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Challengers Lining Up Against Jefferson
Congressman Bill Jefferson of New Orleans is facing challenges on the Potomac and back home on the Mississippi as a result of the ongoing federal criminal investigation into his "business dealings" in West Africa. Even before his fellow Democrats voted last Thursday to suspend him from the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, a handful of New Orleans Democrats were jockeying for position to mount potential challenges to him -- just in case he either chooses not to run or has to run while under indictment. Now that he has lost the main reason for voters to re-elect him -- i.e., a seat on a powerful committee -- Jefferson is clearly a wounded, if not lame duck. It's no surprise, then, to hear various names being prominently mentioned as possible or likely opponents to Jefferson when qualifying opens Aug. 9. Among those most frequently cited as "likely" candidates are state Sen. Derrick Shepherd of Marrero and state Rep. Cedric Richmond of eastern New Orleans. The "possible" candidates include recently re-elected New Orleans City Councilman-at-Large Oliver Thomas and state Rep. Karen Carter. Also said to be considering the race are two veteran New Orleans TV newsmen -- WDSU-TV anchorman Norman Robinson and WGNO-TV reporter Glynn Boyd. Republican attorney Joe Lavigne has declared his candidacy already -- the only person to announce thus far. Interestingly, Shepherd and Richmond have both been allied with Jefferson in the past. Richmond, as chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, recently wrote a letter in support of Jefferson keeping his seat on Ways and Means. Likewise, Thomas and Carter both got their political starts from the black Central City political group BOLD, and it's therefore considered unlikely they both would run. Then again, five months ago most folks thought it unlikely that both Mitch Landrieu and Ron Forman would run for mayor. After Katrina, you just never know. -- DuBos

Senator: Spouse's Firing "Didn't Affect" Vote
State Sen. Ann Duplessis says New Orleans Police Chief Warren Riley's recent firing of her husband, Virgil Duplessis -- a police sergeant accused of desertion after Hurricane Katrina -- did not affect her decision last week to oppose a Riley-backed bill that would have given NOPD internal affairs investigators more time to probe allegations of police misconduct. House Bill 169 (authored by Rep. Austin Badon of New Orleans) passed overwhelmingly in the House, but was unanimously rejected by Senate Judiciary C Committee, despite support from the Metropolitan Crime Commission to civil rights lawyer Mary Howell. MCC President Rafeal Goyeneche said Sen. Duplessis should have recused herself from the vote. "When your husband is terminated from the Police Department, I certainly think that makes her motivation in killing this bill questionable," says Goyeneche. "She should have recused herself" even if she supported the bill, he adds. Sen. Duplessis says she opposed the measure at the request of the Fraternal Order of Police and other police groups that had lined up against the bill from the outset. She also says she had no conflict of interest in voting on the measure because, had it passed, the bill would not have applied retroactively. "(The bill) doesn't affect my husband's case whatsoever," she says. Moreover, the senator adds, she and the police groups opposed similar legislation last year "when my husband was in good standing." Duplessis says her husband, an 18-year veteran of the NOPD with "a perfect record," was initially suspended after Katrina, but later fired because of her support for Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, Mayor Ray Nagin's failed opponent in the recent elections. "This is all about me supporting Mitch Landrieu," Duplessis says. NOPD says Sgt. Duplessis was absent for 84 days following Katrina, returned to duty in late November and was later fired after an investigation. Sgt. Duplessis is appealing his dismissal to the Civil Service Commission. -- Johnson

Cops Praise Victims
NOPD internal affairs investigators are reviewing arrests made by two former veteran cops booked earlier this month with armed robbery and malfeasance in the alleged "shakedown" of a French Quarter massage parlor. NOPD Deputy Chief Marlon Defillo, commander of the Public Integrity Bureau, says most of the credit for cracking the case goes to the alleged victims of the June 8 incident. "The victims had the courage to come forward and confidence in the Public Integrity Bureau," Defillo says. "This case would not have moved forward without their support." And their videotape. Off-duty Eighth District cops Quincy Shelling, 28, and Joshua Barnes, 29, and Jefferson Parish resident Lamar R. Dersone, 28, were all identified from a store surveillance camera of the alleged June 8 incident. Shelling and Barnes have both resigned from the force. At the time of his arrest, Shelling was serving a 45-day suspension for neglect of duty after Hurricane Katrina. -- Johnson

Pols Without Postmarks
District Attorney Eddie Jordan Jr. , state judges Carolyn Gill-Jefferson and Ethel Simms-Julien, and former City Council member Renee Gill-Pratt have already paid $500 each in fines for tardy campaign finance reports -- despite their CPA's protest that "unreliable" mail service in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is the real problem. CPA Jack Swetland's high-profile clients, along with veteran tax assessor Henry Heaton and seven "IQ" candidates for assessor all may have grounds for reconsideration of fines levied by the Louisiana Ethics Commission, particularly after Gambit Weekly uncovered a puzzling postal problem -- politicians without postmarks. In short, the politicians claim timely filing of finance reports by mail, but the ethics board fined their campaigns after the reports arrived several days late and with no postmarks. Neither the candidates nor the U.S. Postal Service can explain the absence of postmarks on the mailed reports. After a review of complaints by fined politicians, ethics board staff attorney Alesia Ardoin acknowledged, "We have a lot of [mail] coming out of New Orleans with no postmarks." U.S. Postal Service spokesperson Daisy Comeaux says the New Orleans post office handles 30,000 pieces of mail per hour, but it is "extremely rare" for mail to be delivered without a postmark. She says postal officials will review the matter with ethics board officials. Ardoin says any requests for reconsideration of fines by politicians fined for late reports without postmarks would be handled individually. In addition to Swetland's clients, the reform-minded "IQ" Ticket PAC, all "IQ" candidates and Assessor Henry Heaton also faced fines for "late" reports without postmarks. The ethics board fined the "IQ" PAC $600 and each "IQ" candidate $180. Those candidates included Nancy Marshall, the only successful "IQ" candidate for assessor, as well as Maria Elliott, Ron Mazier, Jackie Shreves, Errol George, Chase Jones and Charlie Bosworth. Heaton filed three reports late, but only one lacked a postmark, Ardoin says. The assessor was fined $1,740 for the tardy reports. -- Johnson

Another Consolidation
It has been tried before with little success, but there are still folks out there who would like to see the state's four retirement boards consolidated. Sen. Butch Gautreaux, the Morgan City Democrat who chairs the Senate Retirement Committee, says it remains among his priorities. The debate over consolidation of the systems' oversight boards was ferocious last year, and any future effort would likely be the same. "These issues have not met friendly audiences," Gautreaux says. "For some reasons these boards don't want to co-mingle." Still, something needs to be done, Gautreaux says, and his committee will continue working toward that end throughout the year. It could be an indication that the issue will return in next year's session. -- Alford

One More Session?
Fatigue took hold in a real way during the legislative session scheduled to adjourn this week. The 85-day assembly followed special sessions in November 2005 and February 2006, not to mention a tumultuous hurricane season. Many blame the weariness for the quiet tone of this session and lawmakers' eagerness to get home this week. However, at least one legislator is willing to go back to the Capitol as soon as possible. Sen. Don Cravins, an Opelousas Democrat, has promoted for weeks the idea of a special session to address insurance issues. "We didn't even talk about insurance in the regular session," Cravins says. "We didn't address it at all in a real way." Although the idea of another session isn't popular right now, legislative staffers have been mumbling about rumors of a September "reunion." -- Alford

Brown Pelicans Going
Long a symbol of Louisiana, brown pelicans have been leaving the state in increasing numbers over the last two years, according to surveys conducted by Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologists. "Environmental effects caused by an oil spill, hurricane activity and high tides associated with tropical storm activity are taking their toll on brown pelican populations," says biologist Tom Hess, who has overseen two brown pelican nesting surveys this year. Compared to similar studies in 2005, there has been a decline of nearly 10,000 nests. The brown pelican, Louisiana's state bird, was first documented nesting on the Chandeleur Islands in 1918. Since then, population numbers have fluctuated on a semi-regular basis. The species ceased nesting in Louisiana in 1961 and disappeared from the Louisiana coast in 1963 as a result of exposure to pesticides that were contaminating the environment. The species was reintroduced between 1968 and 1980. -- Alford

"Road Home" proves popular
More than 85,000 homeowners whose abodes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have registered for assistance under the state's "Road Home" housing program since the launch of its registry in March. The program provides financial assistance for homeowners to get back into their homes and offers grants of up to $150,000 to help with repairs and rebuilding. It is estimated that more than 123,000 owner-occupied houses were severely damaged by the two storms. -- Alford


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