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Not Sitting Pretty
The recently released Ed Renwick poll of New Orleans voters, which showed Mayor Ray Nagin in trouble politically, contained some bad news for several City Council members as well. In most council districts, a relatively high percentage of voters expressed a desire to "consider someone else" in the April 22 primary. Renwick, who directs the Loyola Institute of Politics, noted that "these were small numbers and are subject to a large error factor." That said, the results are still interesting. In District A, 25 percent wanted to re-elect incumbent Jay Batt, but 41 percent wanted to consider someone else. In District B, 19 percent wanted to re-elect Renee Gill Pratt, but 36 percent wanted to consider someone else. In District D, 28 percent wanted to re-elect new Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge Morrell, but 38 percent wanted to consider someone else. In District E, 56 percent of the "very small number of interviews conducted" wanted to re-elect Cynthia Willard Lewis, while 19 percent wanted to consider someone else. District C incumbent Jackie Clarkson is seeking one of the council's two at-large seats. In her district, 43 percent wanted to vote for her for in the at-large race, while 35 percent opposed her. Qualifying for all council races is this Wednesday through Friday. -- DuBos

Vitter Clears the Air
After Gov. Kathleen Blanco suggested that Louisiana's junior senator actively lobbied against her plan for a housing trust, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, fired off a letter to the governor offering a rebuttal. "This sort of partisan blame-throwing helps no one, least of all those still suffering in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita," Vitter wrote. The senator says he told a group of lawmakers the state plan itself wasn't "terribly important, but that the substance of the plan itself was." Most importantly, Vitter told the governor that details for New Orleans' "footprint" need to be determined soon, thus defining where rebuilding will and will not take place. Although Vitter did not hesitate to cross swords with Blanco, he wrote in a letter to supporters last week that he won't be running against her in next year's gubernatorial election. Vitter's decision not to run for governor appears to pave the way for Congressman Bobby Jindal to be the leading -- if not the only -- Republican in that race. -- Alford

New Forum Dates

The Alliance for Good Government, citing scheduling conflicts and the availability of cable-access television, has changed the dates of its candidate forums for the April 22 primary. The forum for mayor will now begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 9, at the downtown Marriott hotel. Only the mayoral forum will be repeated on New Orleans cable-access channel 6 and on the Internet, though times are unavailable, said Alliance president Robert K. Moffett. Forums for all other races will begin at 7 p.m. at Le Cirque Hotel on Lee Circle on the following dates: for City Council at-large seats and for districts A and B, March 7; for council districts C, D and E, Tuesday, March 14; for clerk of Criminal Court, clerk of Civil Court, criminal sheriff and civil sheriff, Wednesday, March 8; for assessor in districts 1, 2, 3 and 4, Monday, March 13; and for assessorial districts 5, 6 and 7, Wednesday, March 15. -- Johnson

The Land Grab Begins
The state took its first real step in early February towards the acquisition of land needed to start the levee-rebuilding process in southeast Louisiana. Exactly how much land will be needed to increase hurricane protection is unknown, but it promises to be an issue that grows in intensity. Through an executive order, Gov. Kathleen Blanco has called for taking private property around the 17th Street Canal. The order was requested and recommended by a slew of agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jefferson Parish and the state Attorney General's Office. In her executive order, Blanco states the acquisitions are in the "best interests of the citizens of the state." Three plots are identified in the order, as are 10.2 acres of land extending north into Lake Pontchartrain. The properties will be used for levee and floodwall construction. Owners will be "identified and compensated in accordance with the terms of the Cooperation Agreement between the United States of America and the Orleans Levee District," according to the order. -- Alford

Morrell Running for Clerk
State Rep. Arthur Morrell, D-New Orleans, will run for clerk of Criminal Court in the April 22 primary. "This office is one of the most important in the criminal-justice system and in our election process," Morrell said during his announcement. "When the clerk's office fails to properly handle information related to the criminal-justice system, it means that the accused are not brought to trial in a timely manner. When the clerk's office fails to provide functioning voting machines to every precinct, it means that citizens lose faith in the integrity of our democratic process. We cannot afford a Clerk of Criminal Court's office that fails." First elected to the state House of Representatives in 1983, Morrell will oppose incumbent Clerk Kimberly Williamson Butler and several other challengers, including attorney Nick Varrecchio. -- DuBos

NOPD "Integrity Checks"
NOPD Deputy Chief Marlon Defillo, commander of the Public Integrity Bureau, says internal-affairs investigators will man parade routes on Mardi Gras to conduct "integrity checks." PIB will be looking to see how officers respond to everything from civilian requests for directions to "someone pretending to be intoxicated," Defillo says. Since Dec. 5, when Defillo took command of PIB, 50 integrity checks have turned up administrative violations but no evidence of criminal activity by police, said Capt. Mark Willow, assistant commander of PIB. However, both ranking officers demurred when asked if PIB would also conduct "integrity stings" over Carnival, videotaped operations aimed at determining how an officer responds to certain situations, such as find a large sum of money or drugs. Defillo, who previously served as NOPD's chief spokesperson for 15 years, says his Mardi Gras morning is scheduled to begin with an 8 a.m. five-way telephone conference call with internal-affairs commanders in other cities. "Everywhere else -- it's Tuesday," Defillo chuckled. -- Johnson

New Dem Chair Picks Up the Pace
Ever since Chris Whittington took over as the new chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, press releases and political hits have become more frequent and pointed. He's taking shots at Republican congressional candidates, poking holes in levee bills proposed by GOP lawmakers and of course sticking up for the party's embattled governor. In the latest presser, Whittington applauds Gov. Kathleen Blanco for her "hardball tactics" in the fight for more federal hurricane money -- specifically, the additional $4.2 billion proposed for housing by President George Bush. "Governor Blanco has shown us that she knows how to fight for Louisiana," Whittington says in the release. While that might be the party's position on the matter, insiders point to the housing proposal pushed by U.S. Rep. Richard Baker, R-Baton Rouge, as the real catalyst for the $4.2 billion. Political wisdom has it that the Baker plan was so popular, and Bush was so non-committal, that the latest multibillion-dollar pledge arrived as a consolation prize (see this week's cover story for more). -- Alford

The Forgotten Committee
If there was ever a time for a legislative Select Committee on Coastal Restoration and Flood Control, it would be now. But that panel, created by Gov. Kathleen Blanco and others in 2004, hasn't met in roughly a year. Meanwhile, various lawmakers during the recent special session floated the idea of forming a new standing committee for homeland security and hurricane protection. Sen. Reggie Dupre, D-Bourg, chairman of the 2004 select committee, says he will propose a compromise in the regular session that convenes March 27. Dupre wants to make the coastal committee permanent and fold in homeland security issues, rather than forming yet another panel in the Legislature. "There's not enough room for another committee and I'm willing to join forces," Dupre says. While it sounds logical on the surface, there are political ramifications. Dupre's plan would pull oversight authority from six existing chairmen in the House and Senate whose committees currently have that authority. "That'll be the tricky part," Dupre says. Currently, the chairmen of the natural resources, transportation and governmental committees all have a say in those areas. -- Alford

Tulane Crackdown
Tulane University is cracking down on student alcohol abuse in response to a rash of incidents that has sent at least 11 students to area hospitals since the semester began Jan. 17. The university has temporarily banned the use of alcohol at all Tulane fraternity and sorority houses, initiated alcohol education efforts, and hired extra off-duty NOPD cops to patrol the perimeter of the Uptown campus. "The last two weekends were relatively calm," says Tulane Police Chief Ken Dupaquier. Previously, the chief said, "we had one weekend where we had six students that we transported [to hospitals] for alcohol-related incidents and the weekend before that we transported five students." Typically, one or two students a week are sent to hospitals for incidents involving alcohol, said Dupaquier, chief of Tulane security for 21 years and a retired NOPD veteran. "We told NOPD if they catch these kids and they are in violation of the law, then make an arrest or issue a summons," Dupaquier said. -- Johnson

Many Can Get Tax Credit
Thousands of low- and moderate-income New Orleanians who have been devastated by Hurricane Katrina have an opportunity to rebuild their lives economically by filing for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and other tax credits, say officials at Total Community Action Inc., a local nonprofit anti-poverty agency. Once seen as just a boon for the poor, the EITC now is available to many middle-class taxpayers -- and even former professionals -- who lost their jobs as a result of Katrina. "So many people in our region either lost jobs or saw their income sharply cut after Katrina," said Dr. Peter Dangerfield, TCA's executive director. "For low- and moderate-income earners, the Earned Income Tax Credit will mean cash in their pockets at a time when so many families are struggling financially." Dangerfield added that Congress passed legislation making it easier for people to qualify for the EITC after Katrina. In 2004, TCA helped more than 4,000 tax filers receive more than $4.1 million in EITC refunds. For more information, call TCA at 827-0355. -- DuBos

Picture These Heroes
Hundreds of NOPD cops gave Mayor Ray Nagin and city Homeland Security chief Col. Terry Ebbert polite applause (read: five seconds) for their remarks at NOPD's Katrina awards ceremony last week. However, local news photographer Alex Brandon received a 20-second standing ovation after a slide show of police heroics during the storm. Set to music, Brandon's photos -- which he took for The Times-Picayune -- showed officers rescuing citizens from attics, guarding looting suspects and steering boats through flooded streets. Chief Warren Riley selected two songs for the visual display, Aaron Neville's rendition of "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" and Louis Armstrong's "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" NOPD spokesperson Capt. Juan Quinton selected Randy Newman's "Louisiana, 1927." Brandon is now a photographer for The Associated Press. -- Johnson

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