Quotes of the Week
"We conclude that significant drowning is inevitable, even if sediment loads are restored, because sea level is now rising at least three times faster than during delta-plain construction." — LSU geologist Michael Blum and geology professor Harry Roberts, concluding coastal restoration efforts are futile in the new issue of Nature Geoscience magazine
"We have the highest population of people with mental illness in the state right here in New Orleans. Don't put the services outside of New Orleans. It makes no sense." — Cecile Tabo, NOPD Crisis Unit administrator, reacting to Gov. Bobby Jindal's line-item veto of funding for the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital and the planned shifting of in-patient beds to Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville
Who's on Third?
As it appears more and more likely that U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, will vacate his Third District seat to launch a bid next year for the U.S. Senate, politicos of every stripe are throwing their hats into the ring for Melancon's job. Gambit reported several of those names last week, but more have surfaced since then. The newest is Ravi Sangisetty, a 27-year-old attorney who grew up in Houma and graduated from Vanderbilt Catholic in 1999. A Democrat, Sangisetty is an associate in the McGlinchey Stafford law firm and practices in the commercial litigation section. Prior to joining the firm, he clerked for U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. Sangisetty has a personal story that sounds similar to that of Gov. Bobby Jindal; his parents emigrated from India and both later obtained doctorate degrees. Sangisetty graduated from Princeton in 2003 and LSU Law in 2006. Regarding his potential bid to replace Melancon, Sangisetty says he may be ready to talk more in the near future. "I'm just spending a lot of time at home right now discussing it with as many people as possible," he says.
Meanwhile, the D.C.-based political newspaper The Hill reports that Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph was among the "other possibilities for the GOP." Randolph seemed to dismiss the notion in a phone interview, however: "It's the same temperature here right now as it is in Washington, D.C., so I really don't see the need for a switch." The Hill article also threw out a few other new names: Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, St. John Parish President Bill Hubbard and state Rep. Damon Baldone, D-Houma. Baldone is already in the midst of running for the state Senate seat that encompasses Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. As we reported last week, those already looking include Republican Hunt Downer, a Houma native and former speaker of the House; state Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle, a Democrat who's also Gov. Bobby Jindal's legislative liaison; state Rep. Nickie Monica, R-LaPlace; and state Rep. Gary Smith, D-Norco. One more person to keep tabs on is Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley, who earlier this year was being recruited to run by Gonzales-area business leaders. He initially said he didn't want to take on Melancon. — Jeremy Alford
THE EDWARDS CLOCK
As of this Monday (July 6), former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards has just two years left on his 10-year federal prison sentence, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Edwards (inmate No. 03128-095) turns 82 on Aug. 7. He is eligible for release from the federal detention center at Oakdale, La. on July 6, 2011. Louisiana's only four-term governor, Edwards was convicted of racketeering and fraud in 2000. Last month, former New Orleans City Councilman Oliver M. Thomas Jr. (No. 30296-034) was transferred to the same prison complex in Oakdale from a federal penitentiary in Atlanta. Oakdale holds more than 2,000 inmates in three separate facilities. Once a mayoral hopeful, Thomas, now 52, began serving a three-year sentence for bribery shortly after resigning his council seat in August 2007. Thomas is scheduled for release on Sept. 9, 2010. Ironically, Thomas first won political office in 1994 by defeating then-state Rep. Renee Gill-Pratt for the District B City Council seat. Pratt, who won the council seat against another opponent in 2002, recently pleaded not guilty to federal racketeering charges growing out of her long association with the political family of indicted Congressman Bill Jefferson. — Allen Johnson Jr.
THE RAINBOW CONNECTION
When Gambit dished up its inaugural Golden Boudin Awards cover story near the end of the recent legislative session, there were unintended consequences attached to the recognition we bestowed upon Rep. Juan LaFonta, D-New Orleans. He won the "Most Quotable" Award for, among other quips, telling Rep. Rickey Hardy, D-Lafayette, "I like that rainbow tie. I know you down with the gay people."
Since then, LaFonta reports that his email inbox and voice mail have overflowed with folks complaining that his remarks were in some way demeaning to gays and lesbians. In truth, LaFonta's comments were directed at a lawmaker who has been reluctant to embrace legislation aimed at advancing gay rights. A Golden Boudin was awarded to him simply because he's a funny guy and you never know what might come out of his mouth.
It's also worth noting that LaFonta led opposition to an adoption bill this legislative session that would have left gay and unmarried heterosexual couples out in the cold. He also authored legislation in 2008 to ban discrimination against gay state workers and recently won the Acclaim Award in the "Political Leader" category, which is presented annually to "honor individuals who have done exemplary work on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community." Congrats to Rep. LaFonta. Again. . — Alford
Nothing may deepen the meaning of Independence Day like a federal prison stretch, though perspectives may vary among key figures in recent corruption probes. Former state Judge Alan Green was released from a federal prison June 15, just in time for the July 4 weekend, records show. Now 56 and permanently disbarred, Green spent three years in prison after his conviction in 2005 for corrupting the Jefferson Parish courthouse. Elsewhere, Kerry DeCay, the former city property manager (1994-2002) who was convicted of corrupting the administration of former Mayor Marc Morial, will not be eligible for release until July 2, 2015. DeCay was sentenced in June 2007 and is serving a 9-year sentence at a federal medical center at Devens, Mass. DeCay's former co-defendant, Stanford "Pampy" Barré, the alleged architect of a $1 million kickbacks scheme at City Hall, is serving a 5-year sentence for corruption at a federal prison in Pensacola, Fla. Barré, now 64, is eligible for release on Feb. 12, 2013 — which happens to be Mardi Gras that year. The scheme that led to Barré's conviction centered on a $56 million energy efficiency contract between the Morial Administration and Johnson Controls Inc. — Johnson
As relentless as the summer heat, New Orleans homicide total hit 104 on June 30 — putting the nation's murder capital on a trajectory to surpass last year's 179 killings. "We're on pace to be 10 percent higher than 2008," says Peter Scharf, a criminologist at Tulane University's School of Public Health. "Statistically, the murder rate is almost always worse in the second half of the year." NOPD spokesman Bob Young said department statistics show overall crime is trending downward. Young added that police recruiting is up, noting NOPD recently opened a new police academy at 4600 Paris Ave. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten steered clear of analyzing the statistics, but described the crime problem as "a bear." Letten noted that deterrents to summertime crime include opening all NORD swimming pools. "We need opportunities for kids and intervention for those with drug and alcohol problems — not merely incarceration," Letten says. He urged public support for a new online "mapping project" of youth services by the nonprofit Greater New Orleans After School Partnership (www.gnoafterschool.org). — Johnson
Leges Seek New Depths
During the final days of its recent legislative session, lawmakers quietly stuck a finger in the chest of the state Mineral Board, at least on paper, urging it to consider special perks for deep drilling. The board is charged with bidding out energy leases on state-owned lands and water bottoms. For the most part, oil and natural gas producers typically avoid leases that require deep drilling because of the high costs and risks. That's why lawmakers want the board to think about accepting only "minimal" royalty payments from deep-drilling leases below a true vertical depth of 15,000 feet. The state estimates that some 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas remain unexplored below that threshold. If nothing else, a credit or tax break could generate more interest in the state's leases.
Meanwhile, the June mineral lease sale dipped below previous performances and hit a three-year low by bringing in only $1.4 million for the state. The state Mineral Board awarded 11 leases, mostly in northern parishes. By comparison, last year's June sale produced 38 leases and more than $35.8 million to the state. As for how successful new incentives on the state level might be, the federal Deepwater Royalty Relief Act of 1995 was enacted to increase production and encourage development on federal leases. From 2004 to the present, 326 wells have been drilled between 15,000 and 18,000 feet in the Gulf of Mexico's Outer Continental Shelf, and the federal program has been credited at least partially for the boost. On the state level, only 23 wells have been drilled at similar depths during the same five-year period. The resolution adopted by lawmakers was the brainchild of Greater New Orleans Inc. — Alford