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From their lips to your ear

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Off and running?
Now that Secretary of State Al Ater has formally suggested postponing the Feb. 4 citywide elections until next September, the floodgates can truly open with respect to who's running for mayor and City Council. City Councilman-at-Large Oliver Thomas is looking and sounding more like a candidate every day. Thomas convened a meeting of supporters several days before Thanksgiving and asked them to help him run for mayor, according to one person who attended the meeting. School Board member Jimmy Fahrenholtz has already declared his intentions of running, as has former City Councilwoman Peggy Wilson, the only Republican mentioned so far. Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu continues to be one of the most frequently mentioned possibilities, although he is said to be teetering back and forth between running for mayor now and running for governor in two years. Recent talk that former U.S. Sen. John Breaux is once again considering a run for governor -- this time in 2007 -- could make Landrieu's decision eaiser. Both Landrieu and Breaux are Democrats, and it's doubtful the lieutentant governor would oppose Breaux. Other names that have recently popped out of the local rumor mill include state Attorney General (and former Criminal Sheriff) Charles Foti Jr. and state Sen. Edwin Murray. At this point, the only thing that appears certain is that Mayor Ray Nagin will have opposition ... eventually. -- DuBos

New chief supports oversight of NOPD
New Police Chief Warren Riley, responding to his first question from a reporter as chief, said he would "absolutely" support a long-standing recommendation by a blue-ribbon panel to hire an independent monitor of police misconduct investigations.Ê"The only problem I ever had with [the proposal] was that I didn't think it should be funded by our budget," Riley said at a press conference, following his swearing-in at Gallier Hall last week. Riley served on the blue-ribbon panel, which was formed by then-Mayor Marc Morial after a controversial Algiers police shooting of an unarmed black man. Mayor Ray Nagin nixed the idea, however, citing a decision by the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division to end its eight-year supervision of NOPD as evidence of a force embracing reform. Nagin's then-police chief Eddie Compass echoed his boss' claim, saying NOPD could police itself.ÊCompass resigned suddenly on Sept. 27, amid allegations of post-Katrina looting by cops and claims that the chief had exaggerated reports of criminal anarchy. Last Monday night, three months after Katrina, a subdued Compass carried out the traditional pinning of the chief's badge -- upside down -- on his successor's blue uniform. -- Johnson

Polls casting a pall
The latest round of poll numbers for Gov. Kathleen Blanco doesn't bode well for the state's first woman governor. In a poll conducted over the course of 10 days in early November by the Southern Media and Opinion Research Group, a mere 19.3 percent of the 600 Louisiana voters questioned would "definitely vote to re-elect" Blanco. In New Orleans, the number hovered around 9.8 percent. In Acadiana, the governor's home base, only 19.4 percent said they would back her. The same gloomy news can be found in the latest poll by SurveyUSA, which is funded by a consortium of media organizations. In 600 interviews taken on November 14, the governor earned a 34 percent approval rating -- compared to a 55 percent approval rating in May. To add insult to injury, Blanco is still reeling from being named one of the "Worst Governors in America" by Time magazine. When asked about the criticism, the governor answered curtly, "Watch my results." No doubt many are doing exactly that -- but at least as many also are watching her poll numbers. -- Alford

Charter chatter
In the wake of massive evacuations from south Louisiana because of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, an intriguing question is making the rounds in the state Capitol: Is a constitution drafted more than 30 years ago still relevant to an altered version of Louisiana? Elliott Stonecypher, a political analyst and demographer based in Shreveport, says New Orleans was already suffering from an annual outmigration of about 3,700 people, and parts of the constitution cater directly to the city. "We have to configure ourselves for an entirely new reality," he says. Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, a government watchdog group, says true leadership from the Blanco Administration would be needed for such an undertaking. Additionally, a constitutional convention might be better suited than a special session to right-size state government, help rebuild New Orleans and reorganize Louisiana's tax structure. "If we're going to be a smaller state with fewer resources, we need to peel back these layers of government bureaucracy," Erwin says. "And to do that, you just can't change the laws; you have to change the constitution." But others who have been there and done that find the notion of a new (or substantially reconfigured) constitution completely unnecessary. C.B. Forgotston Jr. , a New Orleans attorney and senior staff member from the 1973 convention, says that fixing the budget should be the top priority, and constitutional amendments or statutory changes are safer than setting lawmakers loose on the constitution. "There is nothing inherent in this constitution that legislators with guts can't fix in one session," he says. Butch Speer, the clerk of the House of Representatives who also worked on the 1973 convention, questions whether the state can afford such a gathering. The per diem for delegates in 1973 was $50 per day for an entire year. "It wouldn't be a cheap proposition," he says. The idea is still in its infant stages, but many expect it to be an ongoing issue as the state draws closer to election time. -- Alford "Situation" normal? At least for now, Mayor Ray Nagin has quietly dropped estimates of how much power has been restored to the city from his weekly "Situation Report." The change came after a Gambit Weekly contributor recently left a voice mail message with the mayor's office inquiring about wide discrepancies in estimates disseminated by the mayor and those by Entergy, the city's chief utility. (The call was not returned.) As recently as Nov. 11, Hizzoner reported that electricity had been restored to 64 percent of all customers in Orleans Parish; 50 percent of gas service was restored, Nagin said.ÊHowever, Entergy officials said in a Nov. 19 story in The New York Times that only 30 percent of its customers were drawing power and less than 20 percent had gas. "To be without 70 percent of your electricity and gas customers more than 80 days after a storm is an unprecedented occurrence in the utility industry," Curt Hebert, an executive vice president with Entergy, told the Times. After weeks of detailing the purported availability of electricity and gas by ZIP code, Nagin's Nov. 28 Situation Report said only, "Entergy is now operating on an accelerated schedule for electric and gas service restoration and expects to have electricity restored to most of the city by the end of December, and gas restored to most customers by the end of January 2006." City Hall and Entergy agree on at least this much: power, or the lack of it, is critical to the city's recovery. -- Johnson

Death counts differ

Louisiana is not yet compiling an official statewide count of deaths resulting from Hurricane Rita, says Bob Johannessen, spokesperson for the state Department of Health and Hospitals. Johannessen says that information is being disseminated by parish coroners. Nonetheless, some recent reports have quoted state officials as saying there have been no deaths attributed to Rita -- even though there appears to be evidence that at least one person's death is attributable to that storm. According to his death certificate, Lawrence Blanchard of Chauvin died on Oct. 26 from an infection he contracted after entering floodwaters caused by Rita. For now, Johannessen says the state will only update fatalities related to Hurricane Katrina. "We're only putting out the Katrina numbers because of its sheer size and scope," he says. -- Johnson

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