LA-2: The "Most Murderous" City in America

As the party raged, police manned nearly every corner on Bourbon Street last weekend -- some on horses, some on foot, others massed in groups on intersections.  About a half-mile down the street from the lively French Quarter, fights began breaking out near the Central Business District off Canal Street; business owners began closing early for the evening; a man was stabbed multiple times and died.

Add another to the counter in New Orleans, the "most murderous" city in country.

Crime, that old menace of the old New Orleans, is back, and it's bedeviling a city trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina. There have been 147 people killed in New Orleans this year, police say, down from 204 by this time in 2005. But the city's population is about half what it was before Katrina flooded 80% of the city, forcing an almost-complete evacuation.

That means New Orleanians are murdering each other at a rate of 73.5 murders per 100,000 residents. That figure is above that of the nation's most murderous city -- Compton, Calif., whose rate was 67 murders per 100,000 people in 2005, according to the latest FBI statistics.

Because many traditionally violent areas flooded and remain nearly empty, crime has moved to upscale, high-traffic areas such as the Marigny, the French Quarter and Uptown, leaving residents with one more reason to question their decision to remain in the city.

"This is a city out of control," says Fine, 78, who stands drinking a beer outside the Spotted Cat as a Billie Holiday song wafts out of the bar's open doors. "Something's changed here."

Maybe now that the crime and murder are beginning to directly impact the more affluent (see "white") communities in New Orleans, the problem will receive more national attention than the easy to digest storyline of black folks shooting black folks over drugs.  This is a dangerous city, I could see it nightly on my drive from the CBD to Uptown every evening.  It was one of the first things I talked with Stoller about after arriving in NOLA.  One of Karen Carter's staffers was apparently car-jacked during the campaign.

Amazingly, this isn't really an issue I've heard much about from either candidate in the press.  It was an issue in the Mayor's race, but in this one ... not so much.  And like all issues in this election, it's all part of Katrina.  Whether it's exacerbated poverty problems since the storm, a lack of police on the street, or post-storm psychological issues, it's yet another indication this city has been left to fend for itself since the storm.

And it's not just the East Bank of the Second District suffering from high crime and murder rates, it's happening on the other side of the bridge as well:

Sheriff Harry Lee said he's ready to take "extreme" measures to curb Jefferson Parish's highest homicide rate since at least 1980, including using video cameras _ some in armored vehicles _ to monitor streetcorner groups and the license plates of cars that travel through targeted areas.

Lee, who last month prompted outrage by suggesting his deputies could randomly question young black men gathered in high-crime areas, said he expects his latest plan to offend some people. But added, "I don't give a damn."

"We will go right up to the line," Lee told a news conference.

So far this year there have been 53 homicides in Jefferson Parish, an 83 percent increase over this time in 2005. Lee said he expects the figure to top 60 by year's end. Most of the victims and the alleged killers are black, sheriff's deputies said. About 45 percent of the killings are drug-related.

Lee said he's frustrated by the growing number of killings, a problem he believes has spread to Jefferson from neighboring New Orleans. That city, which has less than half its pre-Katrina population, had recorded 140 homicides _ also mostly black-on-black _ as of Tuesday afternoon, a police spokesman said.

I have been trying to get in touch with Mayor Nagin's office to quiz him on this issue specifically, but have been fruitless in every attempt to even get a simple call-back.  For his part, the Mayor's team insists NOLA's crime strategy is "second to none," but many aren't buying.  The Police Chief plans on asking the National Guard to stick around to complement a depleted force.  It was only this week, a full year-plus since the storm and food that the first police recruits began training to fill city's thinning ranks.

This election is going to come and go.  Maybe Congressman Jefferson will get re-elected, or maybe Karen Carter will provide a new voice for the district in the House.  Who knows.  But whatever happens, this city needs a tremendous amount of help that simply has not been forthcoming.  It's hard to imagine the greatest country in the world would abandon an entire population center, but while some things have gotten better August 2005, neglect has led others to sprial out of control.  It's now in the hands of a Democratic-controlled Congress to pick up the pieces left behind by the old guard on their way into the minority.  

There's more...

LA-2: Campaign Update

I consider Karen Carter's campaign run-off quite similar to Paul Hackett's special in that our involvement in both symbolize something larger than the actual election itself.  With Hackett, we finally had someone willing to stand up to President Bush on Iraq.  Our attention, small-dollar contributions, and thousands of volunteer hours signaled a passion from within the grassroots to take the Republicans head-on when it came to the central issue of our time.  With Karen, our support sends a message to the Democratic Congress that we expect the people of New Orleans will finally receive the assistance and attention reality demands.  Nationally, it also sends a message that Democrats won't tolerate corruption on either side of the aisle.  

There are quite a few micro-similarities as well.  In Hackett's race, Republicans tried to weaken Jean Schmidt during the general in the hopes they could successfully primary her in 2006.  In LA-2, vanquished Democrats like State Senator Derrick Shepherd pummel Karen on "social issues" to help keep the seat in Jefferson's clutches until he is indicted.

There are differences too, of course.  There isn't palpable feeling of excitement on the trail day in and day out.  There isn't necessarily that "one event" happening daily to further a developing narrative.  There are happenings, however ... and here is today's first update from the trail:

The Fundrace
The latest FEC filings showed Carter on the short end of a $117k to $58k cash on hand difference.  She will make that up.  The mandated 48 hour reports and netroots fundraising page already show her closing up the gap.  Meanwhile, Jefferson's ability to infuse his campaign with cash seems to be totally drying up.  Take yesterday's 48-hour report:

Jefferson: $0
Carter: $ $22,200

That's just one day.  If spending between the two campaigns was equal (and my math is correct), I believe Carter would have gained the CoH advantage as of this afternoon.  It's also important to note EMILY'S List is doing a tremendous job helping keep Carter not only achieve financial parity with an incumbent, but actually out-fundraise him since their arrival.  More on EMILY's List later -- but they are doing heroes work down here.

Jefferson's New Ad Pulled From Air for Multiple Violations
Were I fending off bribery allegations in a re-election campaign, I would probably go out of my way to ensure everything campaign related went by the letter of the law.  Not William Jefferson.  Maybe it's minor, but his latest ad rebutting Karen's "spelling bee" piece fell short of regulations, not once, but twice.

First, it doesn't have the "stand by your ad" requirement -- the one were the candidate says, "I am so and so, and I approve this message." Second, any ad that refers to an opponent must have a "a clearly readable printed statement, identifying the candidate, and stating that the candidate has approved the broadcast..."

Jefferson's ad has neither, and was pulled from the air today.  I'm sure he'll get another one up quick, but he'll most likely suffer another press hit that fits nicely into the rule breaking narrative.

Other Odds & Ends

  • There are nine days to go between now and the big one -- early voting is well underway.

  • The fifth place finisher in the November election, Troy Carter, has endorsed Karen Carter.  This pits #3 for Jefferson against #4 and #5 for Carter.

  • One more similarity between this campaign and Hackett's that I mentioned in Breaking Blue yesterday.  The Carter campaign has turned the "What a Difference a Day Makes" entry found on MyDD into a radio spot currently running in New Orleans.  The Hackett "WADADM" piece was also turned into a spot by a Las Vegas TV producer (and blogger).

  • I am trying to secure some sort of interview with Mayor Nagin to talk about this election and crime in New Orleans.  

There's more...

LA-2: Karen Carter Ad - "Spelling Bee"

William Jefferson's corruption might not be the most important issue to folks recovering from "the storm" and "the flood" in post-k New Orleans, but it is an issue.  What's more, it's an issue that moves numbers.  "Honorable explanations" forthcoming or not, there is really just no way to spin accepting a $100,000 bribe on videotape and later finding $90,000 of it in a freezer.  They say humor is a powerful weapon in political campaigns, and the jokes write themselves when politics comes up as a topic among family, friends and neighbors down here.  Indeed, it is almost universally the first piece that comes up when I talk with random individuals throughout the city.

This is an area with a tremendous sense of pride, both before and after the storm -- particularly after since the "looting" and "lawlessness" television coverage, and the fact they have been forced to fend for themselves since August 29, 2005.  You see it in the local blogs, you see it in the new class of NOLA-PD trainees (first since K) that cite "helping rebuild a broken city" as a reason for enlisting, and you can just see it on the street.  Guilty or not, the "cash in the freezer congressman" is a local embarrassment, a natural enemy of those working tirelessly to rebuild both the city and its image.

To that end, Karen Carter is running a brand new ad on the issue.  Judge for yourself...

There's more...

LA-2: You are the gap

Tray.com beat me to the punch, but Karen Carter and William Jefferson both filed their latest campaign finance reports today.  This is the last full report before the run-off on December 9.

First things first, Karen Carter out-raised Congressman Jefferson by nearly a five to one margin in the month between 10/19 and 11/19.  Carter netted $320,741, while Jefferson brought in a meager $72,485.  That said, the report shows Jefferson with a healthy cash on hand advantage: $117k to $58k.  All signs point to Carter narrowing that margin significantly -- the first signal being that Carter has reported $17,500 in mandated 48-hour reports.  Those are disclosures candidates must file for every contribution over $1,000 in the two weeks before an election.  Finally, the netroots have almost hit the $30,000 mark for Carter's campaign, most of that coming after the closing date for reporting funds raised.  Obviously money is still coming and going into and out of campaigns, but all things equal, this would decrease the CoH margin from to around $59k to $12k.

Basically, it's going to be netroots contributions that close the gap between Carter and Jefferson in the final days before the election.

As a side note, small dollar contributions have totally changed the way campaigns are able to (or unable to) track the amount of cash an opponent has right before an election.  The 48-hour reports used to allow campaigns to monitor cash coming in for their opponents, giving them a rough estimate of what they are going up against down-the-stretch.  Since you don't have to report small dollar contributions on a 48-hour report, it can create a situation where the opposition is totally caught off-guard.

With Paul Hackett, for example, Jean Schmidt's campaign manager had absolutely NO IDEA how Paul was able to dominate the airwaves in the final week and a half of the campaign.  None.  Their campaign manager even said it to Paul's Finance Director after the final OH-2 debate.  That was us.  Online.  And they had no idea what hit them.  Of course, they were too stupid to check ActBlue and watch the numbers skyrocket.  But in the case of candidates like Ned Lamont, where we raised a lot of money online, most came in through our own website and there was no public tracking for that.  Now we spent ungodly amounts of money in that race, so a mere million or two here wasn't going to change much, but imagine how an extra few hundred thousand dollars could blind-side a candidate in the final days of a campaign.  Just small piece of the puzzle in regards to why a broad small-dollar donor base is so important.

There's more...

LA-2: Debate Desperation

When Rick Santorum challenged Bob Casey to a series of debates before the primary season had even concluded, many folks believed it signaled a campaign already in trouble.  Multi-term incumbents generally aren't the ones insisting on the toe-to-toe, it's almost universally the attention starved challenger looking for additional free media exposure.  Santorum's team was right, and the ship went down with Little Ricky calling for more debates right up until the final hour.

With 12 days to go, William Jefferson's back is against the wall.

Early Thursday night, the Jefferson campaign sent out a email claiming Karen Carter is "ducking debates" (hard to say Turkeying the issues).  The Jefferson email said, "State Rep. Karen Carter is ducking televised debates on WDSU and WGNO to avoid discussion about her lack of leadership in holding insurance companies accountable for robbing our citizens of their claims.

It's quite ironic that the man refusing to answer questions about accepting a $100,000 bribe while being videotaped by the FBI is calling for more debates, but it is what it is.  The pair are scheduled to participate in one televised exchange two nights before the election.

The numbers I've seen/heard on this race seem to suggest that Jefferson is indeed running a bit scared.  It has me wondering if Jefferson has any plans to start pulling chips off the table to save up for his legal defense fund.  In fact, that was the first thing I thought when I read the article linked above.  It just might be time to do what he can do on free media and a limited television advertising budget -- another reason for the debate call.  Most institutional Democrats have rallied behind Carter, overtly or quietly, and I can't imagine the incumbent has a robust funding stream or throng of loyalists ready to fund his legal defense if he's denied re-election.

There's more...

LA-2: September 2, 2005 - What a Difference a Day Makes

Sometimes the difference between two candidates in an election can be totally encapsulated in one single day.  For Paul Hackett and Jean Schmidt, it was 10/25/04.  That was the day U.S. Marine Corps Major Paul Hackett touched down in Ramadi, Iraq -- the same day Jean Schmidt failed to report an evening of fine dining and box seats at Cincinnati Bengals game, paid for a biotech lobbying group.

For Karen Carter and William Jefferson, that day was September 2, 2005 ... a mere days after "the storm" and "the flood." You remember it.  

That was the day a President Bush declared, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." That was the day explosions at a chemical facility rocked New Orleans.  That was the day "10,000 people stood in 100-plus degree heat outside the Superdome, wading through knee-deep trash to board busses."(link) Coast Guard helicopters and military Humvees "raced to save thousands of victims" that day, rescuing Americans trapped on rooftops, in attics, or attempting to traverse impassable land and water on their way to food, drink, and general safety.

With all this going on, Congressman Jefferson was "curious." Curious to know if HIS house was looted.  So he boarded one of those Humvees and took a ride to find out ....

There's more...

LA-2: Race in the race

One of the dynamics I've had a tough time understanding since arriving in New Orleans is how Karen Carter has been defined as "the white candidate," when both are in fact African American.  In the primary, Jefferson was selected by a thin plurality of voters in precincts were 50 to 75 percent of voters are black (Carter came in 2nd).  In precincts with 75% plus African American registered voters, Jefferson just barely missed a majority at 49.5% of the vote (Carter 3rd).  Again, that's with 13 candidates.  Carter, by contrast, cleaned up in precincts where less than 25% of the registered voters were black -- her only real competition coming from the Republican, who she narrowly outpaced.   William Jefferson received 5.7% of the total vote in those precincts.    

But back to this business about the "white candidate," its origins in the current political landscape, and why it's important.  First of all, there's always Katrina.

Prior to the Gulf's intrusion, though, New Orleans was more than two-thirds black and 462,000 residents strong, with more than half registered to vote. It's still difficult to say with any certainty how many people have come back for good, but Democrats are all too aware that the area around New Orleans's Ninth Ward remains empty.

There are good people like Dr. Ernest Johnson over at the NAACP working tirelessly to make sure folks who haven't returned are able to vote as easily as possible.  But displaced New Orleanian voters (or lack of) were quite possibly a determining factor in the recent Mayor's race, and remain a wildcard in this election and the 2007 cycle.

(More on the political football that is the displaced voter soon)  

Even with the $90,000 in a freezer, Jefferson probably walks to re-election if Katrina had never happened -- but Katrina is everything here.  First, his lost committee seat is so important is because it impacts his ability to deliver for a district in desperate need of delivery.  Second, black voters vote for Jefferson (as the numbers above show), shake-down allegations be damned.  But current demographic mathematics are not favorable to him.  A lot of his voters are just gone, and despite the best efforts of people like Dr. Johnson it's not easy to get people voting in a local election when they are scattered across the country.  

I suspect Jeffery at Library Chronicles is on point with his analysis of how the racial divide/"white candidate" meme has been perpetuated.

New Orleanians, particularly in the black community, have (with good reason) come to view much of what has developed post-Katrina as part of a conspiracy to radically alter the demographics, and character of the city disenfranchising and dispossesing the poorest among us in order to create a smaller, quieter, whiter New Orleans. [...]

On the one hand, by playing the federal investigations of his activities as a federal witch hunt tied to the anti-New Orleans conspiracy, he establishes himself as the "black" candidate. (Both candidates are, in fact African-American.. thus the quotes.) Jefferson has made other inroads in this direction by pandering to local ministers through some uncharacteristic complaints about his opponent's pro-abortion and gay rights stances. Social issues like these have never been part of Jefferson's platform and don't usually figure at all in New Orleans politics.. but it will help get Dollar Bill access to a solid GOTV mechanism in the ministers.

As close to the ground level as possible, Jefferson's campaign asserts that pending federal charges are indeed a racially motivated witch-hunt.  Albeit unscientific, but literally to a man, every African-American claiming to pay close attention to the race has echoed those sentiments.  Other numbers I've seen point to similar findings.  For a number of reasons that extend beyond the conspiracy charge, the $90,000 just isn't part of the calculus among African-Americans who overwhelmingly support Jefferson.  A lot of black voters see Jefferson as their Congressman, someone that has delivered in the past, and the 90k just isn't important in the grand scheme of things.  The latter is most certainly true, until you start talking about committees...  

Meanwhile, white folks in the 2nd generally believe Jefferson is totally corrupt, unable to deliver for the city, and part of them problem in Washington, D.C.

The racial divide and conquer has a well-established template in the recently concluded Mayor's race between Ray Nagin and Mitch Landrieu.  Who will forget Nagin's comment on the Martin Luther King holiday, "This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans." Nagin won his first election with "near universal support from white voters," but managed to score 80% of the black vote in his re-election campaign.  And those white voters who ushered him to victory four years ago?  They totally flipped and went 80% for his opponent this time around.  In this race, Jefferson is attempting to build a similar voting coalition to Nagin's, while the folks who funded the Mayor's re-election campaign are backing Karen Carter, and the Mayor is endorsing William Jefferson.  Figure that out ...

There's more...

LA-2: Cornucopia of Links and Open Thread

Make no mistake about it, there are strong national undercurrents in a race that will be decided 100% on hyper-local issues.  For the folks in NOLA, it's about one thing: Katrina.  Many don't seem to care about $90,000 in a freezer except to the extent FBI investigations and no committee seats for the congressman breed impotence in advocating for much needed Katrina recovery funds and legislation.  Nationally, this is a chance to show the Americans of all political stripe that Democrats will not tolerate corruption on either side of the aisle.  What's more, netroots involvement and contributions to Karen Carter's victory signal the new Democratic majority that it is our party's responsibility to make recovery a top priority in the new congress.  Discussion on MyDD (and other national blogs) might not change the mind of a single 2nd CD voter, but as one resident declared:

The national and state press will then celebrate "the message of reform" New Orleans sent. And I won't rush to qualify and correct their storyline.

I haven't had interets for two days, and will put something else up shortly, but here a few more local links providing background on the race.  

  • Library Chronicles believes there is something "localer" about New Orleans elections.  He dives into race, the "alpahbet soup" of local machine politics, and even takes me to task on some of what I've written this far.  A good read.

  • Maitri follows up on the post by Jeff at Library Chronicles.

  • Ashley Morris presents the template to defeat Congressman Jefferson.

  • Right Hand Thief participates in a bit of a link-fest of local work as well.

  • Moldy City discusses why the race in LA-2 is so important locally.  

  • Blogs have raised over $6,000 for Karen Carter since Tuesday and $27,000 so far. Almost at 700 contributors total.

There's more...

LA-2: Why This Race Matters

As most of you already know, MyDD, SSP, and DailyKos endorsed Karen Carter for Congress in Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District run-off election.  John and Joe in DC over at AmericaBlog have done the same.  My Left Nutmeg and Spazeboy joined the party from the friendly confines of CT as well.

Why?

For starters, there's the corruption.  If we are ever going to convince the American people we truly want to "drain the swamp" and clean out the House, we need to prove we are willing to clean out our own house first.  As the Blue Majority fundraising page notes, "send a message that the Democratic Party doesn't tolerate corruption on either side of the aisle." Coming out of the Republican culture of corruption, it's time to take away the primary GOP talking point on the issue of ethics reform:

There's Katrina -- the storm and the flood.  Unfortunately, one of the problems up on the Hill is "Katrina fatigue." Having been down here for a few days now, I can assure you the people of the 2nd Congressional District do not share a similar affliction.  They need help, and Congressman Jefferson is really in no place to deliver it.  He was stripped of his committee assignments by the Democratic Caucus, and continues to place his quest to retain personal political power above the needs of his constituents.   Personally, I've been impressed with Carter's willingness to tell it like it is even in the face of political fall-out.  Some of you might remember the policemen with shotguns and dogs dispatched to stop New Orleanians from crossing the bridge into the "West Bank." In Spike Lee's documentary, "When the levees broke," Carter called the action un-American.  It made her a hero to many in the district, but a villian to some in power on the other side of the bridge (also in her district).  Her willingness to stand up found her on the butt-end of a nasty 25,000 person mailing, literally paid for by the people who called in the dogs.

I have little doubt she will be the same outspoken voice in House of Representatives on behalf of her constituents still suffering, and those of us who believe our government could and should do better post-Katrina -- much like Paul Hackett was our voice on Iraq last August, and Ned Lamont this past election cycle.  Our support, and her victory, will send a powerful signal to those in D.C. that we are not only paying attention, but demand more action than has been forthcoming until now.

Karen Carter has also taken some courageous stances on "social issues." She is pro-gay marriage, choice and stem-cell research.  These are not easy positions to take in the deep South.  Indeed, her opponents (primary, run-off, and future) are hammering her, primarily through a network of churches, for those positions.  In the face of that pounding, she refuses to run from her convictions.

"I believe in treating people as I would like to be treated."

There have been a few concerns in the comments about her position on economic issues.  To alleviate those concerns, if only partially, I asked her about a few of them.  For instance, she would have voted against the bankruptcy bill and would never vote to privatize Social Security.  Her words.  But most importantly, this race is about corruption and Katrina.  One and two.  It's about showing the American people we are willing to hold our own to account while "draining the swamp" in Washington, D.C.  

The Louisiana Democratic Party has endorsed Carter.  So have the blogs.  It's because we all know how important this race is.  It's not just one out of 435 seats up for grabs every two years -- there's a lot more at stake here.  That's why so many within the party, and outside of the party, are standing with Karen Carter between now and December 9.

There's more...

LA-2: The "X" - Levees - Lower 9th Ward

There's no separating Hurricane Katrina from the race in Louisiana's 2nd. As one Karen Carter staffer put it, "Anything happening in the city of New Orleans is related to the storm." Most folks down here like to differentiate between "the storm" and "the flood" -- one being a natural disaster, the other a man-made one. I took the "misery tour" of the Lower 9th Ward yesterday with a few local bloggers; this was "the flood" ...

Diaries

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