Atkins Out of DA's Race
Civil Court Clerk Dale Atkins has made it official: She is not running for DA later this year. "I've been thinking about it for a while, and I finalized it this past weekend," Atkins told Gambit Weekly last week. She cited the demands of raising a 13-year-old child as her main reason for not running. Atkins is raising the daughter of her sister, who was killed years ago in a drive-by shooting. Another factor, she said, is her legislative mandate to oversee the merger of the city's mortgage, conveyance and notarial archives offices into her clerk's office at the end of this year. "I had to prepare an implementation plan by Jan. 1 of this year," Atkins says. "I put a lot of time, along with others, into developing that plan. After that, I just decided that the opportunity to be a part of this major change in the civil justice system, and to be able to fashion that plan in a manner that gives the public one-stop shopping with regard to property records, along with the chance to make some significant technical upgrades, is a challenge I want to complete." While New Orleans will elect a new DA in the fall, the next election for clerk doesn't come up until February 2010 — the same time as the next mayor's race. Moreover, the civil and criminal clerks offices will merge in May 2010. Atkins' decision no doubt prompted interim DA Keva Landrum-Johnson to announce last week that she might make the race after all — despite a widely reported commitment she was said to have made not to run in exchange for her interim appointment. No doubt Landrum-Johnson's take on that alleged commitment will be the stuff of campaign fodder if she runs. Meanwhile, Atkins' decision also increases speculation that state appellate court Judge Leon Cannizzaro will make the race. Unlike announced candidate Ralph Capitelli, a former first assistant DA, and Landrum-Johnson, Cannizzaro cannot announce for a nonjudicial office without first resigning his judgeship. He is expected to make a decision soon. Other potential candidates are said to be veteran federal prosecutor Linda Bizzarro and former ad-hoc judge Jason Williams. — DuBos



Role Reversal
A New Orleans lawmaker who pushed one of the highest-profile changes to the state's campaign finance laws during the recent special session on ethics reform is facing an ethics charge herself. Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, a Democrat, unintentionally accepted $1,250 in donations that should have been turned down last year for her re-election bid. Sheldon Bruno of New Orleans, who prepared Peterson's campaign finance report, says it was an oversight that has since been corrected. "That money has already been returned," he says. "We've also filed a supplemental report." Peterson's blunder comes at a sensitive time. She pushed legislation that would ban third-party sources from paying campaign finance violations, and her measure is now sitting on the desk of Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, for his signature. Last year, Jindal's campaign failed to report in a timely manner an $118,000 in-kind donation from the Louisiana Republican Party. Rolfe McCollister Jr. , publisher of Daily Report and Greater Baton Rouge Business Report who served as Jindal's campaign treasurer, quickly vowed to pay Jindal's anticipated $2,500 fine. Such third-party payments would be prohibited under Peterson's provision. — Alford



Nagin: Rosier Than Ever
Mayor Ray Nagin says New Orleans' population has increased yet again. In an open letter to the national "State of the Black Union" last month, Nagin wrote that "the greatest measure of our success is the people who live here." More than two years after Hurricane Katrina, Nagin claims that approximately 323,000 people now live in the city, or 71 percent of the city's pre-storm population. "That is incredible, considering the predictions that we would never return." Who said that? The mayor's letter does not elaborate. His population estimate — the rosiest of any — has increased by almost 5,000 people in less than two months. Demographer Mark J. Van Landingham, a Thomas C. Keller Professor of Diversity at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, recently estimated the city's maximum overnight population at 273,000. The professor says a team of experts is needed to resolve the disparities in estimates. Last week demographer Greg Rigamer estimated that the city just passed the 300,000 mark at the end of January. Van Landingham says reliable figures are necessary for accurately assessing murder trends and "other phenomena" in post-Katrina New Orleans. — Johnson



Jindal and Gender
A victim's rights group is protesting Gov. Bobby Jindal's appointment of an all-male state pardon board as insensitive to the needs of female crime victims and women inmates with children. David R. Kent, vice president of Victims & Citizens Against Crime Inc. (VCAC) and a retired assistant NOPD superintendent, says he will protest the "gender imbalance" of the panel when the Louisiana Senate schedules confirmation hearings on the new appointees. Louisiana's history of violent crime "screams for a broader understanding and knowledge" of domestic violence and sex crimes as well as the "dire circumstances" facing women prisoners with children, says Kent. Jindal has replaced all but one of the five Pardon Board members named by predecessor Kathleen Blanco, including Julia Sims of Ponchatoula, a professional photographer and VCAC member who served on the pardon panel for 12 years. VCAC, based in Metairie, exercised its statutory but nonbinding privilege of recommending a replacement for Sims by nominating its president, Beverly S. Siemssen, a social worker from Kenner. The pardon board considers applications by convicted felons for pardons, commutations of sentence, and the restoration of citizenship rights, such as voting. The governor's press office could not be reached for comment. — Johnson



Legislature Considering New State Agency
Whether it's a nonbinding resolution or an actual bill, expect lawmakers to ponder the creation of a new Office of State Planning to provide technical and material support to local governments and others in their own planning efforts. While there isn't an official price tag yet, there are indicators. For starters, Louisiana once had an Office of State Planning before it was disbanded during the 1970s. It had a staff of about 20 people and a $4 million budget (adjusted for inflation). Today, the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission handles transportation and environmental planning with 20 full-time staff members and a budget of about $8 million, of which about 13 percent goes to salaries. Nationwide, at least 28 states have some sort of planning office at the executive level. A special task force has recommended to the Legislature that, after its creation, the Office of State Planning be evaluated to become a "cabinet-level department." The report also suggests that the Louisiana Recovery Authority oversee the transition process and that the office be accountable to another public-private board to be created later. As for duties, the report identifies facilitating funding for local planning, developing statewide benchmarks, analyzing land-use law and more. — Alford



N.O. Crime Surprises I.G.
Local U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and James Bernazzani, head of the Louisiana FBI, have been tirelessly promoting the city's first Inspector General, Robert Cerasoli, and not just because it's good to have another watchdog around. The feds hope Cerasoli will cut their workload by torpedoing fat city contracts that don't pass the proverbial "smell test." They aren't the only ones boosting Cerasoli. Last month, conservative Washington columnist Robert Novak wrote that Cerasoli's "imposing presence" means that "life in the Big Easy will no longer be so easy." In a Feb. 14 column for The Washington Post, Novak called Cerasoli "the nation's foremost inspector general" and added that Cerasoli told him he was amazed when he arrived in New Orleans because "just about everybody I met had been the victim of a holdup." Novak added that Cerasoli "wondered why crime was much more rampant in New Orleans than in Atlanta, a larger city with a smaller police force." Cerasoli may need to call Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington — the former top cop at NOPD — for answers to that one. — Johnson

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