Friday, March 23, 2007

Nagin & Rodney -- Louisiana Weekly January 2002

Inside Political Track

By Christopher Tidmore
January 21, 2002 talkback

Who Are You?...

The biggest question in the media in recent days has dealt with the source of a group of ads attacking State Senator Paulette Irons. The TV and radio spots have targeted the New Orleans Mayoral candidate as unethical in the light of the Attorney General's opinion that concluded she had violated the state's dual officeholder law.

Irons, following a televised debate last week publicly charged that the campaign of Police Chief Richard Pennington was responsible for the ads. It was an allegation with which Pennington violently disagreed.

In a statement released on January 16th, the superintendent said, "Paulette Irons has made serious accusations against me and my campaign regarding a television commercial. These accusations are absolutely and unequivocally false, and I challenge her to furnish proof of my involvement."

An investigation by The Louisiana Weekly has discovered that several of the ads were purchased by Ray Walker. In an exclusive, this newspaper has learned that Ray Walker is the father of Pennington supporter and contributor Reginald Walker.

Campaign finance documents reveal a series of contributions from Reginald Walker to the Pennington for Mayor campaign. When asked what the relationship between the younger Walker and the Chief was, Pennington Press Secretary Pierre DeGruy said, "I do not know who Reginald Walker is. He is not a campaign advisor, I can tell you that."

Why Are You Here?

Justice Revius Ortique has conducted a unique fight at Armstrong International Airport. The Aviation Board member has maintained an office at the front of the Southwest/Continental Terminal for some time, but with the new security checkpoints, he was asked to give it up.

The reason was simple. The long lines of travelers that have begun to plague New Orleans's International Airport could be cut by 50% if Ortique gave his space to the burgeoning security force. However, such arguments did not motivate him to leave. The Aviation Board formally requested that he move. He refused. Mayor Morial asked him to relocate. Ortique said, no, sir. Congressman Vitter's office begged him to vacate after it received numerous complaints. Ortique said, forget it.

Sources close to Ortique revealed that he feared the loss in prestige that would come if he left his large and prominent office at the front of the airport. His leverage within the governing Aviation Board would decrease, the source said that Ortique reasoned. The decision would affect him too much personally.

Finally, where political influence did not work, corporate power did. A delegation from Continental and Southwest Airlines apparently met with the Aviation member in a closed-door conference. No comprehensive report has come from any of the participants, yet afterwards, a reportedly frustrated and shaken Ortique said that he would leave his space.

Ortique could not be reached for comment about the meeting, and the Public Information Office of Armstrong Airport only commented, "Mr. Ortique has left the office."

Also At Armstrong...

Bob Tucker, friend of New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, has endeavored to win the $20,000,000 management contract at the Airport for some time. Of the original six applicants for the private operations contract, only Tucker's AMC and Parson's Aviation remain.

A private poll of the Aviation Board allegedly reveals that the majority of the members want Parson's, an international firm that operates airports all over the world, to get the contract. The members were reportedly impressed by Parson's experience and expertise. However, sources reveal to The Louisiana Weekly that "friends of Tucker and Morial" have blocked Parson's bid

The reason, they explain, is that the airport contract lasts for five years and would protect many of the patronage and profession service contracts currently held by Morial allies. They cite as proof the disqualification of the first technical committee.

The Aviation Board empowered that technical committee to determine who was the best qualified for the contract. The advisory panel ruled that Parson's should have the bid. A move came from several members of the Aviation Board to disqualify the technical committee and empower another.

According to one individual close to the bid process, "It should have been finished six months ago. We are trying to get some ruling from the FAA [to push the Parson's bid]. They have been less than straightforward with the board on the way they handled it...They have manipulated the process."

Who Are You For?...

One of the most confusing questions in New Orleans politics in this past week has dealt with who City Hall insider and Morial confidant Roy Rodney is supporting for mayor. Rumors some weeks ago implied that Rodney would back Councilman Troy Carter as his friend and ally Ira Middleberg had.

In fact, a rumor campaign to that effect circulated around the city. Even the entry of Rodney's business partner Ray Nagin into the race did little to quell the idea that the Morial insider planned to team up with Carter. Political insiders immediately took to the story because of its allure. It seemed to hearken to a move by Morial's political organization L.I.F.E. (Louisiana Independent Federation of Electors) to back Carter. With the news that fellow Morial alum Middleberg had jumped on board made the story even more believable.

There was just one problem. The rumor was not true. For the most part, the L.I.F.E. members have sat out of this contest. Some back Pennington. Most are waiting for the runoff before they publicly make their stand. However, their leaders are desperate not to show a division in the ranks.

When this newspaper contacted Mr. Rodney and asked the simple question: who he was supporting and was the candidate Troy Carter, as the rumors alleged, it was his secretary who returned the telephone call in Rodney's place and said definitively that the attorney did not support Carter. So, this reporter responded, "Who is he supporting?"

The secretary said, "I can't tell you that."

"You can't tell me that? Why not?"

"I just can't?" she concluded, and implied that comment would be the last that Rodney would release to the press.

As strong as a political position as L.I.F.E. continues to hold in the Crescent City, there is an attitude held by many of the candidates this season that a strong connection to the Mayor is the political kiss of death, considering the reform attitude that prevails in the city today. One can observe this displayed in the lengths that the Pennington camp goes to separate itself from Mayor Morial and show the Chief's independence.

One source says that Rodney does indeed support his friend and business partner Ray Nagin, but one can never tell in the somewhat Byzantine atmosphere that has descended upon this year's fractured election.

Just for the record, any implication or statement that this column might have made to connect Roy Rodney to Troy Carter is inaccurate, and we retract it.

Where Are You?...

In early 2001, when the legislature reduced Harrah's New Orleans casino taxes by $50 MILLION, they required that employment not drop below 90% of the base employment.

Columnist C.B. Forgotston has learned that as of December 22, 2001, there are a total of 2,437 employees or 26 fewer employees than on November 20, 2001. That is 230 fewer employees or 91.34% of the base or 563 fewer than the alleged 3,000 employees the legislators were told they had to save.

The Weekly has also learned from a source that the Foster Administration is formally considering a provision to include removing the statutory "floor" on the number of employees in the upcoming special session for economic development.

Who's For You?...

City Council District A candidate Jay Batt has received the endorsement of the Regular Democratic Organization (RDO), continuing an ongoing string of endorsements for Batt at the expense of incumbent Councilman Scott Shea.

The successful businessman and civic leader has also received the endorsement of the prominent Gay Rights group LAGPAC and earned the nod of their rival, the Forum for Equality. Batt has also won the politically influential endorsements of Jim Singleton's B.O.L.D. organization and Ed Murray's T.I.T.S. All of these politically influential groups had endorsed Shea in their first match-up 18-months ago.

On the money front, the last fund-raising report showed just slightly more than $30,000 in the Shea warchest, more than six figures less than the amount Batt had raised. If money and political support have slowly left Shea, will the power of incumbency be enough to avoid a runoff with Batt? Only time will tell.

Where Are You Going?...

Members of the New Orleans Right to Life Committee are embarking on their annual lobbying sojourn to Washington D.C. They plan to walk the halls of the Capitol, meet with Louisiana's Congressional delegation, and march on behalf of the pro-life issue. They were scheduled to leave on Sunday, January 20th.

What Should We Do?...

When discussing whether New Orleans should privatize its Sewerage and Water System, the voters might find it beneficial to learn of the experience that one of the bidders on the Orleans contract had when it took charge of the water systems in Atlanta. This editorial from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution outlines the problems with one of the three companies pursuing New Orleans' local management agreement.

"When United Water won a 20-year contract to run Atlanta's troubled water system - the largest private contract of its kind in North America -- the company forecast annual savings for the city of at least $2 million. Just three years later, United now wants the city to pay more.

"During the last days of the administration of Mayor Bill Campbell, the giant company pressed to increase its long-term contract by $80 million, far in excess of the legal limit allowed by the city's purchasing code. But thanks to the courage of two city officials, the new administration of Mayor Shirley Franklin will have a chance to re-examine United Water's contract. It should make that examination a priority.

"The United Water juggernaut was stopped by Atlanta Water Commissioner Remedios Del Rosario. Alone among those whose names were required to sign off on additional money for United Water - including Campbell and financial and legal officers - she refused to sign, calling the contract change unethical. Fortunately, Del Rosario received strong backing from Councilwoman Clair Muller, chairwoman of the Council Utilities committee. Muller called United's request "absurd" and threatened to sue if the company insisted on charging extra for work she believed part of the contract bargain.

"It was a bad idea to give United Water a 20-year contract in the first place. Other cities have retained more leverage and extracted greater accountability in private contracts by requiring more frequent rebidding. Milwaukee and Indianapolis, for example, have sewer system contracts with United for less than 10 years.

"But Campbell didn't take the time he should have in handling his first major contract to privatize a city service. In the middle of a tense re-election campaign, he was in a big hurry to get a deal that he could sell to voters.

"After he was re-elected, he didn't follow through to make sure United Water did its job well. Burdened with a decrepit infrastructure and a poorly trained and inefficient work force, the Atlanta water system was surely the perfect privatization candidate. But without careful oversight, there was no guarantee that a private company would do any better.

"Nor was there any guarantee that United Water would make a profit off the contract. Its executives gambled that it could run Atlanta's water system efficiently, save the city some revenue and still make money for itself, and sometimes in private enterprise the risk doesn't pay.

"Now, the company is complaining about "unanticipated" problems - waterline breaks, the cutting of lines by cable companies, the monitoring of water use during the drought, and delays in capital projects. (By the way, if telecom companies cut waterlines, why not force them to pay for the problem instead of city ratepayers?) Basically, it wants to renegotiate its contract for more money.

"Nothing doing. The new city administration has some leverage with United Water because Muller insisted on a provision allowing the city to terminate the contract "at will." The city might incur some costs in doing so, but if United can't live up to its low-bid contract, it might be cheaper to look for a new bidder."

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