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Top 10 Political Stories of 2001



Once again, Louisiana politics proves to be recession-proof. That is, there's never a shortage in the supply of -- or appetite for -- interesting political stories. Here's our annual look back at the Top 10 Political Stories of the year.

1. Marc Morial's New Math: 3T=2T. Hizzoner's bid for a third term failed, despite pouring roughly $1 million (and even more in political capital) into the effort. That makes three times in the last 18 years that a mayor named Morial tried to extend his tenure in office, and four times overall that voters have refused to lift the City Charter's two-term limit. Maybe now our mayors will focus during their second terms on building better legacies.

2. Oh Governor, Where Art Thou? Mike Foster has become almost completely disengaged from his day job. He fishes while Louisiana's economy flounders. He hunts ducks while Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove bags thousands of manufacturing jobs for his state. He hits the law books as a student when he should be hitting the road as the state's top salesman. Louisiana's economic woes started before Sept. 11, but they got worse afterward -- and Gov. Warbucks' early lame-duckhood makes everything seem worse. Statewide this year, the number of layoffs tripled those of last year. And, Entergy almost left for Florida. When Foster does speak out, he condemns those who dare to criticize him for not doing enough. If this story weren't so tragic, it would be laughable.

3. Betting on Gaming. Harrah's got a $50 million tax break last spring, but it may not be enough to keep the downtown casino going. Meanwhile, as part of the deal to get Harrah's the tax reduction, lawmakers legalized dockside gambling at riverboat casinos. The state also inched closer to putting slots at all but one of the race tracks. All this during the tenure of our "anti-gambling" governor!

4. The Hayride Continues. Former Gov. Edwin Edwards remains free while his appeal drags on. Edwards could get a new trial in 2002, which would give him a longer reprieve but would not get him off the hook entirely. Meanwhile, EWE sidekick and co-defendant Andrew Martin was convicted on tax evasion charges, and another EWE crony and co-defendant, Cecil Brown, began a four-year-plus jail term for his role in a separate extortion scheme. On other fronts, former Elections Commissioner Jerry Fowler went to prison on corruption charges; former Insurance Commish Jim Brown is appealing his federal conviction; and state Rep. Jack Smith, D-Patterson, pleaded guilty to federal misdemeanor tax charges. In response to the Fowler bribery scandal, lawmakers voted to merge his old office, now in the budget-cutting hands of Suzie Terrell, with the Secretary of State's office when Terrell's term ends in 2004.

5. Water, Water Everywhere? The move to privatize the Sewerage and Water Board -- or at least, the parts of it capable of turning a profit (i.e., sewerage and water) -- gathered momentum when Mayor Marc Morial realized he might not be mayor forever. Now it's almost a done deal -- worth $1 billion over the next 20 years. Mayoral candidates are hoping to slow it down ... so they, instead of Morial, can award the contract.

6. Preservation Wars. The battle over Wal-Mart, Albertsons, and other developments has at times pitted white preservationists hoping to maintain the city's unique character and charm against poor blacks looking for job opportunities and the promises of neighborhood redevelopment. The Wal-Mart controversy has gotten so hot that City Council members are running for cover 'til after the elections.

7. Reapportionment. New Orleans lost another House seat as a result of the 2000 Census, and this time, so did Jefferson Parish. That should put even more pressure on lawmakers and local officials to think and act regionally.

8. Who Dat Say Dey Gonna Move Dem Saints? Team owner Tom Benson got a good deal from the state when he threatened to sell or move the team. Now Team Foster has to figure out a way to pay for it. For Benson, this win could be sweeter than a Super Bowl ring.

9. LABI's Supreme Victory. Few thought Judge John Weimer would win the special election for state Supreme Court justice last month, but he did -- beating the much better financed Judge Mary Hotard Becnel. Weimer's victory gives business interests and conservatives a slight majority on the high court for the first time in memory.

10. Congressman Diaperhead. U.S. Rep. John Cooksey, a Republican from Monroe, spent years gearing up to run against Sen. Mary Landrieu next fall. Then he blew it in a 20-second sound bite by calling for racial profiling of anyone wearing "a diaper on his head and a fan belt around the diaper." The White House immediately dropped him like a hot potato, and his campaign is in free fall. The tragic events of 9/11 seemed to bring out the best in many Americans. Cooksey was an exception.

Let's hope things are better for us all next year.

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