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Jefferson Responds
Your recent column "Race Baiters Unmasked" (Politics, Feb. 12) represents the one thing an organ of the press should never be -- biased and unobjective. You are so far over the top in supporting Ray Nagin for mayor that you have taken to restating unsubstantiated rumors and assigning unreasonable interpretations to radio ads in order to reach your conclusory characterization that race-baiting is afoot. The subtlety that you ascribe to my so-called race-baiting, I am afraid, is sorely missing from your blunt attempt at an exposé. It would be better if you left something to the imagination. Here you have chosen to speak loudly, and thus have exposed the foolishness of your arguments.

Playing a Democratic Party message to an African-American audience has nothing to do with race. But it has everything to do with targeting a message to an audience that is 99 percent Democrat -- which that African-American radio-listening audience is. Around the same time that Democrats were sending a message to African Americans over the radio, Republicans were sending direct mail in support of Nagin to Republican voters, who I am certain are more than 95 percent white. Neither is race-baiting. Both camps are merely getting campaign messages out to the voters each expects to have the highest probability to influence -- a thoroughly acceptable campaign practice. The subtext of the message is not that "Nagin is an Uncle Tom who supports conservative candidates," as you baselessly contend, but rather that Nagin was not a good Democrat in the instance cited because he supported a Republican candidate over a Democratic candidate for president. The Ray Reagan tag, I am told, referred to President Ronald Reagan's penchant for cutting workers and services, as Nagin proposed for city government. Nothing more was involved! Your argument is simple-minded and altogether made up.

The idea that Pennington supporters would spend even a moment to cast Nagin as an Islamic militant is ridiculous and warrants no further comment. And the assertion that I told black voters to vote for Dr. Dwight McKenna because the city needs a black coroner is an out-and-out lie. McKenna was convicted of tax evasion, served his time and has been restored his medical license. Your misplaced piety may compel you to dismiss him as a mere felon, but to me he is a friend and a highly qualified physician who made a horrible misstep, paid his debt to society and is attempting to find a way to give back through public service. If Dwight put my picture on campaign literature where Dwight promoted the idea of voting for him so he could become the city's first black coroner, then that is how he chose to use my endorsement. I made no statement for use in that regard. In any event, I would regard his statement as aspirational, not racist.

I am not impressed with your admonition that I should not "meddle" in local politics. I have at least as much interest in who represents my family and me as mayor or in some other local office as do you and your newspaper. Stating flatly that my involvement in the "SUNO flap (which led to the chancellor's firing)" is another totally false assertion. I invite you to call each member of the Southern board and inquire whether I asked any of them directly or indirectly to fire SUNO's chancellor. Again, here you are horribly off base and reckless in your reporting.

I have no fear in placing my "hide on the line" in future races for Congress. I believe I have served well enough to have the confidence of an overwhelming majority of voters in my district. So blow your ill winds toward Washington if you will, or whatever direction you want. I'm sure you will not let the truth get in your way. I suggest that you be careful, not I, as you have threatened. You should be careful to keep your balance and to keep the honor that your time-honored profession demands.

U.S. Rep. William J. Jefferson

Pay Up
Did you know that if minimum wage was kept up to '60s standards it would be $14 an hour? Shame on you for begrudging someone $6.25, which -- even at that -- is far from a livable wage ("The Gambit Ballot," Jan. 29). The theory that it will drive business out of New Orleans is pure bull. The vast majority of those jobs are service industry/tourist-related and won't be moving out of town. We raise the price of Cokes five cents, and it pays the increase -- just like we did under Clinton. The tourist doesn't miss it, and the resident gets $160 to spend (and get taxed) a month in his community 12 months a year.

You guys need to stop worrying about playing kingmaker and wake up over there on Bienville Street!

Jim Williams

Pay Attention
Everybody interested had heard the reasons for not raising the minimum wage exclusively in the infinitesimal area of the USA known as New Orleans.

What has not been impressed upon the people is that the minimum wage was never meant to produce -- and never will produce -- a wage high enough to sustain a family. It was instituted only as a starting wage for young single persons just entering the work force.

Where is the politician who is intelligent enough and honest enough and courageous enough to tell this to the people and to let them know that if they start a family either accidentally or on purpose while earning the minimum wage, then they will have to rely on financial help from the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, from federal welfare agencies and possibly from private charitable organizations?

Louis Otto


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