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Strain Camp Hoping Indictment Chatter Holds
An appeals court and eager prosecutors are still trying to figure out what to do with Bob Odom's never-ending corruption indictment. The longtime Democratic agriculture commissioner has charges of public corruption still hanging over his head, a problem not lost on the campaign of state Rep. Mike Strain, a Republican from Covington who plans to run against Odom in the fall. Strain spokesman Brandon Vidrine emailed an Associated Press story recounting the charges to reporters and others under the heading, "In Case You Missed It." If Odom stays in the headlines through the summer, the Strain campaign will get priceless free media. "Word on the street is this thing could just keep coming back up," Vidrine says. "But it could play out so many ways." Strain filled in last week for an absent state Sen. Walter Boasso of Arabi, now a Democratic candidate for governor, in a speech to the Acadiana Young Republicans on the eve of Boasso's party switch. Next door, Odom was attending a fundraiser for a Democratic state representative, but paths never crossed. Odom's corruption charges notwithstanding, the race could take an oddly idealistic twist among Republicans. U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Kenner Republican, is backing Strain and should be a reliable source of campaign money, but Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Wayne "Spider" Carter, also a Republican, currently leads the fundraising race and should have enough coin to buy significant name recognition before the fall. -- Alford

 

Bull's Eye on Foti
With all the requests for official opinions he's getting these days, Attorney General Charles Foti, a Democrat, just might be busy enough to miss the ever-present bull's-eye on his back. Foti's popularity nose-dived after he accused a doctor and two nurses in New Orleans of murder in connection with allegations that they euthanized patients during the early, desperate hours of Katrina. The medical community is still furious at the allegations. Doctors, nurses and others in the medical field are quietly gathering, but they haven't coalesced behind one opponent yet. "These people are getting ready to write some pretty big checks," says one attorney close to the anti-Foti crowd. Potential challengers to Foti have sent feelers to the medical community to gauge their chances. District Attorney Buddy Caldwell of Tallulah, a Democrat like Foti, has declared his intention to run, as has Shreveport native and GOP attorney Royal Alexander. Former House Speaker Hunt Downer, a Republican from Houma and major general in the Louisiana National Guard, confirmed has he has been courted by the state GOP to run as well, but it remains to be seen if he'll join the fray. Meanwhile, Foti has tried to score political points by leading the charge against online sexual predators and recovery fraud, but that story may not be compelling enough to quiet the opposition research and money aimed at his removal. -- Alford

 

'Shred Fest'
It may never rival Jazz Fest. But don't be surprised if Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti finds a way to hook "Shred Fest" to New Orleans' signature music event in the future. Foti, who, as the city's enterprising elected jailer, built a popular haunted house at City Park each Halloween, launched Louisiana's first "Shred Fest" at a Baton Rouge shopping mall over the weekend. Billed as a way to protect citizens from identity theft, visitors were invited to bring up to two boxes of personal financial data and watch as the data was shredded before their eyes. Consumers also registered for free personal shredders donated by Celtic Commercial Services of Baton Rouge. "We're thinking of doing it statewide," says Jennifer Cluck, a spokesperson for Foti. Other states already have adopted similar programs, prompting Melissa Lambert of the AG's consumer protection section to test the idea locally. The Louisiana chapter of the AARP and the Governor's Office of Elderly Affairs were among the groups scheduled to offer identity theft prevention tips and financial literacy information at the event. -- Johnson

 

Chasing Deadbeats
The Louisiana Ethics Commission is about to get some help collecting nearly $1 million in outstanding fines from alleged "political deadbeats," Gambit Weekly has learned. Officials from the state ethics board and state Attorney General Charles Foti's office are working on an interagency agreement that will allow the AG's office to pursue elected officials and other politicos who have failed to pay fines for tardy filings of campaign finance reports and other violations of state campaign finance disclosure laws. For years, the understaffed ethics board has experienced difficulty collecting fines and judgments from people who have exhausted all appeals to the state panel. Foti's office is expected to get 25 percent of whatever debts it can collect. The AG's office is reportedly working on a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed project. -- Johnson

 

Wanted: DAs & PR
Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan is looking for a few good prosecutors -- and additional public relations help for his beleaguered office. Jordan's office has been running ads in The Times-Picayune for both positions. "We have been getting some responses," says chief spokesperson Dalton Savwoir Jr. Buoyed by recent salary increases that boost pay up to nearly $80,000 a year for some prosecutors, the DA has hired 16 assistant district attorneys since January. Recent resignations, however, created five more openings for prosecutors, according to information compiled by Loretta Brown, director of human resources for the DA's office. The new public information officer will receive $30,000 to $40,000 a year for assisting Savwoir. In an April 10 address to a congressional field hearing, Jordan said he also needs eight prosecutors to expedite the screening of new cases. The extra lawyers would be placed in district police stations. The idea is to help investigating officers prepare cases for court and to make contact with victims and witnesses "immediately" after a crime is reported, Jordan told the congressional panel. "New Orleans police personnel shortages have made it difficult for police officers to provide timely follow-up assistance once they have submitted a report," Jordan testified. Police Chief Warren Riley, noting problems in NOPD as well as Jordan's office, testified: "If it were not for the unprecedented cooperation and assistance of the local U.S. Attorney Jim Letten ... criminals in New Orleans would operate without fear of any punishment from the criminal justice system." -- Johnson

 

Question for Watchdog
Many of the elected officials, former candidates and PACs with outstanding fines for violations of the state campaign finance disclosure laws hail from New Orleans. The deadline for applications for city Inspector General is this week (Monday, April 30), so we asked Fr. Kevin Wildes, chair of the city Ethics Review Board, if the new watchdog will work with the state ethics board to pursue local violators of state campaign finance laws. "That's a question for the Inspector General to address once the Ethics Review Board has completed its selection process," Wildes said in an email response. Wildes added that the city ordinance that creates the new office calls for the IG to by September of each year, "a scope of work for the office's activities over the coming year. The ordinance also calls for the IG to be 'operationally independent' from the mayor, the council, and the Ethics Review Board, so it would be inappropriate for any of us to presume to speak for the IG about what areas will or will not be subject to investigation by that office." -- Johnson

 

No FEMA Jazz Funeral
Twenty months after Hurricane Katrina, FEMA will close the last of its 59 disaster recovery centers in Louisiana this week. There will be no jazz funeral or other ceremony as FEMA officials shutter the office at 5 p.m. Monday (April 30) in the Westside Shopping Center in Gretna, FEMA spokesman Ronnie Simpson says. The West Bank recovery office has handled 124,828 cases since opening Sept. 9, 2005. "Contrary to popular opinion, it's not the same six people who went in 20,000 times," Simpson, a native of the New Orleans area, deadpanned. Consumers and business people who need additional assistance can still visit the FEMA Welcome Home Center on the 14th floor at 1250 Poydras St. during business hours on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. -- Johnson

 

Rock 'n' Bomb?
Sometimes, it takes a gaffe by a foundering presidential candidate to remind folks you were once a singer in a rock 'n' roll band. That happened to New Orleans political campaign strategist Sid Arroyo, a former singer with Vince Vance & the Valiants who left the New Orleans party band in 1987. The presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., inadvertently revived memories of the group's heyday during a recent campaign stop in South Carolina. Asked about the possibility of war with Iran, McCain tried to sing a few lines from the Valiants' 1980 hit single, "Bomb Iran," which McCain erroneously attributed to the Beach Boys. Public alarm over McCain's rendition of the ditty at a time of international tensions seemed to exacerbate the candidate's lackluster performance in recent polls. Written by the band amid growing frustration over the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979, "Bomb Iran" became a Billboard No. 1 hit single the following year. "It was written at a time when Americans were looking to vent," Arroyo recalls. "We were feeling impotent. It was a song for the moment." During the run-up to the invasion of Baghdad in 2003, Vince Vance & the Valiants recorded "Bomb Iraq," with far less success. -- Johnson

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