Will Delay Hurt Jindal?
The White House has come out against a massive 72-mile levee system planned for central-south Louisiana that would protect upwards of 120,000 residents from the brunt of hurricanes and other storms. Congressman Bobby Jindal, a Kenner Republican running for governor, has made the Morganza-to-the-Gulf protection project a priority in the House, stumping on it repeatedly in recent years in Cajun communities. Officials in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, which receive most of the protection, are now warning that the White House's opposition could become a major problem for Jindal as he runs for governor. "If that project doesn't pass, I think Jindal is going to have some serious problems down here," says one lawmaker from the region. "He's a Republican like the President and this is his baby." Remember: This is an area where voters -- in a very public campaign -- decided to impose taxes on themselves to pay for the local match on the project. It's a "shared" media market as well, including TV, print and radio, all of which endorsed the Morganza project. In 2003, Jindal lost Terrebonne and Lafourche to Gov. Kathleen Blanco in the runoff, but by slim margins. He picked up a respectable 28,000 votes in the two-parish region, which is notable because he lost to Blanco by a mere 54,000 votes statewide. Despite Jindal's early lead, pundits and pollsters expect another close race this year, so it's a safe bet that something as localized as Morganza is weighing heavily on Jindal's mind these days. -- Alford
Fahrenholtz Bowing Out
Orleans Parish School Board member "Jimmy" Fahrenholtz confirmed to WWL-870AM Radio talk show host John "Spud" McConnell last week that he will not be running for re-election next year. Fahrenholtz told McConnell that he was satisfied with what he has been able to accomplish on the board and that he does not consider himself a career politician -- and therefore it's time to move on. Even so, the Louisiana Ethics Commission still plans to pursue Fahrenholtz for more than $31,000 in fines he admittedly owes the state in connection with tardy campaign finance disclosure statements. Fahrenholtz and the board are scheduled to appear before New Orleans Civil District Court Judge Piper Griffin at 9 a.m. Friday (April 20) for a hearing on the school board member's long-standing failure to both pay the fines and to file campaign finance disclosure reports required of all candidates for public office in Louisiana. "Once he was re-elected to the school board on Sept. 18, 2004, he stopped filing," ethics board attorney Alesia Ardoin says. Campaign finance reports tell voters who is paying for a candidate's campaign and who is the recipient of campaign expenditures. Fahrenholtz has repeatedly admitted to owing the fines but has failed to pay up, with the exception of small court-ordered garnishments of his biweekly school board checks. Since he was first elected as a school board reformer in 2000, Fahrenholtz has been the darling of the New Orleans media, which have largely ignored his run-ins with state campaign finance officials. He also holds the dubious distinction of owing more ethics board fines than any other politician in the state. -- Johnson
Nagin Backer Owes $8,400 in Ethics Fines
A member of the Sewerage & Water Board who raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for Mayor Ray Nagin's re-election campaign last year has failed to pay $8,400 in fines for filing tardy campaign finance reports, according to the Louisiana Ethics Commission. Rev. Benjamin Edwards Sr. , a S&WB member and Ninth Ward minister, formed a political action committee in his own name then raised and spent $269,250 on Nagin's re-election campaign during a two-month period, beginning in March 2006, records show. But the Edwards PAC failed to file reports in a timely manner as required by state campaign finance disclosure laws, thereby depriving voters of information on contributions and expenditures for the mayor's campaign, according to ethics board attorney Alesia Ardoin. Edwards' PAC filed three reports for the April 2006 primary, but they were late by 21 days, 41 days and 61 days respectively. The reports detail the spending of thousands of dollars on campaign billboards, hotel rooms and air fares as the mayor stormed through Texas, Memphis and Atlanta seeking support from voters displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Calls to Edwards at the contact number listed on his campaign reports -- Third Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church -- and to two S&WB spokespersons were not returned by press time. -- Johnson
Zibilich: 'They're Wrong'
A former candidate for Criminal Court judge in 2003 says the Louisiana Ethics Commission erred by listing him among dozens of candidates who have failed to pay fines and late fees for missing campaign finance reporting deadlines. "They're wrong," Franz Zibilich, chief deputy attorney for the City of New Orleans says of the state ethics board. "I'm paid in full. I sent them a check (for $1,100) several years ago." Ethics board officials were in the panel's regular monthly meeting late last week and unavailable for comment. But early last week, a board spokesperson said Zibilich still owed the state $1,100 for two reports, which he filed one day and 11 days late, respectively -- Johnson
Watch it Grow
One of Gov. Kathleen Blanco's new insurance initiatives for the upcoming legislative session involves creating a $100 million fund to lure new underwriters to the state. The "grant program," according to Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, would dole out anywhere from $2 million to $10 million to any company willing to match the investment with their own cash. Companies would have to promise to write a certain number of policies each year for the money, including coverage for last-resort clients. A few insurance groups contend they support the proposal, but don't be shocked to see this bill morph throughout the legislative process. Depending how organized the insurance lobby will be this year, the bill could become a cash cow for industry. Then again, if the game is played fairly, the additional competition could drive down premiums. The session begins April 30. -- Alford
Crime Fighting Plan Missing, Prof Says
A poorly attended congressional field hearing last week offered plenty of compelling testimony on the city's need for more federal funding to fight violent crime post-Katrina -- but no clear plan on what American taxpayers could expect in return. Mayor Ray Nagin asked a subcommittee of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee at Dillard University for $34 million to help New Orleans cops buy new vehicles and equipment, fund a recruiting campaign, provide 2,000 summer jobs to prevent juvenile crime, provide drug rehab and re-establish a work program for ex-offenders. When asked for studies detailing the needs of the post-Katrina criminal justice system, Nagin said those problems were analyzed by former Attorney General Richard Ieyoub and crime consultant Lee Brown. However, the mayor provided no supporting documentation. Noted UNO criminologist Peter Scharf said the city would best be served by presenting Congress with a detailed plan with projected outcomes, modeled after former Police Chief Richard Pennington's plan for reducing violent crime in 1997. "There was a contrast between the mayor's request today and Richard Pennington saying, 'Give me X amount of dollars and I'll cut the murder rate in half in three years' -- which he did," Scharf says. "Let's face it, the city has some serious reputational baggage. Congress wants to know how to ensure its investment." -- Johnson
He Said What?
In an ironic twist that could only occur on the bayou or in the Beltway, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security asked a bribery suspect to testify about problems with the criminal justice system. Congressman William Jefferson, a Democrat from New Orleans, shed light on the dilemmas faced by his hometown during last week's meeting, providing testimony that was quietly peppered with more than a few giggles. The feds have targeted Jefferson in a corruption probe and found $90,000 stashed away in his freezer. Of course, the GOP couldn't pass this one up. "The FBI's investigation into William Jefferson's actions might make him an expert in dealing with the criminal justice system, but that's not the expertise that House Democrats should solicit when reviewing this critical issue in Louisiana," says James Quinn, executive director of the state Republican Party. -- Alford
Judge, Minister Explore Crime and Race
The congressional panel at Dillard University last week appeared especially impressed by the testimony of Juvenile Court Judge Ernestine Gray and Rev. John Raphael Jr. , the son of the city's first black policeman in modern times. Gray said 98 percent of the youths who were arrested in New Orleans pre-Katrina were African-American -- "76 male and 22 percent female." Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said federal law will require a study of the disproportionate number of black youths reported by Judge Gray. Meanwhile, Republican Congressmen Randy Forbes of Virginia and Louie Gohmert of Texas seemed fascinated by Rev. Raphael, a former New Orleans policeman and pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in crime-ridden Central City. Raphael said fixing the criminal justice system alone will not stop violence in New Orleans. Scott, who is Virginia's first black congressman since Reconstruction, asked the minister how government can improve witness cooperation with law enforcement. Raphael replied that the "culture" of black communities must change. "If a white policeman is accused of shooting me, I would be able to find as many witnesses as I need," Raphael said. "But if the gentleman who lives in the next block takes my life, then it was like it was nothing. We have to find a way to change that perception in our communities that our life is of no value." -- Johnson
IG Deadline April 30
Monday, April 30, is the deadline for applications for the position of Inspector General, the new city watchdog office. The city's Ethics Review Board, chaired by Loyola University President Rev. Kevin Wildes is reviewing applications for the position. Wildes could not be reached by press time. The New Orleans City Council last year voted unanimously to establish the office to oversee city agencies and officials as well as the spending of billions of dollars in anticipated federal recovery aid after Hurricane Katrina. "The Inspector General will conduct activities designed to detect and deter waste, fraud, corruption abuse of power and other illegal activities in all financial" transactions involving the city and its related entities, according to a job description posted on the city's Web site. The office is expected to cost the city $400,000 a year initially. The position requires at least five years experience in one or more of the following fields: federal law enforcement, the federal or state judiciary, auditing, or an attorney with expertise in investigative audits, or "supervisory experience in an investigative public agency similar to an office of Inspector General." Applicants must have "strong leadership abilities," be able to conduct complex investigations and work with other government agencies. A detailed resume, letter of application, official college transcript and three letters of recommendation must be postmarked no later than April 30 and sent to Gail Howard, Office of the President, Loyola University, 6363 St. Charles Ave. Campus Box 9, New Orleans, LA 70118. -- Johnson