By: Clancy DuBos
Embattled Congressman Bill Jeffersons local political empire continues to crumble as he trudges toward a showdown against federal prosecutors in northern Virginia. The Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, a 70-member elected body that officially oversees party affairs in New Orleans, deposed Jefferson ally Stephanie Butler as its chair at the committees first meeting since new members were elected Feb. 9. The new chair is Jeffersons former law partner, James Gray, whose daughter, state Sen. Cheryl Gray, defeated Jeffersons daughter, former state Rep. Jalila Jefferson Bullock, in a November 2007 runoff for the state Senate seat that launched Bill Jeffersons career in 1979.
Butler, the former chair, gained some notoriety in recent years as the Jefferson operative who orchestrated the firing of dozens of white employees in the Orleans Parish District Attorneys office, according to former DA Eddie Jordan. Those terminations led to a $1.9 million federal civil rights judgment against Jordans office, which grew to $3.4 million with interest and contributed to Jordans decision to resign last October.
James Grays election as chair of the committee seems to complete a routing of Jeffersons political machine by the Gray family, though Gray insists there is no personal or political animosity between him and the congressman. The vast majority of people on the committee are new members and have no history or personal relationships with elected officials, Gray told Gambit Weekly. I think this is historic. He added that the new committee members come to the table with no agendas. Most of them are just ordinary citizens who were interested in getting involved. Everyone is excited about the fact that this is a presidential election year. The only thing we talked about is registering people to vote Democratic.
Other officers include Deborah Langhoff, who ran unsuccessfully for state representative from Lakeview, as vice chair. Jeffersons team did not totally lose out, however; Julius Feltus, who works for the congressman, was elected third vice chair. Other officers include Michon Copelin, daughter of former state Rep. Sherman Copelin, as second vice chair; Sabrina Mays Montana, secretary; Marc Napoleon, treasurer; and former Criminal Court Judge Morris Reed (also a Jefferson ally) as parliamentarian.
The November presidential election is expected to be hotly contested in Louisiana, which means the committee could play a crucial role in organizing local turnout and possibly getting national funds to promote the Democratic ticket.