If Bill Jefferson is wondering what he'll do after leaving Congress -- and that's certainly something "Dollar Bill" ought to be thinking about these days -- he might give some thought to hiring himself out as Renee Gill Pratt's driver. It's only fitting.
Jefferson, after all, arranged for Gill Pratt, who was then a member of the New Orleans City Council, to sign for 20 brand-new vehicles being donated to the city by DaimlerChrysler last September in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The automaker wanted to help storm-ravaged local governments in southeast Louisiana, so it donated a total of 40 vehicles -- worth more than $1 million -- through Jefferson and Congressman Bobby Jindal of Kenner. Each congressman spread 20 vehicles among area local governments, with Jefferson letting Gill Pratt take control of all 20 placed as his disposal.
Now, it turns out, Gill Pratt is driving one of those vehicles as part of her recent employment with a Central City nonprofit group connected to Jefferson's family. Jefferson has been a mentor and patron of Gill Pratt since her earliest days in politics.
The connections between Jefferson and Gill Pratt don't stop there.
Jefferson's brother Mose, who runs the nonprofit group Orleans Metropolitan Housing and Community Development Inc., is a very, very, very close longtime friend of Gill Pratt. A company formed by Mose Jefferson also owns the building that leased office space to then-Councilwoman Gill Pratt for her satellite council office -- at the rate of $1,800 a month. Apparently Mose Jefferson is a shrewd businessman in addition to his humanitarian exploits; his company bought the building for a mere $10,000 last November. In addition to the lease with Gill Pratt, Mose Jefferson's company has or had leases at the same building with several other public and nonprofit entities with connections to the Jefferson family.
Over the years, Gill Pratt demonstrated her affinity for Mose's eleemosynary purposes by steering millions of taxpayer dollars to Orleans Metropolitan Housing and to Care Unlimited Inc., another nonprofit with close ties to the Jeffersons. In addition to the dough, Gill Pratt also used her power as a council member to steer two of the donated DaimlerChrysler vehicles to each of those two nonprofits not long before voters tossed her out of office.
In a remarkable turn of events -- which Gill Pratt attributes to divine intervention -- the former councilwoman now works for Care Unlimited and drives one of those donated vehicles, a $28,000 Dodge Durango. It's just one of the perks of her new job in the nonprofit sector -- in addition to knowing that she's helping those in need.
According to several excellent stories by Times-Picayune reporter Gordon Russell, Gill Pratt drove the Durango during the months after Katrina in her capacity as a council member. Then, just days before the April 22 primary, she donated that vehicle and three others to the two Central City nonprofits.
When Russell asked her to explain how and why she's driving her old council wheels, Gill Pratt replied: "My intention when I donated the car was to be re-elected. But sometimes God puts things in places for you. It just happened. It wasn't something that was planned intentionally."
To be sure, the Jefferson political machine always aspires to win elections, particularly when its favorite sons and daughters are on the line. But to blame this boondoggle on The Almighty ranks right up there with ... um ... telling a rich investor you need $100,000 in cash to bribe an African vice president -- and then keeping $90,000 of it in your freezer after telling the investor you delivered the package.
Which brings us back to the congressman. Maybe all this will figure into the "honorable explanation" that Dollar Bill has been promising us in regard to the cold, hard cash that FBI agents removed from his Frigidaire last August.
Perhaps he planned all along to "donate" the marked Benjamins to one of his family's nonprofits before retiring to Central City, where he could spend his sunset years driving Miss Renee.