PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
New Orleans Coroner Jeffrey Rouse.
New Orleans Coroner Jeffrey Rouse has dropped his campaign for reelection in the two-man contest for the job — but it's too late to get his name off the ballot. In a statement Aug. 24
, Rouse said he had only "reluctantly" filed for reelection this summer but announced he will refocus on his work in psychiatric care, in which he worked prior to his election in 2014.
Dwight McKenna, who Rouse beat in that election, is the only other contender in the 2017 race. Rouse congratulated McKenna "on becoming the first African-American coroner of our great city" — though votes cast for Rouse in the fall will still count. If he wins, Rouse will have to submit his resignation, leaving an interim coroner in his place before the city holds a special election.
Rouse was running for his second term as coroner, a position held by only three people over the last five decades. Rouse's predecessor, Dr. Frank Minyard, served 10 consecutive terms in the office, beginning in 1974. Minyard had backed Rouse, who worked under Minyard in psychiatry for more than a decade and also served as his chief deputy coroner before running for the office — a position Rouse asserts should not be elected.
"I'm not necessarily the guy who's going to be at every ribbon cutting and fundraiser and bouncing around town to shake hands," Rouse told Gambit in a 2016 cover story
. "That's some of the stuff you have to do to get elected. I'm operating out of the assumption, somewhat naively, that if you apply yourself to your job, you do good work, you put in good policies that make people believe in the office ... you connect with the families and bring your integrity to the game, that goes a long way in the politics of it."
As coroner, Rouse modernized the office, helped straighten out the agency's history of often perilous record keeping and successfully bargained with City Hall for appropriate funding. In January 2016, Rouse oversaw the opening of a multi-million dollar office on Earhart Boulevard, sharing space with the city's EMS facility. Rouse repeatedly warned City Hall that the office wasn't funded sufficiently to fully staff a lab team, leaving an entire wing of the building empty.
That year also saw at least 174 murders in New Orleans, and an epidemic of opioid-related overdose deaths reached more than 160, which Rouse called
"an accelerating public health crisis" calling for a citywide response to addiction treatment.
Rouse says he's working with McKenna — who ran against Minyard twice and is running against Rouse a second time — as he finishes out his term.
"I am convinced that his plan for a more public role for the coroner’s office in health education and violence prevention is the logical next step for the evolution of this office, now that a strong team is in place and internal processes here have been updated," Rouse said in a statement. "In the remaining months of my term, I shall share with Dr. McKenna the many facets of this complicated job, as one physician transferring the care of a patient to a colleague."