can't be campaigning on the streets and then go home together. That would be madness." In jest, the bill's author, GOP House Speaker Jim Tucker of Terrytown, suggested Peterson could 'pay" her husband 'in-kind," a remark that a blushing Peterson quickly countered by saying, 'That would go well beyond the contribution limits." Her husband, Dana Peterson, has managed several high-profile Democratic campaigns, including Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu's unsuccessful bid for mayor. — Alford

 


Winning the War on Graft
Jim Bernazzani, special agent-in-charge of the FBI in Louisiana, says the feds are winning the war on political corruption in New Orleans. 'If you give my guys another six to seven months, this city will be as clean as it's been since Huey Long's time," Bernazzani said recently. He added, 'The vast majority of public servants in this town are sound." FBI probes over the last five years have resulted in dozens of indictments and convictions for corruption, from the Jefferson Parish Courthouse to the Orleans Parish School Board and the City Hall administration of former Mayor Marc Morial. There is widespread speculation that the probes are winding down and that local U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's days may be numbered, particularly if a Democrat is elected president in the fall elections. 'Jimmy is a political appointee," Bernazzani said of Letten in an interview with radio talk show host Andre Trevigne. 'He may be on the move, [but] I don't intend on moving." Bernazzani, one of the Bureau's top anti-terrorism experts, drew loud applause at a local meeting of the FBI Citizens Academy recently when he announced that he passed up a promotion to stay in post-Katrina New Orleans. 'This is historic. I want to fight this fight. I want to be here," said Bernazzani, a native of Massachusetts. — Johnson

 

I Spy — Lunch
Was it a mundane transaction or a clandestine encounter? The long paper trail of accused Chinese spy Tai Shen Kuo, 58, of New Orleans, apparently includes a 17-year-old American Express credit owed to a Metairie restaurant that Kuo once owned, records show. In 1991, American Express reported an outstanding credit of $94.65 to Mr. Tai's Restaurant, 701 Metairie Road, according to the State Treasurer's Web site for unclaimed property (www.latreasury.com). The notation seems more intriguing since Kuo's recent arrest by the FBI on espionage charges, although Treasury spokesperson Sarah Mulhearn says the office's unclaimed property division had not heard from the FBI. A naturalized U.S. citizen who has resided in New Orleans since 1973, Kuo reportedly opened Mr. Tai's in the mid-1980s. The restaurant later closed. After a two-year surveillance by the FBI's Foreign Counter-Intelligence Unit, agents raided Kuo's Uptown home and a separate residence in Houma on Feb. 11. Kuo and two others are in jail in Virginia, charged with passing national defense secrets to the People's Republic of China. New Orleans FBI spokesperson Sheila Thorne says anyone with tips on the spy case can call the Bureau hotline at 816-3000. — Johnson

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