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Organizers Vague on Blanco Recall Effort
The organizers of an effort to recall Gov. Kathleen Blanco claim signatures and donations are pouring in, but they won't offer specifics on either front. Kat Landry, a Republican from St. Martinville, garnered a great deal of statewide-media interest when she formally filed recall papers with the Secretary of State in early January. State law grants her a 180-day period to collect about 900,000 signatures. The clock will begin ticking even louder as Landry nears the midway point at the beginning of next month. When interviewed last week, Landry said she had no idea how many signatures had been collected by her team thus far. "I don't have a number and I wouldn't release it yet anyway," she says. "We're taking it one day at a time right now." Landry has also started asking for donations through her Web site, www.recallgovernorblanco.com, to help launch a media tour, pay for promotional materials and retain the services of a lawyer specializing in recall elections. "We've had citizens sending in money," she says, "but I just don't know how much and can't release that." Landry said her team blanketed the Mardi Gras parades in Metairie recently, handing out bumper stickers and t-shirts that read, "Recall Blanco," as well collecting signatures and donations. -- Alford

Lapin Lashes Out
David Lapin, a candidate for an at-large seat on the New Orleans City Council, has been firing off attacks at sitting council members Jackie Clarkson and Oliver Thomas over their statements regarding public housing. It's an indication that even the lower-profile city elections will get nasty before it's all said and done. "Instead of election-time pandering for votes, the new New Orleans demands real solutions," Lapin snipes in his most recent release. "Where are Clarkson's and Thomas' plans for working families with children? Nearly 90 percent of pre-Katrina day-care and child-care centers have not reopened yet." Lapin, meanwhile, says he'll be able to formulate a proposal faster than the incumbents have during their many years of elected service. Lapin, 55, is a Democrat and self-described expert in the international trading markets. He has hired local consultant Sidney Arroyo to manage his campaign. -- Alford

Pols on Parade
Candidates for mayor and other city offices in the April 22 primary election are lining up to march in the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in the Irish Channel, organizers say. However, the parade, which begins at 1 p.m. Saturday (March 11) following a noon mass at St. Mary's Assumption Church, sets limits for parading politicos: "They can campaign, as long as they don't hold the parade up," says Ronnie Burke, chair of the Irish Channel St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee and a former elected assessor in Orleans Parish. The 29-float parade boasts more than 1,000 members and is dedicated to New Orleans police and firefighters. The parade's grand marshals will be three brothers: NOPD Lt. Ira Austin and patrolman Freddie Austin, and New Orleans fire Capt. Eddie Austin. Trophy maker Mickey Zimmerman, owner of Mister Trophy, 721 Harmony St., will be the parade's Man of the Year. -- Johnson

West End Planning Session
The Regional Planning Commission (RPC) will hold a two-day "community charrette" or planning session this Friday and Saturday (March 10-11) to address land use and redevelopment options in the West End area of New Orleans. The RPC is seeking input from local citizens in the hope of drafting a land-use and site-plan analysis for the area. The study area roughly borders Lake Pontchartrain to the north, West End Park to the east, the flood protection levee to the south, and the 17th Street Canal to the west. Friday's session will begin at 7 p.m. at Marie Riviere Elementary School Cafetorium, 1564 Lake Avenue, Metairie; Saturday's session will begin at 8:30 a.m. and continue until 5 p.m. at the same location. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the RPC had been awarded a "Smart Growth" grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address land use and redevelopment options in West End. While the hurricane delayed the original plans for the charrette, organizers say the damage done to the West End area makes planning for that area even more important. More information is available by calling 885-0500. -- DuBos

Four Years Later
What a difference an election cycle can make. Four years ago, Malik Rahim, a prison activist and former Black Panther, ran as the Green Party candidate for one of two at-large seats on the New Orleans City Council. He finished 7th in a field of seven, with more than 3,000 votes and 2 percent of the total vote. Since Hurricane Katrina, Rahim -- distinctive for his long graying dreadlocks -- has drawn favorable national media attention to the city in his role as the godfather of the Common Ground Collective, a volunteer organization of mostly white college students based in the Ninth Ward. Last week, in a lengthy feature on the group by ABC-TV's Nightline, Rahim said Common Ground has helped some 60,000 storm survivors -- without any federal, state or local government funding. Common Ground, which claims to have started with $50 dollars and three volunteers, now boasts 40 full-time organizers and hundreds of volunteers. The group has gutted houses free of charge, provided free health care, started gardens for food and even supplied residents with bicycles for transportation. Rahim was a Black Panther in November 1970, during an armed standoff between New Orleans Police and the militant group in the area of the Desire housing development. The face-off ended without bloodshed. -- Johnson

Tax Holiday a Hit
Data released by the Louisiana Department of Revenue last week indicates that a three-day December sales-tax holiday saved shoppers and taxpayers more money than originally projected. Gov. Kathleen Blanco and other officials pushed the state sales- tax holiday during the November hurricane-recovery session as a way to help people restore their quality of life without paying a state sales tax. There were also hopes that businesses would enjoy an increase in activity, thus spurring Louisiana's economic recovery after the damage inflicted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last fall. The tax holiday was held Dec. 16-18. According to Tara G. Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the department, $300 million in purchases qualified for the exemption over the holiday weekend, translating into $12 million in savings for Louisiana shoppers. That's slightly higher than the $10.2 million forecast by the Legislative Fiscal Office. The sales-tax holiday did not affect local government revenues, and the exemptions applied only to the first $2,500 of most tangible personal property. In addition, the tax holiday did not cover luxury items such as vehicles or homes. -- Alford

Bank Regulator's "Reading" of N.O.
A panel of federal and state regulators meeting here last week told Gulf Coast-area bankers that they play a key role in the region's recovery. The government officials generally agreed to be flexible in applying the myriad regulations that govern local lenders. The regulators also took pains to emphasize their empathy for the area. For example, John M. Reich, a federal regulator appointed by President Bush, devoted most of his address to reading aloud from excerpts of local author Tom Piazza's post-Katrina work, Why New Orleans Matters. Reich, director of the federal Office of Thrift Supervision and an alum of LSU's School of Banking of the South, appeared to blink back tears as he read Piazza's work. Afterwards, Reich acknowledged: "These comments are not the comments that you would typically hear from a bank regulator. But these circumstances are beyond extraordinary." Reich also predicted a "painful" recovery from Katrina that could take up to 10 years. "Whatever takes place over the next several years, it is my hope that the multicultural policies that have made New Orleans the unique city that it is be retained," Reich said. Mark W. Olson, a governor of the powerful Federal Reserve system, noted that half of some 140 employees of the local branch are still living in FEMA trailers. State banking regulator John P. Ducrest praised local banks and thrifts for reopening two weeks after Katrina. Noting public frustration with insurance companies, Ducrest told bankers they were the good guys in "white hats" post-Katrina. -- Johnson

Wood, Plastic Needed
A recent study of forest product opportunities in Louisiana has identified wood and plastic as promising business development options. The prospectus, produced by Louisiana Economic Development, states the market is on the verge of a boom and there is great potential for a stand-alone, greenfield facility built inside the state to produce planking, railing and other building products. In short, it could be a new industry to help replace those still suffering after Katrina and Rita. "With the demand for housing construction materials nationwide -- especially in hurricane-impacted areas of Louisiana -- the total market for these materials is large and growing," says Kelsey Short, LED's director of agriculture and forestry. The U.S. market for decking -- generally used for residential and commercial decks, public boardwalks and docks -- was 3.8 billion linear feet in 2002 and is projected to grow 3 percent annually through 2010. In areas along the Gulf Coast, the demand for these materials could easily be higher, according to the study. -- Alford

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