New District Attorney Eddie Jordan is off to a rocky start, not so much because of the changes he's making as the manner in which he's making them. He has a very different style than former DA Harry Connick. He says that's a good thing. Time will tell.
New Orleans has a history of colorful DAs. Jim Garrison launched his own investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy and put prominent local businessman Clay Shaw on trial for conspiring to kill JFK. He was indicted by the feds on corruption charges, but a jury acquitted him after he fired his lawyer and defended himself.
Connick grandstanded by attacking judges who ruled against him in court, claiming they were soft on crime. He was very active in local elections, particularly those for mayor and Criminal Court judges. In his later years, he sang in jazz clubs after hours -- after blaming everyone else from cops to witnesses for the resurgent crime rate. The feds indicted him on corruption charges, too, and he likewise was acquitted.
By comparison, Eddie Jordan comes off as a well-dressed Caspar Milquetoast in his homburg hat and natty suits.
It's too early to say how Jordan will distinguish himself, but let's just say New Orleanians don't mind a little showmanship from their political leaders. There's one catch: the DA has to be tough on crime and at least give the appearance of leading -- and winning -- the fight. Jordan knows that.
In the aftermath of Jordan's summary dismissal of more than 60 of Connick's employees, the new DA answered critics by blithely noting he had the right to hire and fire his staff at will.
In the strict legal sense, Jordan is right. But he came off as high-handed in that skirmish. So much so that Connick wrote a letter to the editor, published in The Times-Picayune, blasting Jordan for the manner in which he treated veteran employees. Jordan answered that Connick is no longer the DA, so his opinions "have little relevance for New Orleans' future." No doubt this little war will fester for a while.
Elsewhere at Criminal Court, even defense attorneys are whispering that the new regime doesn't have its act together. The most glaring example of that was Jordan's announcement the week before his inauguration that Gaynell Williams would be his first assistant -- only to crawfish a few days later when he learned that she doesn't live in New Orleans as required by law. He sheepishly clarified his announcement by claiming she would be his "executive assistant."
I'm not sure how Jordan was able to say that with a straight face, but I'm willing to cut him some slack -- up to a point. On one hand, he won the election by claiming his experience as U.S. Attorney would enable him to hit the ground running and make big changes. On the other hand, anybody who takes over an office that has been run one way for almost 29 years is likely to find a lot of resistance to any changes.
Suffice it to say Jordan has kept half his promise: he is making big changes, but he has hardly hit the ground running. Let's just say he has hit the ground.
But don't sell this guy short. He knows he has to help reduce crime, and he's focused on that. He already is working better with NOPD, and he no doubt will improve his office's relations with the feds. Those are major changes in the right direction.
Jordan's personnel actions and political rhetoric no doubt are intended to send a message that he's the new top dog at Tulane and Broad. Politically, that's a crucial step for him -- one that any new DA would have to make. Taking a cue from his predecessor, he says the moves will help him make the streets safer.
The jury's out on that one, and ultimately that's the only verdict that counts for Eddie Jordan.