Moving on down


During my week in New Orleans in November, we spent a lot of time around the radio. Working inside musty Katrina-damaged houses was, at times, tedious, but the right music could keep us motivated.

So a big boom box came along with each work crew.

Unfortunately for me, I hate radio. I grew up listening to “white” and “black” stations, crazy DJs and hit after hit after hit. It’s all crap, I say.

Really unfortunately for me, it was also campaign season. Just about every commercial was a political one.


This Election Day was the first one for New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, not counting the delayed mayoral election. In April, Ray Nagin won a second term in a runoff after facing down a record 23 opponents.

Nagin was the darling of the business community during his first term. His determination coupled with his incompetence during the Katrina crisis would’ve sealed the fate of other incumbents.

It reminded me of when I lived in Washington under the Marion Barry regime. Only Barry smoked crack, and Nagin was merely in over his head.

Nagin, by the way, was actually an improvement over the colorful and shady pols from New Orleans’ past. The city has thrived on corruption and mismanagement for much of its history, and Louisiana itself has been synonymous with politics at its worst.

On our travels through the city, we’d see political signs everywhere. One sign I saw frequently was “Re-elect Jefferson.” Something about it was familiar, but I couldn’t figure out why.

Then I heard the radio ads attacking him. And supporting him.

Then I realized it was that Jefferson.

The U.S. Representative at the heart of a governmental branch tug-of-war. The man with $90,000 cash in his freezer, as located by the FBI. And coincidentally, the state’s first black Congressman since Reconstruction.

Another embattled black incumbent in a poor majority black district. Two wildcards were in play: numerous opponents on the ballot and the many displaced residents who would be unable to vote.

Jefferson was going in without the party’s nomination. His toughest opponent was Karen Carter, a state representative who also happened to be black. He won the most votes on Election Day, but not enough to prevent a runoff with Carter.

Saturday, he won re-election. Now he’s the lame duck from Louisiana, still under investigation for corruption.

Democracy, warts and all, lives.

Still, I had hoped that Hands on New Orleans and other volunteer agencies spent time in October going door to door to register voters. It’s time consuming and labor intensive, but vital to protecting our freedom.

I turned in my absentee ballot before heading down to volunteer. I had to jump through hoops, and I actually have all my identification papers and proof of an actual standing residence. For those stranded far from home, they faced a near impossible task: Vote absentee without necessarily being able to provide proof of residency. “I lived at this address, but you won’t find a house there anymore.”

Maybe Jefferson will serve out his two-year term, even if he does little more than show up and vote the party line. Maybe he’ll end up serving a very different term, 10 to 20 with parole in seven for good behavior.

While voters tossed the Republicans and swept in the Democrats nationwide, closer to home they kept a couple of bums in power. I was simply mesmerized by seeing the process up close in a city struggling to resume normality.

My friend Will, a New Orleans resident for more than a decade, has a Nagin keychain that plays his crisis-inspired soundbites (but no “chocolate city”). He has Nagin — and Jefferson — to kick around for a while longer.


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