Friday, April 5, 2013

Editorial: Guns, drugs and videotape

Posted by on Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 2:28 PM

Sheriff Marlin Gusman addresses the press April 4, discussing the infamous video of prisoners cavorting with guns, beer and drugs in Orleans Parish Prison. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • Sheriff Marlin Gusman addresses the press April 4, discussing the infamous video of prisoners cavorting with guns, beer and drugs in Orleans Parish Prison.

It finally came down to three videos.

After years of allegations of human rights abuses at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP); after years of suicides, mysterious deaths and brazen daylight escapes; after innumerable stories of beatings and rapes; after scathing reports by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that found jailhouse conditions so intolerable that it forced the negotiation of a consent decree; after a federal class-action suit by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of OPP inmates — after all that, what finally pushed everyone over the edge about conditions at OPP were three videos, shot in 2009 at the now-closed House of Detention (HOD).

The videos were mind-numbing. They included footage of inmates shooting dice behind bars, waving fistfuls of cash, showing off a loaded handgun and discharging live ammo on the floor of a cell to prove the weapon was loaded. They portrayed prisoners crushing pills, snorting them, and shooting injectable drugs. Most outrageous of all, one video showed a “prisoner” strolling down Bourbon Street, boasting that he was supposed to be behind bars and that he could walk out the door again if things didn’t go his way at trial. “If they don’t let me go, I’m running,” he says with a grin.

If the videos hadn’t been introduced into evidence in federal court — with no objection from Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman — people might mistake them for parodies on Saturday Night Live. Sadly, they are all too real. They show in graphic detail the jailhouse culture that Gusman has overseen since he took office in 2004. Moreover, if the accusations brought by the plaintiffs and the DOJ weren’t enough; if the escapes, suicides and suspicious deaths inside OPP weren’t enough; if the recent federal corruption charges filed against two of Gusman’s ranking deputies weren’t enough; then surely the videos — which aired on every local newscast and went national — make it plain that Gusman has to go. He is not fit to continue serving as New Orleans’ sheriff.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Our endorsements

Posted by on Fri, Oct 26, 2012 at 3:00 PM

Last week, we announced our recommendations in the Orleans Parish School Board races and for the nine proposed constitutional amendments. Following are our recommendations for Congress and the New Orleans City Council, as well as local referenda. A full ballot of recommendations will appear in Gambit's Nov. 6 issue.


No, they’re not running as a team, but they often serve as one for the benefit of southeast Louisiana. Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat, and Scalise, a Jefferson Republican, rarely vote alike on issues of national significance. However, the two men — whose friendship dates to their days in the Louisiana House of Representatives — could teach their colleagues a lot about building bipartisan coalitions.

On at least three recent occasions, Richmond, who represents solidly Democratic District 2, and Scalise, who represents thoroughly Republican District 1, put aside party differences to forge consensus on issues of vital importance to the region. In July 2011, they joined forces to direct $6.8 million to increase dredging in the Mississippi River to keep shipping lanes open. The very next day they added $1 million for coastal restoration, which took it out of the “non-starter” category of federal projects and put it in the pipeline for future allocations.

Perhaps their biggest success was helping pass the RESTORE Act, which they coordinated with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in the Senate. The act ultimately will send billions to Louisiana for coastal restoration. “We built a very big coalition,” Scalise says. “It was very important to the five Gulf Coast states, but we were all on very different pages. It took lots of juggling, but at the end of the day, it all worked out for Louisiana. We will get the most money by anybody’s estimate.”

There was a time when such cross-party coordination was routine in the Louisiana delegation — and at the highest levels of Congress. Sadly, such bipartisanship is rare these days. In fact, both parties seem to punish members who reach across the aisle. Fortunately, Louisiana has two members of Congress who get the notion that bipartisanship moves the region — and the country — forward. We recommend both men be re-elected.

Below the cut: Recommendations in City Council races and local referenda.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Turning the page at The Times-Picayune

Posted by on Sat, May 26, 2012 at 2:29 PM

To paraphrase an old commercial: What this town needs is a good daily newspaper. For nearly 200 years, we’ve had one or more. Since 1980, though, it’s been just one — and last week we learned that THE TIMES-PICAYUNE, like so many newspapers in the 21st century, is on life support. It was sad news indeed.

New Jersey-based Advance Publications, the parent company of THE TIMES-PICAYUNE, announced the paper would be going to a three-day-a-week printing schedule this fall, shifting focus and content to its online partner, NOLA.com. The paper’s staff, which already had been buffeted by buyouts, early retirements and furloughs in recent years, has now been told that many of them will lose their jobs. Those who are approved to remain will be invited to apply for employment with a new company, NOLA Media Group.

Our hearts and prayers go out to them. Business is business, but they have been treated shabbily by a company to which they have shown loyalty and, yes, love. They deserved better.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

The right side of history

Posted by on Thu, May 17, 2012 at 9:00 AM

This editorial will appear in next week's Gambit.

When President Barack Obama affirmed his belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, much of the ensuing discussion focused on the history of the moment, ignoring what may be an even more significant point: the President’s position now puts him in the mainstream of Americans. Three days after Obama’s announcement, a USA TODAY/Gallup poll found 51 percent of Americans agree with him. He joined fellow Democrats like Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, among others, who have spoken in favor of the right of same-sex marriage. Many local leaders — from both parties — likewise feel it’s time America allow ALL Americans to get married.

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors earlier this year, mayors of more than 80 American cities large and small (including New York’s Michael Bloomberg, Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel, Houston’s Annise Parker and Los Angeles’ Antonio Villaraigosa — but not New Orleans’ Mitch Landrieu) signed a Freedom to Marry pledge. Even many Republicans, like former First Lady Laura Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, have come out in support of the right for two people to choose same-sex marriage. Today we join them.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Head for City Council At-Large

Posted by on Sat, Mar 17, 2012 at 11:34 AM

Saturday, March 24, is an important election day in Louisiana. Republican voters statewide will participate in their party’s presidential primary, and all voters in New Orleans will go to the polls to choose a new at-large member of the New Orleans City Council. The special council election was called to choose a successor to former Councilman Arnie Fielkow, who resigned last year to take a job with the National Basketball Retired Players Association. A runoff, if needed, will be held April 21.

The council race has attracted seven candidates, and while several of them impressed us as ready for the important responsibilities of that office, we believe District B Council member Stacy Head is best suited for the job at this time. ...

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Splitting the city council at-large elections

Posted by on Sat, Mar 17, 2012 at 11:29 AM

As we interviewed candidates in the special election for an at-large seat on the New Orleans City Council, we were reminded of recent discussions in some quarters about a proposal to change the way at-large council members are elected. Under the current system, candidates running for the two at-large council seats in regularly scheduled citywide elections engage in a political free-for-all. That is, all candidates run for both seats and against all other candidates, and voters can vote for two candidates.

That system strikes us as arcane for several reasons. First, it makes for some strange mathematics because a “majority” is defined as 25 percent plus one, rather than the traditional majority of 50 percent plus one. That, in turn, sometimes encourages candidates to suggest that their supporters cast only one ballot, which is antithetical to the notion of maximum voter participation. Second, the current system forces good candidates who are allied (or just like-minded) to run against one another, rather than as a team. Third, the current system undermines efforts to achieve racial power sharing on the council — having one black and one white at-large member — which many voters believe is a good thing.

We think it’s time to move forward with honest, civil discussions of the idea of changing the City Charter to split the at-large elections into separate divisions, as is done in Jefferson Parish. Splitting the at-large contests won’t guarantee that we elect better candidates; that’s always up to the voters. But it will simplify the process, bring some clarity to at-large elections, and potentially encourage even better candidates to qualify for these important offices. We hope proponents of this idea will continue to promote it, and we hope members of the City Council will consider putting it on the ballot for voter approval before the next round of citywide elections.

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