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Vitter-Giuliani Flameout
One of Louisiana's more bizarre political alliances is over before it had a chance to make it to the altar. Nearly a year ago, speculation was rampant about the real reasons for early endorsements of Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani by U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Congressman Charles Boustany of Lake Charles. The Independent, an alternative weekly in Lafayette, summed up the riddle at the time, noting, "Rudy Giuliani is pro-choice, pro-gay rights and pro-gun control. Why are Louisiana conservatives Charles Boustany and David Vitter endorsing him for president, and will the state's GOP base stand for it?" The answer was pretty simple: Vitter and Boustany wanted to ride the former frontrunner's coattails, and there were even rumblings that Vitter — before his prostitution scandal broke — was a possible vice presidential choice if Giuliani got the nomination. Now that Giuliani's spectacular flameout is complete and he has dropped out of the race, where do Boustany and Vitter turn now? Do they follow Giuliani's lead and endorse current Republican frontrunner and favorite John McCain? The Louisiana Republican legislators' ill-fated Giuliani endorsement probably won't matter much in the end for voters, but if the Republicans retain the White House, Vitter and Boustany won't be at the front of the line for plum committee assignments or state dinners. — Jordan

 

 

Vitter Foes: Looking to 2010
At least two Democratic congressmen (one former, another current) are keeping a close eye on the re-election hopes of U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Republican from Metairie. After he was linked to a prostitution ring last year, Vitter's political star has fallen significantly although much of the GOP faithful has stepped forward urging forgiveness. At this point, his re-election appears up for grabs — if the right opponent jumps in. Of all the chatter coming out of last week's Washington Mardi Gras, the loudest concerned the possibility of former Rep. Chris John of Crowley taking on Vitter. That would be a sequel worth watching, as the two faced each other in the 2004 election season. Today, John is president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association. "I would certainly welcome a rematch," John says. 'But everything right now is about [Sen.] Mary [Landrieu] until we get through this election year. Very few people are even thinking about David right now." Rep. Charlie Melancon of Napoleonville is also being urged to challenge Vitter. He was likewise asked to run for governor last year but promptly declined. This time around, though, Melancon is keeping his options open and has yet to rule out a run for the Senate in two years. "For right now, I'm the congressman in the Third District," Melancon says. "I feel like I started a job following hurricanes Katrina and Rita and I want to finish that job." Neither John nor Melancon says he has spoken to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. That isn't surprising, because the committee already is engaged in an intense battle to re-elect Landrieu, a New Orleans native and Louisiana's senior senator. — Alford

 

 

GOP Leadership on the Line
The Republican State Central Committee will decide soon who should lead the party in coming years. Roger Villere, party chairman, says he doesn't have any announced competition for the upcoming Feb. 23 party leadership election. By most accounts, he's expected to be re-elected, but the position of executive director will remain vacant even after the state central committee meets. James Quinn, who previously held the position, is now working on boards and commissions for Gov. Bobby Jindal. "We have a really good staff in place right now and it would be hard to hire someone who might only have a job for a few weeks, so it looks like an executive director won't be hired until after next month's election," Villere says. — Alford

 

 

NOPD Recruiting Spikes
Applications for NOPD recruits continued to pour into City Hall last week, even after the horrific line-of-duty shooting death of Officer Nicola Cotton. "We're overwhelmed," said one civil service employee. Precise figures were unavailable at press time, but by midweek, after well-publicized reports of Cotton's murder with her own police service weapon, the steady stream of phone calls, emails and written applications for NOPD recruits had not abated — and no letup was expected. The City Council recently raised police pay and benefits dramatically at the request of Police Chief Warren Riley, who is grappling with a post-Katrina shortage of several hundred officers and a nation-leading murder rate. A NOPD recruit now earns $35,000 while training in the police academy. After one year of service, a NOPD officer earns at least $41,000 a year, not including overtime pay and outside income from paid private details. Since Cotton's murder, a somber Riley has reminded his increasingly youthful force and the public of the "very, very dangerous" nature of police work in New Orleans. — Johnson

 

 

End of Service
The last city paycheck of slain New Orleans Police Officer Nicola Cotton will go to her confidential designated beneficiary, city officials say. The biweekly city pay period ends this Friday. A native New Orleanian, Cotton, 24, was unmarried and reportedly two months pregnant when she was murdered Jan. 28. She was choked, beaten with her own expandable police baton, then fatally shot 15 times with her service weapon in the 2000 block of Earhart Boulevard. Bernel P. Johnson has been charged with her murder. Cotton lived with her mother in an apartment in eastern New Orleans. The officer, a 2001 graduate of Warren Easton High School who took criminal justice courses at Delgado Community College, estimated her police earnings at between $45,000 to $60,000, according to her MySpace profile posted Jan. 27 — the day before her murder. Her base pay alone was $39,000, according to city pay records. "That's not enough to risk your life," one city worker said quietly. Yet, by all accounts last week, Cotton was a highly dedicated officer and a churchgoing woman who passed up a potential nursing career to help people as a cop. — Johnson

 

 

Two Wrong Men, One Mistaken ID
Two men with the same age and name (though different spellings) are both in trouble with the law. One is in jail charged with the murder of a cop after police apparently confused him with the second man, a convicted rapist who remained at-large last week. Bernel P. Johnson, 44, of Kenner was reportedly homeless in Central City when he encountered New Orleans Police Officer Nicola Cotton in a strip of shops in the 2000 block of Earhart Boulevard last week. Johnson, whose family says he has a history of mental illness and violence, allegedly killed Cotton with her own gun. The incident was captured by a store video camera and corroborated by witnesses, police say. Officer Cotton was killed after she apparently tried to handcuff Johnson following a dispatched report that he was a known sex offender wanted for questioning. Johnson's family told reporters that he had run-ins with the law and that he threatened his own family when they tried to get him psychiatric care, but he had no history of sex offenses. Police did not challenge the family's claims late last week. Apparently, Cotton received a dispatched report about the wrong man — registered sex offender Bernell Johnson, 44, who last lived at 1323 Frenchmen St. in New Orleans. Convicted of forcible rape in Orleans Parish in 1998, Bernell Johnson is wanted for an unspecified reporting violation, according to the State Police sex offender Web site. — Johnson

 

 

Jindal on Natural Resources
Infrastructure improvements, advancements in alternative energy and streamlining the oil-and-gas permitting process are among the recommendations that surfaced in an official review of the Department of Natural Resources. The report was presented to Gov. Bobby Jindal last week by his Economic Growth Advisory Council, formed last year to provide an overview of natural resources and other economic sectors. Ray Lasseigne, president of TMR Exploration in Bossier City, served as chairman of the advisory group and reported back to Jindal that the recommendations offered were structured to promote Louisiana as the "Energy State." He also said the group is working on a secondary report that addresses policy priorities more specifically. "With the tremendous impact that oil and gas exploration, production and processing has had on Louisiana's history it is difficult to understand why Louisiana has never had an energy policy," Lasseigne says. A release date for the supplemental report has not yet been announced, but it is highly anticipated. The most recent findings are presented in defensive and offensive terms. On one front, Jindal is advised to protect the industry against so-called legacy suits, which are protracted legal battles involving polluted lands, and any push to implement a processing tax on oil and gas. The group also wants Jindal to come up with a new way for damaged oyster leases to be mitigated. Louisiana must also continue to improve the permitting process for drilling in coastal and wetlands areas, the report states. The Louisiana Geological Survey is another key element in the report. The advisory council wants the governor to adequately fund the program so that it can provide research and feasibility studies on underdeveloped geological trends, new technology and alternative energy. The entire report can be found at www.louisianatransition.com. — Alford

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