When state Rep. Juan LaFonta, D-New Orleans, crossed party lines on Oct. 13 to endorse Republican Congressman Anh "Joseph" Cao instead of Democratic state Rep. Cedric Richmond in the 2nd Congressional District, he caught many people by surprise ... but not those who know LaFonta and Richmond well. The two state lawmakers have been at political odds for years. The feud goes back far enough that some of their colleagues in the Legislative Black Caucus can't remember when or how it began — just that it keeps getting more and more intense.
LaFonta's endorsement of Cao marked the third time this week a significant Democratic elected official came out for the first-term Republican in the overwhelmingly Democratic district. Earlier in the week, District B City Council woman Stacy Head and new assessor Erroll Williams both announced their support of Cao.
While all of those endorsements are significant, LaFonta's seems to carry more impact because he was a candidate for Cao's seat himself in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary. He finished a distant second to Richmond, who quickly picked up the support of third-place finisher Eugene Green. LaFonta's endorsement message included a broadside against his legislative colleague, not so obliquely calling him out for "dishonesty and corruption" — which has become the major theme of Cao's campaign these days.
"I stand against corruption because it is at the very root of our recovery problem," LaFonta said in a prepared statement. He later added, "And most importantly, I was elected to represent a portion of this congressional district with honor and integrity, and to speak out when I knew dishonesty and corruption threatened to undermine what we have worked so hard to achieve."
Richmond said he was not surprised that LaFonta endorsed Cao. "They've been running as a team all along," he told Gambit. "They used the same message and even got help from some of the same consultants, like Cheron Brylski, who attacked me during the Democratic primary. They've been a double entry — 1 and 1A — from the start."
Richmond added that he didn't think LaFonta's endorsement would carry much weight. "I beat him in his own House district in the Democratic primary," Richmond said, "and he has very little credibility in the black community after he opposed Barack Obama's candidacy for president." Richmond says LaFonta supported Hillary Clinton's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, "and I don't recall that he ever supported Obama." — Clancy DuBos