1. 'DOLLAR BILL' JEFFERSON ORDERED RELEASED FROM PRISON
In a surprise move Oct. 5, a federal judge ordered former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson released immediately from federal prison in Oakdale. Jefferson had been incarcerated since May 2012.
Jefferson, a Democrat who represented Louisiana's 2nd Congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives for 18 years, was indicted on 16 counts of corruption in 2007 and convicted on 11 of those counts two years later. One count was tossed several years ago, and Jefferson was sentenced to 13 years in jail for the remaining 10 convictions.
The counts on which Jefferson was convicted included two counts of soliciting bribes; two counts of wire fraud; three counts of money laundering; two counts of conspiracy to solicit bribes and commit wire fraud; one count of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; and one count of conducting and participating in a racketeering enterprise — commonly known as RICO.
Last week, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who presided at Jefferson's trial in northern Virginia, threw out seven of the 10 remaining counts and ordered Jefferson freed until the former congressman can be resentenced. The convictions Ellis tossed were those for soliciting bribes, wire fraud and money laundering. The others remain in place.
Jefferson's lawyers had argued for the dismissal of the counts based on a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case involving former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell on similar charges. Both cases turned on the legal definition of "official acts" by a public official — and whether Jefferson or McDonnell committed any such acts in exchange for something of value.
Jefferson has served more than five years of his 13-year sentence, and it's not clear whether he will have to serve additional time or will be set free. A sentencing hearing has been set for Dec. 1. The RICO conviction, which remains, is considered a major felony, but judges are given discretion in sentencing.
During his career, Jefferson rose from rural poverty in northeast Louisiana to win a seat in the Louisiana Senate, then a seat in Congress after losing the 1986 New Orleans mayor's race. For more than a decade, he was the most influential politician in New Orleans. His political organization, the Progressive Democrats, was unequaled at getting allies of Jefferson elected to city, state and parochial offices.
2. Quote of the week
"When there's a tragedy like this, the first thing we should be thinking about is praying for the people who were injured and doing whatever we can to help them, to help law enforcement. We shouldn't first be thinking of promoting our political agenda. I think we see too much of that, where people say, 'Oh, OK, now you have to have gun control.'" — House Majority Whip Steve Scalise to Fox News Oct. 3.
Scalise was badly wounded by a shooter in June at a practice for a charity congressional baseball game and returned to the Capitol just days before the interview. On Oct. 1, he was featured in a 60 Minutes profile hours before Stephen Paddock opened fire on an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 people.
3. Geaux geaux geaux
With the relaunch of its free online rideshare service — once called GreenRide Connect, now called GeauxRide NOLA — the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission (NORPC) hopes to turn New Orleans into a carpooling city.
NORPC public transportation planner Nik Richard says the program connects both potential carpoolers and people who need a ride with drivers who live or work nearby. It's intended to help New Orleanians get to work, cut down on transportation and parking costs and plug the gaps in neighborhoods which are intermittently served by public transit.
Though NORPC had a long-running ridesharing program targeting employers (who sometimes can receive tax breaks for encouraging carpooling), the GeauxRide NOLA relaunch is focused on employees and job seekers. The GeauxRide NOLA service is available to people traveling to and from several areas, including Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. Bernard, Tangipahoa, Plaquemines, St. John and St. Charles parishes. To sign up, visit www.norpc.greenride.com.
4. Public satisfaction with NOPD down in latest survey
A new survey compiled by the New Orleans Crime Coalition finds that New Orleans residents feel safer overall but still are largely dissatisfied with the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). Fifty-one percent of respondents to a WPA Intelligence survey conducted Sept. 5-7 are "satisfied" with the NOPD, dropping 13 percentage points from the coalition's 2016 survey. Respondents' feelings on violent crime influenced the drop, with satisfaction with NOPD performance handling violent crime dropping 20 points to 39 percent.
But 82 percent of respondents said they feel safe in their neighborhoods, a bump up from 78 percent last year, and more than half of respondents said they feel safe in neighborhoods other than the ones in which they live.
5. Jindal: He's baaaack. (Maybe)
With Tom Price stepping down as President Donald Trump's secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, national pundits have begun floating a familiar name for the job: that of former Gov. Bobby Jindal. Dan McLaughlin of the National Review wrote, "Jindal has a great depth of background in both health care policy and administration: He developed the Medicare premium-support plan that would later end up in the Ryan budget when he was a 22-year-old Congressional intern, and was running and rescuing Louisiana's hospital system when he was 24." (Louisianans may disagree with the latter half of that sentence.)
"Jindal had among the most detailed and realistic plans to repeal and replace Obamacare, which he unveiled back in 2014," wrote The Federalist. "If anyone could push Congress toward the policies that would have the most effect, and might actually get past a divided GOP Congress, it would be him."
Perhaps both publications should look at his record of nearly bankrupting Louisiana.
6. STR-ing up trouble
A complaint lodged by housing advocacy group Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative (JPNSI) alleges two downtown buildings violate federal housing rules for converting its units into short-term rentals (STRs). According to the city's short-term rental database, more than half of the units at the Maritime Building on Common Street and more than a quarter of the units in the Saratoga Building on Loyola Avenue are registered as STRs, most of which can be rented out year-round under the city's commercial STR designation.
Both properties have mortgages backed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). According to HUD requirements, properties that have received HUD assistance can't use units as transient rentals or hotel units. New Orleans' municipal short-term rental laws, however, don't have similar restrictions.
In a letter to HUD's New Orleans office, associate regional counsel Bam Viloria Gressett, JPNSI requests "HUD immediately investigate these violations and issue a cease order."
7. 'Crime in the Crescent' to examine public safety in New Orleans
Loyola University New Orleans will host an event titled "Crime in the Crescent: A Forum About Public Safety in New Orleans" at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at the university's Nunemaker Auditorium in Monroe Hall.
Panelists include Jeff Asher, the journalist and crime analyst whose work appears in Gambit and on WWL-TV; Melissa Sawyer, founder of the Youth Empowerment Project; and Flozell Daniels, president of the Foundation for Louisiana. Rae Taylor, chair of Loyola's Department of Criminology and Justice, will moderate. The panel is free and open to the public.
8. HousingNOLA says city falling short of affordable housing target
Housing affordability group HousingNOLA gave itself a C in its report card gauging its success to help New Orleans produce 3,000 affordable homes by 2018 and 5,500 by 2021. The group, which encompasses several housing advocacy organizations, aimed to increase the availability of homes and apartments for working-class and lower-income families. HousingNOLA Executive Director Andreanecia Morris says that while there have been some policy successes, this year the group is "seeing the realization of the dire predictions that compelled this plan."
"The recovery funds from Katrina are nearly exhausted and we produced approximately 500 new housing opportunities, a far cry from the 1,500 committed and the 3,330 needed," she said in a statement with the report, released late last month. "Instead of despairing, the HousingNOLA team, staff, board and community intend to fight. We have the plan — we simply need to summon the will to execute."
Morris also called on candidates in citywide elections Oct. 14 to establish "housing first" platforms. "This city will not support leaders who would ignore the needs of the many to indulge the whims of the few or those who would pledge to imprison, rather than house," she said. "It is time to prioritize housing."
9. Welcome back, Wisner Bridge
Following months of demolition and reconstruction, the Wisner Boulevard Bridge over I-610 has opened. The city's $19.5 million project — in association with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, the Regional Planning Commission and Federal Highway Administration — spans 65 feet and includes a 12-foot pedestrian and bicycle path in each direction. That path is set to open in spring 2018.
The city also opened the 10-foot-wide concrete Marconi Path connecting Robert E. Lee Boulevard to Harrison Avenue on the east side of Marconi Drive.
10. A little comedy,
a little cabaret
New York comedy-cabaret headliners Bridget Everett and Murray Hill will make their New Orleans debuts Oct. 23 at One Eyed Jacks. Everett, who's known for her appearances on the Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer, has won praise for her performance in the new comedy Patti Cake$.
Meanwhile, comedian Deven Green (aka "Mrs. Betty Bowers, America's Best Christian") will bring her comedy-cabaret act to Cafe Istanbul for a two-night run Nov. 9-10, where she will play songs and tell jokes while playing an electric ukelele. Tickets for both events are on sale now.