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Dubious Achievement Awards 

It Takes One's Breath Away

The Jan. 1 edition of The Times-Picayune contained a letter from a Slidell resident asking the person who stole his oxygen tank from Harrah's Casino to return it. The writer said the tank, which disappeared while he was playing the slots at Harrah's, had cost him two months' worth of Social Security checks.

Journalist Jibberish

In February, ESPN writer Bill Simmons admitted he didn't stray far off Bourbon Street when he submitted a Super Bowl report to ESPN.com portraying the city as a disgusting sinkhole and its residents as backwater idiots who speak "Creole jibberish." And in April, Time magazine and the ABC Radio Network seized on the fact that Taliban suspect Yasser Esam Hamdi was born in Baton Rouge, labeling him as "the Cajun Taliban" and a "ragin' Cajun." The media outlets eventually dropped the nicknames after protests from actual Cajuns and other Louisiana residents.

Family Values

"My mother said, 'Well, you just went Christmas shopping in the wrong place.'" -- State Sen. Jerry A. Thomas (R-Franklinton), in a WVUE-TV interview after being arrested and booked with lewd conduct following a police raid at a Chef Menteur adult video and bookstore. Thomas pleaded no contest to the charges and received a fine and suspended sentence.

The Rubber (Almost) Hit the Road

This year, Gov. Mike Foster considered canceling the state's HIV/AIDS condom-giveaway program after hearing reports that Metairie anti-abortion activist Bill Graham had received 30,000 condoms through the program last year -- and threw them all in the trash. A spokesperson for Jefferson Parish Human Services Authority, which gave Graham the condoms, said Graham provided them with a false name and claimed he ran a busy women's clinic. Foster eventually heeded medical experts and retained the state program.

Maybe Bill Graham Could Pass Them Out

This summer, the mother of a serial-killer victim asked Gov. Mike Foster to help coordinate law-enforcement agencies around the state in an effort to catch the murderer then terrorizing the Baton Rouge area. The governor's response: more women should learn how to use guns.

Well, He Lost One Customer

This summer, Terrebonne Parish officials ordered used-car dealer Joseph Pinero to remove a sign criticizing Parish President Bobby Bergeron from outside his Houma car lot. Parish officials claimed the 1-by-2-foot sign, reading "Anybody but Bobby," was an outdated political sign and thus fell under the parish's sign ordinance. Bergeron rescinded the order after warnings from attorneys that it violated the First Amendment; Pinero has since replaced the small sign with several larger versions outside his business.

Check, Please

When longtime Galatoire's waiter Gilberto Eyzaguirre was 86ed after two female workers complained he'd sexually harassed him, he did not cash out quietly. Instead, via 120-plus letters in support of Eyzaguirre (posted on a Web site called www.ilovegilberto.com), a horde of Galatoire's patrons demanded that the restaurant rehire their favorite waiter -- and while they were at it, please also restore the skin on the eggplant, the exclusive downstairs dining room, the dress code and the hand-chopped ice. Their nationally reported protest ignited a backlash by those who viewed the letters as a peculiarity of the idle rich. The tumult has died down for everyone but Chris Rose, Eyzaguirre now works at the Bombay Club, and at least some of the protesters have been spied lurking in the upstairs dining room, clinking their machine-chopped ice.

Tiger in the Tank

Tucked deep into the state's construction budget, sponsored by Reps. Bryant Hammett (D-Ferriday) and Jerry Luke LeBlanc (D-Lafayette) this summer, was a $2 million appropriation for a new cage for Louisiana State University's Bengal tiger mascot, Mike. The allocation, requested by LSU Chancellor Mark Emmert, was summarily removed from the bill by senators who said that housing Mike the Tiger is the responsibility of LSU and its supporters, not taxpayers.

Taking Their Cue From The Osbournes

In a letter to WDSU-TV's general manager this summer, City Councilman Jay Batt complained that political reporter Alec Gifford was overly aggressive in requesting interviews, and once in the Council chambers had screamed at Batt: "Why the f--k won't you return my phone calls?" One witness, who asked not to be identified, told Gambit about an incident between the two men outside the chambers, in a hallway notorious for its echo. According to the source, Gifford asked Batt, "Are you going to give me a f--king interview or what?" And Batt said, "Alec, you are the rudest son of a bitch I've ever known. ... What kind of bullshit is this?"

But They Had a Deal

In other states, public officials tend to go out of their way to avoid accusations of vote-buying. But Louisiana's just not like other states. Case in point: Rep. Kyle Green (D-Marrero) sued Gov. Foster and two of his aides, claiming that the three didn't honor a deal to give at least $250,000 to programs in Green's district in exchange for Green's vote on a food and utilities sales tax renewal. The governor and his aides, Green complained, only ponied up $25,000. Nineteenth Judicial District Court Judge Curtis Calloway threw out the suit.

Dear Johns

In the months after 9/11, the Federal Bureau of Investigation devoted hours upon hours of interviewing, wiretapping, staking out, researching, traveling, transcribing and recruiting help from other federal agencies, until finally they had the proof they needed to declare: there are prostitutes in New Orleans! FBI officials and federal prosecutors defended the investigation but couldn't provide a reasonable answer when asked why, if the charges were so serious, the prostitutes' clients -- without whom the crimes could not have occurred -- were not included in the bust. The feds instead punted the now-infamous "client list," which reportedly contained the names of several prominent local citizens, to District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. -- who has also treated it like a hot potato.

Nepo Man

This year, School Superintendent Al Davis Jr. resigned after two nepotism charges: the first involved his father, school maintenance worker Alphonse Davis Sr., who collected more than $85,000 for 4,132 hours of overtime. Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle said the Orleans Parish School Board should also be taken to task for several missteps that allowed the elder Davis to collect his exorbitant overtime. A month later, the state Ethics Board fined Davis for improper involvement in the hiring of his sister, Jolene Mash, as a student intervention advocate for the school system. Though Mash was qualified for the job, the state board found that Davis broke ethics regulations by employing an immediate family member to the agency he regulated.

The Benson Boogie

He played a major role in cleaning house, getting rid of some problems and orchestrating one of the best drafts in team history. Indeed, New Orleans Saints General Manager Randy Meuller -- 2000 NFL Executive of the Year -- made such smart rebuilding moves like improving the team's speed and scoring abilities and putting the team in a good salary-cap position for the next few years, that Tom Benson had no choice but to fire him. After Benson took to the airwaves to explain in a blustering, incoherent news conference that he sacked Mueller because of "communication problems," football commentators were tossing around words like "inexplicable," "unconscionable," and "bonehead."

Quality, What Quality?

In March, Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle found that the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) did not collect 75 percent of the penalties it had slapped on offenders over the past two years, had regularly failed to cite violators of state environmental laws, and was so lax in issuing air and water permits that some industries were operating without them. Then in August, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) slapped the Orion Refining Corp. in Norco with a lengthy list of infractions to the Clean Air Act; not long after, the EPA said the state DEQ had such poor recordkeeping practices and complicated permit procedures that it was difficult for the public to work with the agency. The EPA called the DEQ's public files "unorganized, incomplete, missing or inaccessible."

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

No one could deny the Senate race between Mary Landrieu and Suzanne Haik Terrell was a mud-spattered affair that dragged both race and religion through the fray. But on election day, the Louisiana Republican Party outdid itself in an apparent effort to suppress the black vote critical to Landrieu's success. The party paid for placards that read "Mary: If you don't respect us, don't expect us," and plastered them -- or paid African Americans to hold them aloft -- in targeted neighborhoods. Could things get any more distasteful? Well, don't forget that Terrell is the state Elections Commissioner.

 

What Does It Take To Be First -- Land Mines?

In March, the nonprofit Road Information Program released a report saying New Orleans has the second-worst street conditions in the country behind Boston.

click to enlarge Legislators ultimately defeated an attempt to get the state to pay for a $2 million cage for LSU's Mike the Tiger.
  • Legislators ultimately defeated an attempt to get the state to pay for a $2 million cage for LSU's Mike the Tiger.
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