How Lame a Duck?
In her first post-withdrawal interview with veteran political reporter John Hill, Gov. Kathleen Blanco insisted she will still have sway with the Legislature despite her lame duck status as an incumbent not running for re-election. Blanco has had a rough time, most of the time, with lawmakers since Katrina made landfall. The governor says she still has enough political capital to push through her $611 million education initiative, but a recent study of gubernatorial powers in the U.S. contradicts the widely held notion that Louisiana's governor is omnipotent. In his annual power rankings, which have been compiled since the early 1980s, University of North Carolina political science professor Thad L. Beyle places 29 other governors ahead of Blanco, tying her with the governor of Ohio. The rankings are based on tenure, budget authority, veto power, appointment authority and party influence in legislatures. It was completed before Blanco bowed out of this fall's contest. Of course, political power is also a matter of perception -- and whether the person who has it knows how to use it and is willing to use it. -- Alford
The 'Deal' of Recovery
The Festival of Neighborhoods, a consortium of neighborhood organizations and non-profits with missions that focus on rebuilding, will host a series of events aimed at opening dialogue between neighborhoods and developers during this weekend's New Orleans Home and Garden Show at the Superdome. The Festival is a recurring event designed to facilitate public awareness and celebration of planning and rebuilding efforts by New Orleans neighborhoods and the organizations committed to supporting them, says Jeanne Nathan, spokesperson for the Festival. Throughout the four-day Home and Garden Show, which opens Thursday at 2 p.m., the organization will present "The Deal of the Deal Café" and the "Neighborhood Showcase." The "cafe" will allow developers and neighborhood residents to sit down, one on one, to discuss specific projects and proposals. The "showcase" will give individual neighborhoods an opportunity to show off their local plans and recovery proposals to prospective investors and developers as well as the general public. On Saturday at 11 a.m., the Festival will host a 90-minute "Deal of the Deal Forum" at which developers, investors and builders will explain where and why they decide to do developments. Admission to the Home and Garden Show is $9 for adults, and children 12 and under are admitted free. -- DuBos
Report Contradicts Nagin
Mayor Ray Nagin may have some more explaining to do. Nagin last week emphatically denied reports by The Washington Post that he suspects a racially motivated plan to keep blacks from returning to New Orleans post-Katrina. "I did not say anything racial," Nagin said, referring to his remarks at the March 15 meeting of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a black trade group, in Washington, D.C. However, an NNPA account of the mayor's address -- distributed for publication in 200 black newspapers nationwide -- suggests otherwise. The NNPA article by Washington correspondent Hazel Trice Edney states that Nagin "called on black newspaper publishers to use the Hurricane Katrina disaster to expose racial motives in the slow progress in New Orleans and all of urban America." Nagin's address "largely focused" on the state-run Road Home program, which awards federal grants of up to $150,000 for homeowners trying to rebuild, the NNPA reported. "Nagin believes racist attitudes are currently controlling the monetary distribution into the city. 'They can't hold this money back much longer, 'cause it's starting to hurt other folk. Y'all know what I'm talking about,' he hinted to the nodding audience. 'So, they've got to let it loose.'" The oft-derided Road Home program has been slow to award grants to blacks and whites alike. Most critics have alleged bureaucratic bungling and ineptitude by the private administrator of the program. Nagin is the first major elected official to suggest racial motives for problems in the Road Home. -- Johnson
Nagin Exacerbates Misperceptions
UNO pollster and political scientist Susan Howell says that Mayor Ray Nagin's comments to a group of black newspaper executives in Washington two weeks ago "exacerbate" a national misperception that Katrina was a "black disaster." Powell added: "Unfortunately, given the racial history of the country, that doesn't help New Orleans." Echoing the complaint of a black former state mental health official last year, Howell told Gambit Weekly: "It was the city that was destroyed, not just some poor, black neighborhoods. It was Lakeview, Lakeshore, St. Bernard (Parish) and even parts of Metairie." Howell suggests that a broad coalition of leaders from the storm-damaged parishes is needed to more accurately portray the scope of the disaster and to secure national funding for the recovery. "The unconscionable part of this (tragedy) is that the public infrastructure is not being more actively rebuilt -- the streets, the police stations, the firehouses, the schools, the street signs -- the things that will encourage people to come back," Howell says. "(The delay) is a failure of federalism, the three levels of government and the red tape" of the respective bureaucracies. -- Johnson
'Vote-Rich' Turnout Poor
In a dismal showing for a vote-rich area, only 16 percent of registered voters in House District 94 turned out for a March 10 special primary to replace retiring Republican state Rep. Peppi Bruneau, voting officials said. Bruneau's son, marketing exec "Jeb" Bruneau, and attorney Nick Lorusso will face off in Saturday's general election. The runoff opponents emerged as the top two candidates in a field of six, after a short but hotly contested campaign. Although 25,859 voters were eligible to cast ballots in the special election, only 4,209 actually voted, says Abigail Washington, a spokesperson for the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters. "That is certainly very low," University of New Orleans pollster Susan Howell said of the 16.27 percent voter turnout. Howell cited the continued displacement of voters since Hurricane Katrina as a factor in the poor turnout. Before Katrina flooded the city Aug. 29, 2005, entire neighborhoods in HD 94 (such as Lakeview and Lake Vista) took pride in the large number of "chronic voters," who repeatedly turned out for New Orleans' many elections. Joe Broussard, a spokesperson for the Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal Court's office, said no problems were reported with any of the voting machines at the 53 precincts in the district. Voting officials are now preparing for the March 31 general election, which will include a citywide primary for judge at Civil District Court. -- Johnson
Candidates ISO Voters
Political warfare has been waged online for years, from bloggers on the attack to campaign Web sites. The trend certainly isn't new, but it sure has become more entertaining. Videos posted on YouTube.com recently have received more media attention than they deserve -- much to the chagrin of possible gubernatorial candidate John Breaux, the former Democratic U.S. senator. Not to be outdone, MySpace.com is making a splash as well. It already has a section dedicated to presidential candidates, and governor-wannabes are slowly beginning to cash in on the popular social networking site. Congressman Bobby Jindal, a Republican from Kenner, has established a personal page listing a variety of information, from his Zodiac sign to body type and sexual orientation (he describes himself as "average" and "straight"). His income is listed as "$150,000 to $250,000." Jindal has 73 online friends through the site, 14 of whom have left messages. A "friend" named T-Roy, whose avatar photo is a handgun, writes that he enjoys the proximity to power. "Always a good thing to have the next governor as a friend on MySpace." T. Lee Horne, the Libertarian candidate, also has a page. The Bunkie native is a Sagittarius ... and is single. -- Alford
How Much Does Health Care Kick Back?
Louisiana has been chosen as one of eight states to participate in a new initiative designed to increase the value of dollars spent on health care. The initiative, called the Return on Investment Purchasing Institute, will take place over a 12-month period and will measure the state's ability to generate returns on investments by improving the quality of the Medicaid health-care program. While the study should help the state make better investments, it could also reveal some shortcomings. "We embrace this opportunity to gauge what initiatives will allow us to improve clinical outcomes while controlling health-care costs at the same time," says Dr. Fred Cerise, secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals. The other states that will participate are Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Washington. State teams will evaluate return on investment potential for quality initiatives, and then analyze results for program planning and resource allocation. -- Alford
A 23-year-old woman who admits helping a convicted felon obtain an AK-47 assault weapon was a highly rated "911" emergency operator for the New Orleans Police Department at the time she was indicted on federal gun charges last summer, Gambit Weekly has learned. Previous press releases and news accounts identified Nisheka M. Webb as a civilian employee of the NOPD but did not mention her critical role taking calls for help. Webb is awaiting sentencing by U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance after she and convicted felon Wayne C. Jones, 29, both pleaded guilty to illegally obtaining an AK-47 from a gun show in Kenner on July 29. Webb's attorney, Gary Wainwright, declined comment. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten says federal ATF agents at the show "actually observed what turned out to be a 'straw purchase'" of the weapon by Webb, who then gave the gun to Jones. Last week, Judge Vance sentenced Jones to 55 months in federal prison. Webb's dismissal from the NOPD and her conviction marks a sharp fall from 2004, when she appeared to have a bright future as one of NOPD's 129 complaint operators and dispatchers. That year, Webb was among 15 emergency operators from NOPD and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office who took a national certification exam. She finished with the second-highest score in the class and the highest among her NOPD classmates, according to a publication issued by the taxpayer-funded Orleans Parish Communications District. -- Johnson