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Falling on His Sword



In the end, Jim Singleton did the honorable thing. An old political soldier, he fell on his sword for the good of the cause by pulling himself out of the hunt for a cushy, $114,000-a-year job in Mayor Ray Nagin's administration.

The truth is, Singleton's old colleagues on the City Council weren't about to let him have that job. The appointment was Nagin's to make, but funding it required council approval. My sources tell me it wasn't even going to come up for consideration. Instead, the Council Budget Committee, chaired by District D Councilman Marlin Gusman, was going to sit on the proposal indefinitely, killing it by neglect.

That would have been a major embarrassment for the new mayor. It also would have made the council majority, led by Council President Eddie Sapir and Gusman, look petty. Meanwhile, a long-simmering animus between Gusman and Singleton would have continued to fester. Nothing good would have come of it.

The bad blood between Gusman and Singleton goes back at least eight years, to the days when Gusman was Mayor Marc Morial's chief administrative officer and Singleton ran the council and its budget committee. Gusman resented the way Singleton ruled with an iron fist; Singleton felt the administration played games with the budget. Each side mistrusted the other.

The bad blood between Gusman and Singleton grew over the years. Gusman's election to the council two years ago helped end Singleton's grip on the reins of power. In short order, the veteran councilman's power and patronage base were systematically dismantled -- on the eve of Singleton launching his bid for mayor.

By the time the dust settled in the mayor's race, neither the Morial forces nor Singleton had won. Or so it appeared.

Singleton and his political group, BOLD, endorsed Nagin early in the runoff, and the fourth-place finisher soon became one of Nagin's top advisers on City Hall matters -- particularly the budget.

When Singleton lost the mayor's race, his foes thought he -- and BOLD -- would fade into the woodwork for a while. However, during Nagin's transition, Singleton kept turning up. His adversaries, including Gusman, feared he would become a shadow mayor by filling every power and information vacuum in the nascent Nagin administration.

When Nagin proposed a lucrative job for Singleton -- with a mayor's salary and a car and driver to boot -- it was just too much for Gusman and company to swallow.

Nagin's relations with the Sapir-Gusman faction of the council seemed strained from the get-go. The Singleton proposal brought to the forefront almost a decade of political slings and arrows.

In private discussions, Gusman, Sapir and others assured Nagin that the tensions between the new mayor and the council's majority faction were all about Singleton. They kept promising Nagin that things would be all right if only Singleton were gone.

Now he's gone.

In the immediate aftermath, Gusman continued "playing games," according to Nagin insiders, by delaying a vote on four key administration positions. Council sources tell me Gusman was chagrined by comments Nagin made at Singleton's news conference announcing his withdrawal. What's clear is that Gusman's position at last Thursday's council meeting was exactly the opposite of positions he took on the same issue when he was Marc Morial's CAO.

Hypocrisy is most unbecoming to one who aspires to advance a political career. It's the one sin voters never forgive.

Whatever the cause, Gusman now has to put up or shut up on the question of whether it was all just about Singleton -- or whether he harbors what his old mentor, Dutch Morial, used to call "hidden agendas."

Time will tell, and it won't take long.

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