Election Flotsam

Campaign notes about the 'rans' and 'also-rans.'


"Flotsam," according to Webster's Third International New Dictionary, is the "wreckage of a ship or its cargo found floating on the sea." A different kind of flotsam is produced by elections, including the recently concluded City Council and mayoral races. The following notes, culled from notebooks and interview tapes, survived the wreckage:

One for the Book

Police Superintendent Richard Pennington now has more time to work on his book since losing the March 2 election for mayor. Co-authored with his wife, René Pennington, the chief's book about his experiences in the New Orleans Police Department has been a work-in-progress for a while now. In fact, we first heard about the chief's foray into the world of autobiography last April, more than six months before he announced his plans to run for mayor.

During a break in the federal trial of a civil suit against NOPD, we asked Pennington if he heard an FBI tape featuring two corrupt cops in 1994 discussing his appointment by Mayor Marc Morial to police superintendent. The chief said he had not. While not used in any of the NOPD corruption cases in the mid-1990s, our federal sources say, the feds overheard one officer tell his police partner that if the top cop tried to change the department too much he would "soon be stinkin' on Almonaster." It was an obvious reference to an avenue in eastern New Orleans where the bodies of murder victims have been dumped.

Pennington laughed at the story. "No, I hadn't heard that," he said. "I'll have to put that one in my book." The chief added that despite his close working relationship with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI, the feds never told him of the alleged tape. "They must have thought I'd have left the city," the chief said, chuckling.

Head of Their Class

All but one of the officials recently elected in the 2002 citywide elections have at least one thing in common: they all attended New Orleans high schools, according to information submitted by candidates to the non-partisan League of Women Voters.

         Mayor-elect Ray Nagin, 45, is a product of New Orleans public schools; he graduated from O. Perry Walker High, located on the West Bank. Four of the 15 candidates for mayor matriculated at schools outside Louisiana, including Police Chief Richard Pennington, who finished second to Nagin in the March 2 general election.

         On the City Council, non-public school graduates outnumber public school graduates 4-3:

         • Both at-large members of the City Council graduated from Uptown public schools: Eddie Sapir, 63, from Alcee Fortier High, and Oliver Thomas, 44, who graduated from Joseph S. Clark High.

         • District A council member-elect “Jay” Batt, 42, graduated from Newman, an Uptown private school.

         • District B council member-elect Renee Gill Pratt, 47, graduated from Xavier Preparatory School, a Catholic school in Uptown.

         • District C council member-elect Jackie Clarkson, 66, graduated from Behrman High, a public school in Algiers.

         • District D Council member Marlin Gusman, 46, matriculated at Jesuit, an all-boys Catholic school in Mid-City.

         • District E Council member Cynthia Willard Lewis, 48, graduated from St. Mary's Academy, an all-girls Catholic school in eastern New Orleans.

         Of the parochial office-holders:

         • Edwin A. Lombard, 55, re-elected clerk of Criminal District Court, graduated from Xavier Prep, as did Dale Atkins, 43, who was re-elected clerk of Civil District Court.

         • Criminal Sheriff Charles Foti, 64, graduated from Warren Easton public high school.

         • Coroner Dr. Frank Minyard, 72, hails from Holy Cross, a Catholic school.

         • Darren Mire, 33, assessor-elect of the First Municipal District, and the youngest candidate elected in the recent elections, graduated in 1986 from Jesuit.

         • Erroll G. Williams, 52, matriculated at Joseph S. Clark.

         • Janyce Deagan, 70, re-elected 6th District assessor, graduated from Sophie Wright, an all-girls public school in Uptown that has since closed.

         • Henry F. Heaton, 43, re-elected 7th District assessor, graduated from De La Salle High, a Catholic school in Uptown.

         Of the four incumbents automatically re-elected without opposition, Civil Sheriff Paul Valteau, 55, graduated from St. Augustine High, a Catholic school in the Seventh Ward. Assessor Claude Mauberret, 40, graduated from Jesuit; Tom Arnold, 59, from Warren Easton. The only New Orleans official in the 2002 citywide elections who did not graduate from a local high school is assessor Betty Jefferson, 50. She graduated from G.W. Griffith high school in her hometown of Lake Providence.

A Place to Play

Wayne A. Johnson, who tried unsuccessfully to unseat incumbent District E City Council member Cynthia Willard-Lewis, campaigned on a platform for more recreational facilities for youth in eastern New Orleans. If elected, Johnson said, he would work to put a public gymnasium in each of the five zip codes in "the East."

Johnson lost his bid, but eastern New Orleans might nonetheless be receiving at least one new sports facility. If the Charlotte Hornets move to New Orleans, the city says it will pony up $6.5 million to build a practice facility for the NBA team at either Joe Brown Park or the Lake Forest Plaza shopping mall. Both sites are in Willard-Lewis' district.

Most Blue-collar Resume

Nelson Savoie, secretary of the city Department of Safety and Permits in Mayor Marc Morial's administration, offered a chance to make history in his unsuccessful bid for the District C City Council seat won by Jackie Clarkson.

If elected, Savoie said, he would become the first French-speaking Cajun elected to the New Orleans City Council in city history.

Savoie, 56, also was touted in the gay press as one of two openly gay candidates in the recently concluded citywide elections. If elected, he would have been the first openly gay candidate elected to public office in New Orleans.

Savoie arguably could have placed more campaign emphasis on his early blue-collar work history -- the kind that got Mike Foster elected governor in 1996. Savoie was born in Houma and reared in Raceland, the youngest of seven children and the son of a sharecropper. He grew up on a plantation near Raceland, where he planted and harvested sugar cane. In the 1970s, he worked his way up from deckhand to tugboat captain (unlicensed) in the offshore oilfields in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I spent a lot of my years out there fighting rough seas," Savoie said in an endorsement interview. "We were working on rig-tenders, old war ships that were converted into drilling ships." He also worked as certified welder in a shipyard. Savoie finished third in the Feb. 2 primary election with 12 percent of the vote.

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