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Pride at the Polls
Local voting commissioners are desired, but not required, for the April 22 primary elections, the city's first elections since Hurricane Katrina. In an appeal to civic pride, voting officials and good government groups have recruited and trained hundreds of new election commissioners to monitor polling places citywide. By late last week, the city was still roughly 400 local commissioners short of the 1,600 needed, according to Joe Broussard, a top aide to Criminal Clerk of Court Kimberly Williamson Butler. "We have until the end of the month before we decide if we bring in people from out of the parish," Broussard says. If more are needed, the state will assign commissioners from surrounding parishes. All local commissioner applications must be vetted by the Board of Supervisors of Elections for Orleans Parish. Butler, the local chapter of the League of Women voters and the activist group ACORN have been urging New Orleanians to take charge of their own elections as commissioners. Registered voters and 17-year-old high school seniors are being sought. The job pays only $100 per election and requires commissioners to be at work by 5:30 a.m. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on election day. Despite the low pay and long hours, hundreds of citizens signed up at recent training classes at the Jewish Community Center. More classes will be announced soon, Broussard says. -- Johnson


Rejected, But Undaunted
Not everyone who wants to be a voting commissioner for the April 22 elections can pass muster. The application of Lea Young, a past president of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, was rejected because she is a commissioned sheriff's deputy, according to the Criminal Clerk of Court's office. Commissioned deputies are barred by state law from serving as voting commissioners. Young, a veteran spokesperson for Orleans Parish Civil Sheriff Paul Valteau, took the rejection in stride. "I was only doing it because there seemed to be a crying need," Young says. She adds that she was still glad she brought two friends along, both of whom qualified. Young also said she was surprised at the huge turnout for commissioner training classes in Uptown recently. "I'm really impressed," she said, her eyes sweeping a packed classroom of the Jewish Community Center recently. "I'm a little disgusted to see so few blacks or visibly ethnic groups. But this is democracy in action; New Orleanians are rising to the occasion." A spokesperson for the Clerk of Court said about 75 percent of the nearly 1,000 applicants were white, 25 percent were black, and most were elderly. -- Johnson


Temporary Housing -- For Politics
The Morial Convention Center clearly isn't just for visitors anymore. This month, the cavernous rooms are being used to house a tented emergency trauma care center, Carnival floats and krewe parties. Moreover, on the day after Mardi Gras, qualifying begins at the Convention Center for candidates for mayor, the City Council and other city offices on the April 22 ballot. Qualifying is traditionally a political festival of sorts at Criminal Court, which is closed for hurricane repairs. So, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., March 1-3, candidates must report to the temporary offices of Desiree Charbonnet, the elected Recorder of Mortgages, 900 Convention Center Blvd., Hall A, Julia Street entrance. For more information, contact (504) 670-7040. -- Johnson


The $12 million carrot
As lawmakers debated the proposal for a single levee district for southeast Louisiana, a one-sentence mandate from the federal government hung over their heads. Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal inserted the ominous language into an appropriations bill, basically holding back $12 million from the state for hurricane protection research until a "single state or quasi-state entity" is created to oversee levee operations. While the knee-jerk reaction might point to the proposed consolidated levee district as the solution, that is open to interpretation. Terry Rider, the governor's executive counsel, told lawmakers the levee consolidation should satisfy the federal mandate, but he was unable to totally discount another entity formed in November -- the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which is meant to serve as a hub for coastal restoration, hurricane protection and flood control. While the language is debatable, it's certain that the one-sentence mandate from Jindal is the golden carrot being dangled over the heads of lawmakers this session. -- Alford


A Goodfella
Levee board members in Louisiana are generally recommended by lawmakers, appointed by the governor and ratified by the state Senate. But what it takes to actually get recommended in the first place varies, according to Rep. Danny Martiny, a Metairie Republican. "I've put up my share of people who put up (campaign) signs for me," he confessed during a committee meeting last week. After the laughter died down, Martiny admitted it probably wasn't a shining example of good government, but it was the way it went down. "I'm not saying I'm one of the good guys," he added. -- Alford


Another Candidate for Secretary of State
State Rep. Carla Blanchard Dartez says she is "seriously exploring" the possibilities of becoming a candidate in the upcoming election for secretary of state. The post became open last year after longtime Secretary Fox McKeithen died from complications after a fall that left him paralyzed. Since then, a long list of potential candidates has been lining up and Dartez, a Morgan City Democrat, is among them. "I really know I can do a good job and I know Fox would want me to be there," she says. Dartez also says two of McKeithen's "close friends in Tennessee" have volunteered to help her raise money, but she offered nothing further. Other possible candidates for the job include state Sen. Jay Dardenne, former state GOP chair Mike Francis, state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome and Public Service Commissioner Dale Sittig. -- Alford


Bad Sign?
Beleaguered Mayor Ray Nagin seemed buoyed by the second French delegation to visit the city since Hurricane Katrina. Perhaps that's why no one told him about the city seal that dropped a little -- then fell -- from his podium. Ironically, the emblem took a dive as the mayor recounted the difficulties of getting federal funding to rebuild the city. At first, the seal drooped slightly, revealing that it had been in held in place by duct tape. Finally, the circular sign fell, just before the mayor finished his remarks. -- Johnson


Mardi Gras Census
How many folks will come to town for Mardi Gras? And how many is "too many?" Population is a key concern given the critical lack of emergency trauma care centers and the city's Katrina-weakened infrastructure, including hundreds of disabled traffic lights. "My concern is that we are going to get more people than we can handle," says Arthur Hardy, publisher of a Mardi Gras magazine and Web site ( Mayor Ray Nagin says the city's population has rebounded to "at least 200,000" since the hurricane, but that number is not confirmed by independent demographic studies. Even so, that's less than half of the 460,000 residents tallied by the 2004 census estimates. Ernest Collins, the mayor's director of arts and entertainment, said his office has no advance crowd estimates for Carnival. "Obviously, it's going to be somewhat downsized. The hotels will be booked." But who will be staying in those hotels? There were 38,000 hotel rooms in the metro area pre-Katrina, and of the 22,000 back in service as of last week, 14,000 were occupied by displaced citizens and disaster/recovery workers, according to a spokesperson for the Greater New Orleans Hotel & Lodging Association. Hotel operators hope to add another 4,000 to 6,000 rooms to the mix by Mardi Gras weekend. Police expect a "more transient" population for Carnival, with a heavy blue-collar presence and displaced local citizens in temporary housing. NOPD Lt. Henry Dean, who also is president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, says a smaller Carnival turnout means less potential for trouble -- "and that would be ideal." -- Johnson


Bloodiest Battleground
The 2004 election in the 3rd Congressional District was among the hottest in the state, complete with campaign attacks against family members and old arrest records being resurrected. Based on the jabs already being thrown by the Louisiana Democratic Party, the Third District could retain its title as the bloodiest political battleground in the state. The only opposition that has surfaced thus far against Congressman Charlie Melancon, a Democrat from Napoleonville, is state Sen. Craig Romero of New Iberia, a Republican. In the two weeks following Romero's announcement of a campaign team being formed, the state Democratic Party has put out as many hits. The first release put Romero to the test on several public statements, focusing largely on his fundraising. The most recent piece criticized Romero for joining Vice President Dick Cheney in Alexandria rather than joining lawmakers on a bus tour of hurricane-impacted areas immediately prior to the opening of the current special session. -- Alford


Order in the Courts
The New Orleans Bar Association will sponsor a forum examining various proposals to combine the civil and criminal courts of New Orleans at 5 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 15) on the 11th floor of the Pan American Life Building, 900 Poydras St. Several bills have been filed in the current special session to combine the courts, and the idea is one of the most controversial items on the governor's session agenda. Featured panelists including former New Orleans City Attorney Bill Aaron Jr. , retired appeals court Judge Moon Landrieu, Loyola law professor Dane Ciolino and attorney Philip Wittmann. The forum is free and open to the public, and audience members will be allowed to ask questions during the two-hour discussion. Attorneys can earn two hours of CLE credit; to register for CLE hours call (504) 525-7453. -- DuBos


Carville at BGR Lunch
James Carville, America's best-known political consultant and one of Louisiana's hottest exports, will be the guest speaker at the Bureau of Governmental Research's 2005 annual luncheon on Thursday, April 6. Incisive, insightful and always entertaining, Carville is much sought after for his quick wit and penetrating analysis of the political world. Often seen on network "talking head" political programs, Carville burst onto the national political scene as the media strategist for then little-known Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992, and he hasn't let go of the spotlight since. The BGR's annual luncheon was postponed from its usual November date because of Hurricane Katrina. It will be at Hilton New Orleans Riverside, which is sponsoring the event. Luncheon tables for 10 are available for $750; individual seating is available for $75 per person. For more information or for reservations, visit BGR's web site,, or call BGR at (504) 588-2055. -- DuBos


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