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Vacancy in DA's Office? Time, Gaynell Will Tell
Gaynell Williams, first assistant to District Attorney Eddie Jordan Jr. , is eyeing the Criminal Court Section A seat vacated by controversial Judge Charles Elloie, sources say. However, the future of Elloie's newly vacant seat is uncertain. Last year, state lawmakers merged Criminal and Civil District Courts, and it was not immediately known how Elloie's forced departure from the 12-judge Criminal Court might affect the legislative tinkering with that bench's make-up, if at all. Lawmakers ordered a study of all judicial districts in the state to determine which, if any, needed more or fewer judges based on caseloads and populations. Elloie, whose freewheeling style of bond reductions for violent criminals resulted in more murders and mayhem, was expected to officially resign July 1. He was suspended from the bench by the Louisiana Supreme Court last year and then publicly censured May 10. -- Johnson

 

The 'Atkins Diet' -- Politics
Is Civil District Court Clerk Dale Atkins going to run for District Attorney again? "If I had to answer that question today, the answer would be -- yes," Atkins told Gambit Weekly last week. "But the race is still over a year away, so I don't feel I have to make a final decision [right now]." In the 2002 election to replace retiring DA Harry Connick, Atkins lost a hard-fought runoff to Eddie Jordan Jr. by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. Today, Jordan is an embattled incumbent: violent crime is sky high, his poll numbers are down-low, and his policy differences with other criminal justice officials keep making news. Potential opponents are organizing campaigns or testing the waters. Atkins says she has several considerations to weigh before entering the race and "all are personal." She is a close political ally of outgoing Gov. Kathleen Blanco, whose popularity has waned. Atkins also is a seasoned campaigner in her own right; she played a key role in the recent victory of Civil Court Judge Tiffany Chase. Atkins' latest campaign finance report showed $4,091 on hand as of Feb. 14. Records show she owed a total of $44,940 to a pair of media consultants from her 2002 race as well as outstanding, no-interest loans totaling $53,500. Qualifying for the Oct. 8, 2008, election is Aug. 20-22 of next year. A spokesperson for the Secretary of State says the next district attorney will serve a six-year term, from Jan. 12, 2009, through Jan. 11, 2015. -- Johnson

 

'Gray Area' of N.O. Politics
Criminal defense attorney James A. Gray II, who ran for district attorney in 2002 (with backing from Mayor Ray Nagin), says he is weighing whether to run against incumbent Eddie Jordan Jr. in 2008. "I've had some discussions with people; I have not made up my mind," Gray says. "The real issue would be personal, family issues." But politics is also a family matter. Gray, a 31-year veteran lawyer who also ran for DA in 1996, is the husband of Judge Ernestine Gray of Juvenile Court, Section A, and the father of attorney and state Rep. Cheryl A. Gray, who plans to run for the state Senate this fall. A son, James Gray III, is also a lawyer. Judge Gray faces re-election in 2008 -- at the same time, once again, as the DA's race. In the 2002 primary, James Gray finished third in the race for DA while his wife won re-election to the bench by a landslide (68 percent) over a lone opponent. James Gray's latest campaign finance report shows he had $2,887 "on hand," as of Feb. 15. He also reported $83,250 in loans to his 2002 campaign and outstanding loans totaling $24,400. "Most of [the loans are] to myself and [from] people who aren't going to sue me," Gray chuckled. -- Johnson

 

Talking Trash About Litter
A state senator says he is still "shocked and surprised" that his proposal to help improve the state's litter problem was opposed by Keep Louisiana Beautiful, a nonprofit sustained by taxpayers to the annual tune of $800,000. "I was absolutely appalled by who I was opposed by," says Sen. Butch Gautreaux, a Morgan City Democrat. "This is an agency that is supposed to be working on the problem." Before it met an unexpected death at the hands of the House Environmental Committee during a last-minute meeting last week, Gautreaux's Senate Bill 288 would have established focus groups in all 64 Louisiana parishes to create litter-cessation pilot programs specific to each region. The legislation, however, was in the wrong place at the wrong time, thrust into a turf battle that manifested itself through a debate that lasted nearly half an hour. The House committee claims ownership of the original state anti-litter programs Gautreaux criticizes, and Keep Louisiana Beautiful's leaders argue they already do the job his bill called for. "We spent years on surveys and getting information from different states and started with education for the lower grades. We feel good about what we have done," Rep. N.J. Damico, D-Marrero, the committee's chair, told Gautreaux. "I'm sorry you don't agree with us." Leigh Harris, executive director of Keep Louisiana Beautiful, which has distributed more than $1 million to local chapters over the past four years for enforcement and education, testified that Gautreaux's legislation would have resulted in a duplication of services. Gautreaux asked if Louisiana's litter problem has actually improved as a result of the group's efforts. He quoted newspaper reports detailing economic development initiatives that fell apart because businesses were turned off by the amount of trash peppering the state's highways. "I don't think [Harris] knows everything there is to know about this," Gautreaux says. "We still have a tremendous problem. I see this legislation as a complement to what she is doing and she sees it as a challenge." -- Alford

 

What Do You Really Think?
During his farewell speech to the House last week, term-limited Rep. Jack Smith, a Franklin Democrat, explained in vulgar yet precise terms how the pecking order works at the state Capitol. He also took the risk that no kids or prudes were visiting the House that Huey built well after dinner time, which is when the Lower Chamber heard parting remarks from members "on the outs" last Tuesday. Smith told his colleagues he would not be saying goodbye, mainly because he's running for a Senate seat and is confident of victory. "I'm going to become a senator and will become a perfect a**hole like the rest of them over there," he said to riotous laughter. "Meanwhile, you all in the House will be trash." He then went on to thank his constituents for letting him serve in such a noble institution. -- Alford

Barack Backs Mary's Cause
The most targeted Democratic incumbent in the U.S. Senate has managed to team up with the party's potential nominee for president on legislation that would memorialize the end of slavery on Capitol Hill. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans native, are pushing to rename the main hall in the Capitol Visitors Center "Emancipation Hall." Its current name is the "Great Hall," which is also the name of the main hall of the Library of Congress. Landrieu says the visitors center hall should serve as a reminder when citizens encounter its opulence. "They should remember there was a time when African Americans in our country were enslaved," she says. While Landrieu's high-profile co-author adds some political weight -- an Obama mention on a Landrieu push card, for starters -- to an otherwise routine and appropriate measure, it's just the latest in a long line of culturally responsive bills Landrieu can hang her hat on when campaigning to turn out the Democratic base in next year's election. In 2005, Landrieu co-sponsored a resolution apologizing to lynching victims and their families for the Senate's failure to enact federal anti-lynching legislation during the first part of the 20th century. During this most recent Congress, meanwhile, she is once again sponsoring the "Servitude and Emancipation Archival Research Clearing House Act," which would create a national database for African-American genealogical research. She also is a cosponsor on the "Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act," which empowers the federal government to reopen unsolved Civil Rights Era murder cases. -- Alford

Che Jindal: The Aftermath
Most political hawks have already seen the now-infamous T-shirts and posters depicting Congressman Bobby Jindal, the largely unchallenged and undeniable Republican frontrunner for governor, as Argentine Marxist Che Guevara. The image is nothing more than Jindal's mug superimposed over the face of the famed guerilla leader. Politically, Kenner is the polar opposite of Cuba, but there are similarities between Jindal and Guevara: they both had early professional interests in medicine, and both have a knack for dramatic reform. But the likenesses stop there. Or do they? Chris Whittington, chairman of Louisiana Democratic Party, wonders. "Are we supposed to glean from this that Jindal is planning some sort of guerilla attack upon the current state of government in Louisiana?" he asks. "Guevara was not a man of compromise, and he annihilated any who stood in the way of his ideals." While the Democrats managed to come up with some witty comments like that one in a recent press release, they did misspell "Guevara" (as "Guevera") throughout the document, proving neither party has a perfect record when it comes to Louisiana's "foreign policy." -- Alford

Cheers for the Feds
"Interest in politics is really down," says Bob Moffett, president of the Orleans Parish chapter of the Alliance for Good Government, a biracial political group. Reasons for voter apathy vary and exceed the usual summer doldrums, he says. "There is absolutely no leadership on any level -- federal or state or local," Moffett says. "No one takes responsibility; all they do is dodge or shift the blame." Moffett adds that voters and politicos alike remain distracted by post-Katrina "personal considerations," such as home repairs. He also cites the racial climate. "If you leave it (race) alone, it kind of works its way out. But if there is a provocateur -- black or white -- involved, then race becomes the main issue." One bright spot is the pace of federal corruption investigations. Good government supporters have been especially buoyed by the accelerating probe of Orleans Parish School Board contracts, Moffett notes. The Alliance traditionally stages the first campaign forums after candidate qualifying closes in New Orleans elections. -- Johnson

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