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Vested Interest

News pictures of New Orleans police officers searching for suspects who used a semi-automatic assault rifle in the murder of a student at John McDonogh High School showed a number of responding officers were not wearing bullet-resistant vests issued by the NOPD.

At an April 15 press conference, Police Chief Eddie Compass said all "first-line officers" are required to wear the protective vests. "They have worn the vests; they will wear the vests," Compass said. NOPD public affairs commander Capt. Marlin Defillo confirmed that the mandate also applies to 17 cops assigned as liaison to public schools.

However, WWL-TV news pictures last week of Sixth District officers indicated some cops were still not wearing the vests. The city purchased protective vests during the 1990s, when two officers were killed in the line of duty during separate incidents just one day apart.

Despite department mandates, some officers shed the vests during the humid summer months. Women officers have complained that many vests are made for the contours of man's body. And a few tough-talking cops leave the vests in the trunks of their police car because of a bravado that police psychologists describe as "tombstone courage."

Waiting for Justice in Jeff Parish

Sometimes a "vote of the people" just isn't enough. That's why Jefferson Parish politicos and campaign consultants are anxiously waiting for the U.S. Department of Justice to approve a new parish council form of government before committing to any races in the fall elections.

"I have half a dozen people who want to hire us, but they don't know what race they are going to run in or what form of government they are going to run under," says Greg Buisson, managing partner of Buisson Creative Strategies Inc., a Metairie-based consulting firm.

The political dilemmas began Nov. 5, 2002, when voters approved an amendment to the parish charter to reorganize the Jefferson Parish Council, which for years has consisted of one Council chairman (who is elected parish-wide) and six Council district members. The election cleared the way for the old "6-1" Council to be replaced by a so-called "5-2" Council comprised of two at-large council members (Division A and Division B) and five district council members. Under the plan, the entire Council would then choose the Council chair from the two at-large members. Any of the remaining six members could be elected as vice-chair of the Council.

After the November election and subsequent public hearings, the current Council on Feb. 12 approved a new re-districting map for the 5-2 Council plan, which then was sent to Washington. Under federal law, any redistricting plan approved by the Council must be "pre-cleared" by the Justice Department, a move that is expected to take 60 to 90 days from the end of February.

Justice officials will settle a local debate over whether the plan is fair to minority voters in the parish. Under the current 6-1 Council, the majority-black district -- represented by Council District 3 member Donald Jones -- has approximately 70 percent black voter registration. Under the 5-2 plan, the district would have just over 60 percent black voter registration. Opponents of the 5-2 plan say it dilutes black voter strength. Proponents say when the Justice Department approved the old 6-1 plan a dozen years ago, the majority-black district was 60 percent black. The current majority black-district has elected a black in the last three councilmanic elections.

If the feds approve the 5-2 plan, four current Council district members say they will run at-large: Lloyd Giardina, Donald Jones, John Lavarine Jr. and Nick Giambelluca Sr. If the 5-2 plan is rejected, the present 6-1 Council form of government would continue. However, the political outlook would still be at least partly cloudy. Why? Because all members of the current Council are term-limited, thanks to a separate charter amendment the voters also approved in November.

Council chair Aaron Broussard remains apart from the fray -- he's running to replace outgoing parish president Tim Coulon. Qualifying for the Oct. 4 primary elections runs Aug. 19-21.

Bennett's Battle

Ulysess Williams, who served as Louisiana's first African-American secretary of labor from 1982-84, says fellow black Republican Kirk Bennett's campaign for lieutenant governor faces an uphill fight.

"The state is not ready for a black lieutenant governor," Williams says. "It would be nice. It would be symbolic." However, Bennett, a Baton Rouge entrepreneur, will have both his race and party working against him, Williams says. A significant number of whites will oppose Bennett's candidacy just because he is black and a substantial number of blacks will not support him because he is a Republican, Williams says.

Williams, 55, now a marketing consultant living in New Orleans, also says he will support former Gov. Dave Treen's candidacy for re-election as governor. "Based on his record of helping minorities, the man should get 15 to 20 percent of the black vote. His politics are very inclusive." Treen appointed Williams as secretary of labor.

In vote-rich Orleans Parish, more than a quarter of a million voters were registered as of March 7. However, only 4,490 black voters identified themselves as Republicans. That's 303 fewer black Republicans in the city than at the end of 2001, according to the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters.

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