Sunday, September 17, 2006

Local Politics

The Times Picayune seems to have stopped running its Saturday New Orleans Politics column in the Jefferson Parish print edition. The reverse seams to be true for the Jefferson Politics column in Orleans Parish. In the past, the Jefferson column would run on page B-I in Jefferson, and the Orleans column on B-1 in Orleans, but you could find both columns in both editions. I haven't been able to for two weeks now. I understand the need for cost cutting, but everybody is supposed to be aware of regional interdependence; the Picayune certainly preaches it. The odd thing is, anecdotal evidence indicates that suburban interest in Orleans Parish seems to be at an all time high; in some cases, the realization has even taken hold that if New Orleans goes down the tubes, the entire metropolitan area will go with it. I've been told that Jefferson Parish officials are actually saying that at meetings of Jefferson Parish neighborhood groups; two years the idea of a Jefferson Parish politician expressing concern for Orleans Parish to a Jefferson Parish civic group would have been unthinkable. A more negative example of Jefferson Parish interest in Orleans Parish can be found on the chalkboard in front of Gennaro's on Metairie Rd. The message changes every few days, but, recently, it's called on Eddie Jordan to step down--for the sake of crime victims. I could give more examples, but the point is that recent cost-cutting is not only irresponsible, it also doesn't seem to be what the paper's readership would want. Hope the Picayune's publisher doesn't truly believe that it's a "hackneyed expression" that "floodwaters don't respect political boundaries."

In actual local politics, we've found out what Public Service Commissioner Jay Blossman's slogan will be in future campaigns:

Jay Blossman:
Loves Nuclear Power
Hates Entergy Critics

You might also remember that the mayor recently indicated that he thought of Cynthia "no inspector general" Hedge-Morrell as his "go-to" woman on the city council. Her husband, Arthur Morrell, was fined by the state ethics board last week for improperly using his office to benefit private clients. I know, that's guilt by association, but it brings up a key point. In conversation, people often roll their eyes and act like I'm being obsessive and naive to mention behavior on Nagin's part that any other politician would engage in--it's just politics. Yet such people, even the ones that have strong doubts about his competence, are loathe to question Nagin's integrity,. The fact that this is his first elected office, seems to make people think that he's not a politician. That brings up the obvious question of who's being naive.

Apropos of that, an interesting letter appeared in yesterday's paper:
Get behind our city's mayorSaturday, September 16, 2006

Re: "Car 54, where are you?" Living, Sept. 10.

It's about time The Times-Picayune got on board with the rest of the city and worked toward progress. We know you are still upset that the city did not follow your recommendations for the election, but it's high time you get over it.

Your unbalanced coverage and obvious contempt for the mayor ensure that your Pulitzer Prize-winning days are over.
The nerve of Chris Rose, who once handed out business cards proclaiming himself a "professional drinker," to suggest that the mayor and his staff are not entitled to have a good time.

Perhaps he should sober up and look at the real culprits: the federal government and the lack of funds and assistance to our communities.

Melissa Smith Haley

New Orleans

Well, Ms. Haley, I'd like to make a few points. Even purely local celebrities like Chris Rose are, at least to some degree, fair game for ad hominem attacks. But such attacks are totally irrelevant to the issue at hand. Also, if you're the Melissa Haley who's an officer of the United Way, such attacks should certainly be beneath you.

You're certainly correct about the lack of federal funds being the real culprit behind the city's problems, but I don't understand how that means we should ask the mayor fewer, rather than more, questions. It would seem to me that a lack of federal funds would mean that mayor should be held to a higher level of accountability than than previous mayors, not given a free rein to govern as he chooses.

The Times Picayune editorial endorsing Landrieu is a matter of public record. But op-ed pieces (I can't remember rather there was an editorial) that not only defended Nagin from Douglas Brinkley's criticisms, but helped promulgate the idea that Nagin was under attack from powerful outside enemies are also a matter of public record. Not only is the proposition that one of the nation's largest publishers would take such an interest in New Orleans politics dubious at best, the assertion furthered Nagin's re-election plans. If anyone wants to argue that the coverage by the Picayune, or the local media in general, was biased toward Landrieu, I'd love to have that debate. I'd especially love to have it with Norman Robinson, who scoffed at Landrieu on the night before the election.

Finally, the idea that the Picayune's post-election coverage of the mayor has been unbalanced and contemptuous is, frankly, absurd. There hasn't been a single T/P editorial or op-ed piece about questionable professional services contracts, usually to Nagin supporters, costing the city millions since Nagin was first elected. I might have missed one, but I didn't see a single front page story on the matter until Billboard Ben came under federal investigation. In contrast, we've seen at least two front page stories, two editorials and two op-ed pieces about judicial spending that cost the city less than bombproof garbage cans alone cost the city. Similar examples could be found involving the governor and other area officials; if you really want to argue that the paper's been too negative toward the mayor, I'd definitely love to have that debate.

Update: The above was mostly written last night, the Picayune does have a front page story on Imagine Software, today. Nobody could honestly call it a biased story. Dambala wrote about Imagine, almost two months ago. At that rate, the Nagin haters at the T/P should write a cautious article about Nagin's real estate dealings sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving. The editorial will come some time after the federal subpoenas.

Bravo sir...bravo.
Good stuff, David. Everyone's beating me to the punch today. Well done.
David, have you heard anything about 80 million dollars that has come into City coffers for infrastructure rebuilding? A Priest that I know in the East asked me
Hey, at least the T-P is starting to sniff around the edges of the Nagin Administration. I don't think its entirely ineptitude. (Disclaimer: I have former colleauges I consider friends still at the T-P). Keep in mind that the word I hear is that the news staff has shrunk post-Katrina, and may be less up to tacking real issues. I mean, going after the judges would have been too damn easy. They'd have been talking about their big trip weeks in advance. Going after inside skull-duggery is a lot more work. Glad you're staying on top of it.
No, Karen, I don't--unless it's the $120M loan that FEMA was supposed to approve.

Of all the 100 day promises the easiest to follow through on would have been more transparency. The one that was most forgotten about was more transparency. I have decided that I've been too harsh on the T/P (other than Jarvis DeBerry), but they could certainly editorialize about the lack of tranpsarency and the appearance of impropriety that it creates. So I do think that Mark and Dambala are a little too easy on the paper in that regard.

With that in mind, I wrote a letter to the editor answering the letter I cited, but I think I'm on the crank/don't publish list. Since the Picayune publishes an angry letter every time it criticizes the mayor, I think that people that have never written before would be doing the city (and possibly the paper) a favor if they wrote letters expressing the opposite view.
That last paragraph was somewhat incoherent. Everytime the paper writes anything that's even remotely critical of the mayor, it published letters from angry writers who can't believe that paper criticized the mayor. I stringly suspect that some of those writers are shills. Those letters should be countered with letters calling on the Picayune to look at the mayor more critically.
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