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Forman Disputes
Polls on Black Support Two recent polls show mayoral candidate Ron Forman with only 3 percent of the black vote, but his campaign disputes that number. Forman spokesman Tim Phillips says the candidate's tracking polls late last week showed him with anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the black vote, depending on the day. "The notion that only Mitch [Landrieu] can bridge the [racial] divide is nonsense," Phillips says. "Ron has made it pretty clear that he intends to have an administration at City Hall that reflects the diversity of the city." An independent survey by the Florida-based Kitchens Group for the New Orleans Business Council shows Forman with 29 percent of the white vote and 3 percent of the black vote, while incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin gets 9 percent of the white vote and 48 percent of the black vote. Landrieu gets 29 percent of the white vote and 26 percent of the black vote in that survey. The results of the survey, completed April 4, roughly mirror an Ed Renwick poll completed March 28 -- which also shows Forman with only 3 percent of the black vote. Phillips says Forman has gained black support in the last two weeks. Although Phillips did not acknowledge it, the Forman campaign has been known to use "push polls," which feed voters positive or negative information before asking their opinions about someone. Such polls tend to measure potential support rather than actual support. Forman's black endorsements include Orleans Parish Recorder of Mortgages Desiree Charbonnet and state Sen. Derrick Shepherd. -- Johnson

"Beyond Racial Polarization"
The director of a nonpartisan center on race and ethnic relations says whoever is elected mayor will need a biracial coalition to help overcome a "wide gap" between blacks and whites in New Orleans. "Generally, the elected leadership of the city is going to have to have strong support from both the black and white communities if they are going to be able to effectively govern and bridge the racial divide," says Lance Hill, executive director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University. Hill says national polls conducted in recent months show "a huge chasm" between blacks and whites in New Orleans on rescue and recovery efforts since Hurricane Katrina. Eighty percent of blacks still live outside the city. "There is no way that most white people have any idea of what most black people think or feel," Hill says. "But polls show an overwhelming majority of blacks believe that they are not welcome back because of their race. And an overwhelming majority of whites believe that race has little or nothing to do" with the diaspora. "We're beyond racial polarization," Hill says. "We live in two different worlds." -- Johnson

Assessor Issue Boils
One of the most controversial moments of the February special session came when two lawmakers helped kill a bill that would have consolidated the seven assessors' offices in New Orleans. The rub? The New Orleans Democrats just happened to be related to the assessors that would have felt the impact directly. Rep. Jeff Arnold is the son of Tom Arnold, the Fifth District assessor, and Rep. Alex Heaton is the brother of Henry Heaton, the Seventh District assessor. This conflict of interest, called out by newspaper editorials and good-government groups, is the reason Rep. John LaBruzzo, a Metairie Republican, says he has filed a bill to prohibit lawmakers from voting on legislation that would affect tax assessors who are their relatives. LaBruzzo says things have turned ugly over the measure. He claims he has received threatening communications and personal visits from assessors' relatives, who cursed at him. "I feel like they're trying to intimidate me because they know I'm on the right side of this issue," he says. LaBruzzo's House Bill 990 should be debated in the coming weeks. -- Alford

"Fairest" of Them All As all eyes and ears focused on lawmakers' floor debate over eminent domain last week, another bill with similar elements slipped through the committee process with little attention. Senate Bill 27 by Sen. Reggie Dupre, a Terrebonne Parish Democrat, is a constitutional amendment that would allow state government to seize private land for hurricane protection and levee projects, paying property owners only fair-market value and nothing more. It received swift passage through one of the Senate's judiciary committees, but not without a political caveat. "I do have some concerns about what is just compensation here," said Sen. Cleo Fields, a Baton Rouge Democrat, influential member of the Legislative Black Caucus and a committee chairman of note in the upper chamber. It's an early indication that the bill could possibly undergo some changes before its next legislative hearing or might face opposition down the line. Currently, Louisiana uses what might be the most liberal definition of land values in the nation, particularly as it relates to government takings of private property. Landowners can estimate potential use -- maybe a strip mall could have been constructed on the land or a big-box retailer. In a recent case, landowners were offered $66,000 in fair-market value for their property, but later sued and won a $7.2 million judgment. Proponents of the constitutional amendment argue that badly needed hurricane and levee projects will never be completed if this formula continues to be applied. -- Alford

Counseling for Cops
Because of the extreme stress many New Orleans police officers have endured since Hurricane Katrina, the NOPD should require cops to attend at least one session with a mental-health counselor, says Anthony Radosti, vice president of the private Metropolitan Crime Commission and a retired NOPD detective. Any cops diagnosed with problems should be taken off the street and treated, he says. "The last thing we want is a police officer under personal stress handling an explosive situation," Radosti says. NOPD spokesman Capt. Juan Quinton says a number of mental-health counselors have offered their services to officers since the storm hit the city Aug. 29, but cops are not required to take advantage of the free services. -- Johnson

No Crime Stats Yet
New Orleans cops are continuing to struggle with the manual compilation of crime statistics for the hurricane-damaged city, police say. NOPD brass recently suggested that a complete review of the seven major felony categories reported each quarter to the FBI would be coming out soon. Since Hurricane Katrina closed police headquarters, disabling the Computer-Aided Dispatch system on the second floor, only city murder figures (not including "justifiable homicides") have been consistently available. By late last week, there were 21 murders in the city in 2006, which now has less than half its pre-Katrina population of 465,000. Police Chief Warren Riley said recently that since Katrina, New Orleans has been one of the safest cities in America, even with the recent uptick in homicides. Jim Bernazzani, special agent in charge of the New Orleans FBI, told the annual meeting of the private Metropolitan Crime Commission late last month: "It is very important for people to understand this is a relatively safe city." However, University of New Orleans criminologist Peter Scharf says New Orleans still ranks among the top 10 cities with the worst per-capita homicide rate. "If this is Pleasantville, we're in deep trouble," Scharf says. -- Johnson

Smoke 'Em While You Got 'Em
Last week, Arkansas joined 10 other states in enacting a law that requires 100 percent smoke-free workplaces, including restaurants and bars. Local flacks for the American Heart Association (AHA) consider it a sign that more Southern states are ready for the change. They've convinced two Louisiana Democrats, Rep. Billy Wayne Montgomery of Haughton and Sen. Rob Marionneaux of Livonia, to sponsor the "Louisiana Clean Indoor Air Act." It bans smoking in so many places that it's easier to name the exemptions -- basically, places where you might gamble, get drunk, sleep or drive. The AHA has circulated a recent survey of more than 500 registered voters, showing 69 percent support a statewide smoke-free law. -- Alford


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