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Louisiana Seeing Red
When state Sen. Francis Heitmeier, a New Orleans Democrat, dropped out of the race for secretary of state last week, he made it possible for Republicans to claim they swept both statewide offices this year without the need for a runoff. Jim Donelon of Metairie was elected insurance commissioner late last month and state Sen. Jay Dardenne of Baton Rouge will now become the next secretary of state. "What is more remarkable is that neither of the victors was previously elected to their respective positions," says state GOP Chairman Roger Villere Jr. Heitmeier, the sole major Democrat on the statewide ballot last month, garnered only 28 percent of the vote. Villere says he now has two more high-ranking state officials to help the GOP prepare for next year's round of statewide contests -- including the race for governor. "We are poised to make major gains in 2007 and prepared to take full advantage of the momentum these elections have created," says Villere. -- Alford


Grim Estimates
The New Orleans homicide rate for 2006 may vary somewhat, depending on whether you believe the mayor's population estimates or those of the state -- but the end result is grim regardless of whose population figures you trust, according to UNO criminologist Peter Scharf. During a recent visit at a coffee shop, Scharf estimated the city's 2006 homicide rate (annual killings per 100,000 people) based on the state's new population figures for New Orleans (187,525) and a higher estimate by Mayor Ray Nagin (250,000). In both scenarios, Scharf used the 127 homicides reported by the coroner's office as of Oct. 11. The professor further assumed there would be only 23 more homicides during the remaining 11 weeks of 2006 -- a "very conservative" estimate. Using Nagin's figures, the city would end 2006 with 56 homicides per 100,000 people, a figure that equals the rate of 2004, when New Orleans' murder rate was eight times that of New York City. Scharf then used the state estimate but assumed New Orleans had a population of 200,000. Even then, the city would finish the year with 75 homicides per 100,000 people. That would be just shy of the local homicide rate for 1995, a year in which the city was the nation's murder capital. "Even with the most conservative assumptions you have a very serious problem," Scharf concluded. Ironically, as the professor finished his coffee, police were responding to yet another homicide, a 20-year-old man who was found shot to death. -- Johnson


Safety Consciousness
How safe is New Orleans from crime, post-Katrina? The city's top federal prosecutor and a community activist offered different views in previously unpublished interviews following the city's Crime Summit on Sept. 16. Statistically, local U.S. Attorney Jim Letten says, "If you're a black male, age 16 to 24, or you are anybody who is living in the proximity of these guys who are plying their drug trade in public housing, Section 8 housing or a poor area, then you are a lot less safe than the average citizen" who lives and works elsewhere. Malcolm Suber, a self-described "revolutionary" and critic of local police, offered an argument echoed by other activists and cops alike. "If you are not in the drug game," he says, "most of the crime -- the killings especially -- does not affect you." But what of armed robberies and other crimes committed by addicts looking to pay for drugs? "That's always been here," Suber says. "So, I don't think the city is any less safe than it was before the storm." Suber says poverty, racism and "misery" drive the local drug trade and violent crime. Letten says New Orleans will only be safe if citizens hold public officials accountable, report crimes to police, and engage in community development projects. -- Johnson


Prof Flunks Media
The head of a local think tank on race relations is taking the media to task for its reporting of the state's new population figures. "Predictably, the local media omitted the racial breakdown of the numbers," says Lance Hill, director of the Southern Institute at Tulane University and a history professor. The media typically reported state survey results showing that one year after Hurricane Katrina, the once-predominantly black city of 465,000 has dropped to 187,525 residents -- 46.3 percent black and 43.8 percent white, Hill says. Unreported is the "relative progress of return for blacks and whites" since Hurricane Katrina flooded the city on Aug. 29, 2005. Hill says his analysis of the state data shows that while 60.3 percent of the white pre-Katrina population has returned, only 26.3 percent of the black population has made it home. "So roughly three out of every four blacks are still displaced." -- Johnson


Sex and the City
As police lament the lack of jail space for prostitutes beckoning to off-duty construction workers, the city has quietly reopened its first sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinic since Hurricane Katrina made landfall more than 13 months ago. City Health Director Dr. Kevin Stephens confirmed that the Delgado STD Clinic, 517 N. Rampart St., resumed normal operations on Oct. 5, thanks to the collaborative efforts of city and state health officials and the LSU medical school. "This is a great example of how when you get lemons, you can make lemonade," Stephens said. But former city health director Dr. Brobson Lutz and Jeanette Maier, former "madam" of the infamous Canal Street brothel, both expressed dismay that the city did not immediately publicize the return of its only STD clinic. "It is the biggest public health secret in New Orleans," said Lutz. Maier agreed: "You've got to help those (working) girls stay healthy -- their pimps aren't going to do it." Dr. Stephens acknowledged the clinic was still listed as closed on the city's Web site last week, but said the reopening will be officially announced soon. Pre-Katrina, New Orleans led the nation in cases of chlamydia and ranked second in gonorrhea. -- Johnson


Oil Lobby Morphing
The Louisiana Independent Oil and Gas Association has dropped the "independent" from its name in an effort to include a more diverse membership and, consequently, expand its influence. Now known as LOGA, the 14-year-old lobby is also on the cusp of offering its members special insurance benefits, which would be a first for such a group. It's a long way from 1992, when 12 oilmen put up $60,000 to form the group as a means of influencing policy at the state Capitol. Today, the association has a budget topping $1 million. LOGA president Don Briggs says the name change will communicate that the Baton Rouge-based group, which currently has 800 members, is open to other sectors of the industry, including service companies, land men, geologists and pipeline companies. Besides money and clout, more members will help LOGA reach more lawmakers on the local level, where opinions really matter. "To do what we need to do, we need more members to communicate with their legislators," says Briggs, a Lafayette resident. "Nothing means more to legislators than getting calls from their hometown." -- Alford

Stoplight Cameras
Drivers: think you can beat that red light? Better think again if you're in Jefferson Parish. The Jefferson Parish Council this week will conduct a hearing on the proposed installation of "automatic traffic light cameras" at key intersections in the parish, says Council President John Young. The parish wants to cut down on accidents, and the cameras are designed to catch violators in the act. The vendor will be paid with traffic fines paid by violators caught on camera. The council meeting begins at 10 a.m. Wednesday (Oct. 18) at the Alario Center on the West Bank. -- Johnson

Newcomb Alums Regroup
Newcomb College alums are gathering to support pending litigation against Tulane's recent merger of the historic women's college with Tulane's undergraduate facility. "This challenge is not over," says Renee Seblatnigg, a spokesperson for the opposition group, The Future of Newcomb College. The group has planned an informational meeting on the litigation Sunday, Oct. 22 at the Uptown home of Karen Oser Edmunds. In addition, fundraisers are planned in Atlanta on Oct. 24 and Virginia on Nov. 1. Tulane successfully defended its merger plans in federal court earlier this year, then rebuffed a challenge in state court, which opponents are now appealing. -- Johnson

Jobs Reduce Enrollment
The lingering effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, coupled with the state's new minimum admission requirements, have resulted in a significant enrollment dip at public colleges and universities across the state. The preliminary headcount stands at 195,556 for the current fall semester, according to data compiled by the Board of Regents. That figure represents a 7 percent drop. Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Savoie says one of the reasons the numbers are down is the economy. "We're experiencing a significant spike in job opportunities post-Katrina/Rita -- especially in the construction and gas-and-oil sectors -- and many potential college students are taking advantage of the opportunity," Savoie says. "College enrollments often dip during an economic upturn." Later this month, the Board of Regents will receive full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment data, which will further clarify enrollment statistics by quantifying student numbers and course loads. -- Alford

LSU Tuition Hike
It appears the state's flagship university will push to raise tuition and/or fees in the next legislative session, with the support of Capital City business leaders. Stephen Moret, president of the Greater Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce, says a funding increase for LSU will be among the top legislative priorities next year for his group. Moret says he would like to "see more support in general for LSU." At least indirectly, Moret is echoing the sentiment that LSU has taken a back seat during Gov. Kathleen Blanco's administration. LSU has had limited success with efforts to garner tuition hikes. House Speaker Joe Salter, a Florien Democrat, promoted a $150-per-semester increase for the LSU system earlier this year, a proposal that would have generated $15.6 million for the entire system. It died in committee. About 10 years ago, voters approved a constitutional amendment giving lawmakers the sole authority to increase tuition and fees, thus sending academics to the Capitol to grovel for money. There appears to be growing support for colleges and universities to have regular tuition and fee increases, a notion that may catch on during the LSU debate next year. -- Alford

Human Trafficking
"Most Americans think that our country resolved the question of slavery with our civil war," U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told 600 people attending the National Conference on Human Trafficking in New Orleans last week. Gonzales estimates as many as 17,500 victims -- mostly women and children -- fall victim to forced labor in the commercial sex trade and other industries in the U.S. each year. The Attorney General's annual report, released in June, admits that figure may be "overstated," however. Individual cases offer cautionary tales for an estimated 60,000 migrant workers who have come to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, according to local U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. Gonzales recounted how a Dallas nightclub operator imported young women from South Korea, forcing them to work long hours in deplorable and violent environs. The club owner was convicted on trafficking charges and faces sentencing in federal court Oct. 16. Louisiana has received $450,000 to combat human trafficking. -- Johnson

Two Types of Immigrants
Lafayette Congressman Charles Boustany is the grandson of Lebanese immigrants twice over -- that is, both sets of grandparents migrated to America for a better way of life. That's what makes his recent vote on the Secure Fence Act of 2006 so intriguing. The law calls for more than 700 miles of two-layered, reinforced fencing along the nation's southwestern border. In a prepared statement following the vote, Boustany argued, "Porous borders continue to threaten the security of the American people." When his office was contacted to explain how Boustany balances his proud immigrant roots with his tough stance on modern immigration, Paul Lindsay, spokesperson for the freshmen Republican, was quick to distinguish the two. "Congressman Boustany is proud of his heritage, but he has a strong stance against illegal immigrants coming into this country," Lindsay says. "There's a difference between the two. Not securing our borders would be a disservice to legal immigration, meaning those we can absorb in a reasonable and orderly fashion." -- Alford


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