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Home Is Where the Campaign Is 

Campaigning for office is like riding an out-of-control roller coaster. These days, no one should know that better than state Rep. Cedric Richmond, who is trying to win the District D seat on the New Orleans City Council.

Politically, Richmond is hitting quite a few high notes. He has picked up endorsements from a host of other elected officials and a variety of political organizations. He is an effective campaigner.

But in Richmond's case, that may not be enough. He faces an additional challenge that relatively few candidates must overcome -- a legal challenge to his qualifications to run for the job in the first place. Neighborhood activist Marilyn Landiak, a long-time friend of Richmond's chief opponent, claims in a lawsuit that Richmond hasn't lived in District D for two years as required by the City Charter. Landiak's suit seeks to have Richmond disqualified from the race. That would leave her friend, Cynthia Morrell, wife of state Rep. Arthur Morrell, as the only major contender.

Residency challenges often are more effective at discrediting a candidate than waves of attack ads on TV and radio -- even though they rarely succeed in getting a candidate bounced from the race -- and they're a lot cheaper than TV time. They usually generate tons of bad press for the defendant candidate, and they tend to keep that candidate tied up in court -- and off the campaign trail.

Landiak's suit didn't look as though it was going very far in the early stages. District Court Judge Lloyd Medley tossed it on procedural grounds, saying Landiak had to set the matter for a hearing sooner than she did. Landiak appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, which agreed with Medley. Last week, however, the Louisiana Supreme Court overturned both lower courts and ordered the case back to Medley for a trial on the merits.

Until then, Richmond appeared to be on a roll. Once the case went to trial, however, he had to face the unnerving facts.

The City Charter requires a candidate for the council to be "domiciled" for two years in the district in which the candidate is running. That would be a neat trick for Richmond, because virtually every document connected to him for the past decade shows his domicile to be in neighboring District E. His vehicle registration papers, voter registration records, homestead exemption form, campaign finance reports -- even two sworn affidavits he filed as "notices of candidacy" for his state House campaigns -- all show his domicile on Eastview Drive in eastern New Orleans, which is in City Council District E, not District D. Moreover, Richmond's last notice of candidacy -- given under oath -- was filed less than two years ago in connection with his re-election from House District 101.

When questioned by Landiak attorney John Massicot if he realized that he was swearing to the accuracy of the information on the notice of candidacy, Richmond equivocated: "I can't say I specifically read the word domicile." That does not inspire confidence in Richmond's abilities as a lawyer, for he certainly knew the statement he was signing was given under oath.

Legally, a person can have several residences, but only one domicile. One's domicile is one's principal address, the place to which one always returns "home." The documents introduced by Massicot all support Landiak's contention that Richmond is domiciled in District E -- not to mention the fact that Richmond ran for the District E council seat in 1998, claiming the same Eastview Drive address that he now says is just "investment property."

When questioned by his own attorney, Ike Spears, Richmond averred that he has spent most of his life at his "family home," a Lomond Road residence in District D owned by his mother.

Richmond also admitted that he voted from the Eastview Drive address until last year, a nod to a state law requiring voters to cast ballots from the same address whence they claim a homestead exemption. He foreswore his homestead exemption on the Eastview Drive property this year in anticipation of his candidacy in District D.

Judge Medley was scheduled to rule by the end of the day last Friday, hours after this column had to go to press. Whatever the trial court's conclusion, the matter is destined to back up the judicial ladder -- all the way to the Supreme Court once again.

Which means Richmond is in for another busy week.

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