Democratic Exec Committee Embattled Congressman Bill Jefferson's local political empire continues to crumble as he trudges toward a showdown against federal prosecutors in northern Virginia. The Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, a 70-member elected body that officially oversees party affairs in New Orleans, deposed Jefferson ally Stephanie Butler as its chair at the committee's first meeting since new members were elected Feb. 9. The new chair is Jefferson's former law partner, James Gray, whose daughter, state Sen. Cheryl Gray, defeated Jefferson's daughter, former state Rep. Jalila Jefferson Bullock, in a November 2007 runoff for the state Senate seat that launched Bill Jefferson's career in 1979.
Butler, the former chair, gained some notoriety in recent years as the Jefferson operative who orchestrated the firing of dozens of white employees in the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office, according to former DA Eddie Jordan. Those terminations led to a $1.9 million federal civil rights judgment against Jordan's office, which grew to $3.4 million with interest and contributed to Jordan's decision to resign last October.
James Gray's election as chair of the committee seems to complete a routing of Jefferson's political machine by the Gray family, though Gray insists there is no personal or political animosity between him and the congressman. "The vast majority of people on the committee are new members and have no history or personal relationships with elected officials," Gray told Gambit Weekly. "I think this is historic." He added that the new committee members come to the table with no agendas. "Most of them are just ordinary citizens who were interested in getting involved. Everyone is excited about the fact that this is a presidential election year. The only thing we talked about is registering people to vote Democratic."
Other officers include Deborah Langhoff, who ran unsuccessfully for state representative from Lakeview, as vice chair. Jefferson's team did not totally lose out, however; Julius Feltus, who works for the congressman, was elected third vice chair. Other officers include Michon Copelin, daughter of former state Rep. Sherman Copelin, as second vice chair; Sabrina Mays Montana, secretary; Marc Napoleon, treasurer; and former Criminal Court Judge Morris Reed (also a Jefferson ally) as parliamentarian.
The November presidential election is expected to be hotly contested in Louisiana, which means the committee could play a crucial role in organizing local turnout and possibly getting national funds to promote the Democratic ticket. DuBos
Caldwell Meets With Bush
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell recently traveled to Washington, D.C., for a national crime conference and walked away with an unparalleled souvenir. "It was a very unusual occurrence to get a meeting with the president, U.S. attorney general and the chief justice all in one afternoon," says Caldwell. He says President George W. Bush told him that the federal government is continuing with its Early Release Program for Federal Prisoners. The early release went into effect March 3 and will allow some 20,000 crack cocaine users nationwide to walk out of jail, Caldwell says. "This news is very alarming to me. Crack cocaine users are quite different from powder cocaine users. Crack is highly addictive. Crack users can be some of your worst criminals and they will strike again," he says. Alford
Money for Coast, Roads
The biggest surprise in Gov. Bobby Jindal's call for this week's special session may be a $300 million commitment for coastal restoration and hurricane protection. According to the governor's office, it's the single largest such dedication in the history of Louisiana. For the record, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, came close with a $200 million allotment last year. Of course, if history is any indication, such attention to south Louisiana could draw growls from upstate lawmakers who feel slighted. That's why the chairmen of the natural resources committees in both the House and Senate believe a large portion of the money that Jindal, a Republican, has earmarked for transportation in the special session will head to the piney north. The two panels are charged with overseeing most coastal matters. "With $515 million dedicated to transportation, I think it's going to be hard for even the northern representatives and senators to argue with what is proposed for the coast," says Rep. Gordon Dove, a Houma Republican. Of the $515 million set aside for roads and bridges, roughly $249 million will be distributed to all of Louisiana's 64 parishes, based on "objective criteria" determined by the Department of Transportation and Development. Sen. Reggie Dupre, a Bourg Democrat who serves as Dove's counterpart in the Upper Chamber, predicts that the "objective criteria" will likely favor northern parishes as a way to balance the pork. Alford
Lapeyrolerie Joins Landrieu
Renee Lapeyrolerie, chief spokesperson for Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman since Hurricane Katrina, says she has taken a position as political director for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu's campaign. "I will continue to work on projects at the Sheriff's Office as a consultant," Lapeyrolerie says. One such project apparently is promoting Gusman's third annual Easter egg hunt from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday (March 15) at the Riverview (the "Fly") behind Audubon Zoo. A veteran Democratic campaign consultant who worked as Louisiana press secretary for the Kerry/Edwards 2004 presidential campaign and the Gore/Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000, Lapeyrolerie also managed Dale Atkins' campaign for District Attorney in 2002. Atkins' decision not to run for DA in the fall freed Lapeyrolerie to sign on with Landrieu. Johnson
Three historic figures in New Orleans apparently left more than their legacies behind. Records show that the state Treasurer (www.latreasury.com) is holding stocks, bonds, and other "unclaimed property" owed to retired U.S. Rep. Lindy Boggs, the late Orleans Parish DA Jim Garrison and U.S. District Judge Veronica D. Wicker, also deceased. The value of each holding exceeds $250. (In 1996, an anonymous New Orleans area resident received unclaimed property from the state valued at more than $1 million.) The state does not publish the exact value of personal unclaimed property exceeding $250 because of "privacy" concerns, says Sarah Mulhearn, spokesperson for state Treasurer John Kennedy. Boggs, the first woman elected to Congress from Louisiana and a former ambassador to the Vatican, now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. She turns 92 on Thursday (March 13). Garrison, the only prosecutor in the nation to bring criminal charges in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, served as DA from 1962 to 1974. Later he was twice elected to the state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal. He died in 1992. Judge Wicker was the first woman named to the federal bench in Louisiana. President Jimmy Carter appointed her in 1979. She died in 1994. Johnson
Checks for Cops
Gambit Weekly's continuing search of state Treasury records found thousands of dollars in unclaimed checks, refunds and other property for Louisiana law enforcement, including: Louisiana State Police $8,917; the New Orleans Police Department, $4,200; the NOPD Pension Fund, $1,144; and Orleans Parish Civil Sheriff Paul Valteau's office, $890. In addition, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office will need to claim nearly $1,000 in checks addressed to Sheriff Harry Lee, who died Oct. 1. NOPD Assistant Police Superintendent Marlon Defillo told us a captain has been assigned to secure the monies addressed to NOPD and determine how the funds will be allocated. One expert said NOPD might need to consult with the city chief administrative officer to determine where the one-time payments will go. Similarly, State Police will try to determine whether its windfall reverts to the state general fund or whether the money can be used for one-time expenses. After our inquiries, state Treasury spokesperson Sarah Mulhearn told us other public agencies might soon get some good news. "Periodically, our Unclaimed Property Division will run a search of public departments that have unclaimed property and will send them their unclaimed property check," Mulhearn said. "In our next run, the police departments will be included in that list as will other public entities." Johnson
Fair to Finance
Easton Clinic With Carnival 2008 behind him, Mardi Gras Guide publisher Arthur Hardy is focusing on another passion promoting the recovery of his old high school, Warren Easton. Hardy, vice president of the Warren Easton Charter Foundation, the governing body that reopened the public school after Hurricane Katrina, announced a fundraiser for a school-based health clinic, with the goal of eventually serving the Mid-City residential neighborhood. Proceeds from the fair will help build the clinic, to be housed in the defunct "custodian's cottage" next to the school. Clinic operations will be financed by the Kellogg Foundation, and it will be staffed by the Tulane University Medical Center. The fair will feature a tribute to New Orleans Police Officer Nicola Cotton, a 2001 graduate of Warren Easton who was killed in the line of duty earlier this year. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 29 at Easton Park, an old NORD playground at 600 N. Lopez St. Hardy also challenged alumni from other area high schools to match the community outreach goals set by his alma mater. During an interview, the president of the Easton senior Class of "65, chuckled: "There's an old saying. "New Orleans is made up of two kinds of high school students those who went to Warren Easton, and those who wish they had!'" Johnson
Acadiana Delegation Pushback
Despite evoking images of Evangeline's green oak and Lafayette's blue dogs, the Acadiana Legislative Delegation has steadily expanded its ranks to include lawmakers from more easterly locales. For example, Democratic Rep. Regina Ashford Barrow of Baton Rouge was elected secretary-treasurer of the delegation earlier this month. The Acadiana Delegation, as defined by the Louisiana Legislature, is made up of 22 parishes, many found in the eastern and central part of the state, with members from LaPlace, Destrehan and Belle Chasse. But the so-called "Cajun Heartland," where the storied Acadian colonists originally relocated in the 18th century, includes only eight parishes in the Lafayette region. Over the years, there have been some turf wars in the delegation between purists and "outsiders." "It's always been so hard to agree on things because of that geographic divide," says Sen. Mike Michot of Lafayette, the dean of the delegation. "And that's why some of us have come together to form what we call "Core Acadiana,' which includes legislators from Lafayette and the surrounding parishes. We've been meeting and will continue meeting." Alford