Morial allies backed anti-Irons TV spots
BYLINE: By Gordon Russell and Frank Donze, Staff writers
SECTION: NATIONAL; Pg. 1
LENGTH: 810 words
A lingering mystery from the 2002 mayoral campaign -- who exactly was behind a series of television spots that helped sink then-state Sen. Paulette Irons' campaign -- was quietly put to rest Thursday when the state Board of Ethics approved a settlement that named names.
And the record shows that Irons wasn't far off the mark when she blamed allies of former Mayor Marc Morial for the attack ads, which took her to task for holding two public jobs and for misrepresenting the death of her brother.
The group of 16 contributors includes a number of Morial confidants or corporations they control: restaurateur Stan "Pampy" Barre; Civil District Judge Herbert Cade, who was then a lawyer; businessman Bobby Major; airport planner Anthony Mumphrey; lawyer Roy Rodney; businesswoman and Sewerage & Water Board member Penelope Randolph; businessman and former Regional Transit Authority Chairman Robert Tucker; financier Rafael "Ray" Valdes; contractor Reginald Walker; and Jimmie Woods, who owns a trash hauling company.
The group also includes businessman John Georges, who along with Barre and Rodney was a partner of Mayor Ray Nagin in the New Orleans Brass minor-league hockey team; T.R.C. Construction LLC, whose directors are listed as Sandra Kruebbe and Jamie Santopadre; Management Services USA Inc., whose director is listed as S.F. Brechtel Jr.; and Louisiana Fleet Consultants LLC, whose directors are listed as David Picou and Michael Ecuyer.
The settlement, known as a consent opinion, is a product of a years-long effort by the ethics panel to determine whether the group ran afoul of campaign finance laws. Contributors had to agree to its terms, which include listing the donors' names as well as a $12,000 fine imposed on the four corporations and a political action committee they set up.
Irons, who wound up finishing third in the race behind Nagin and former Police Superintendent Richard Pennington, is now a Civil District Court judge.
She reacted with bemusement to the news.
"This is an old chapter from my life," Irons said. "It's finished, and I've moved on. No one on this list surprises me, except for one."
Irons would not say which of the donors she was referring to.
According to the consent opinion, all but one of the 16 contributors gave $10,000 to one of four corporations set up just weeks before the ads began running to pay for the anti-Irons effort. The exception was Tucker, who gave $20,000. Louisiana Fleet Consultants was later refunded $5,000.
The four companies shared a common registered agent -- accountant Gail Masters, a cousin of Barre -- and were incorporated pro bono by lawyers at Rodney's firm. Though the group set up a political action committee, the New Alliance Business PAC, which also listed Masters as chairwoman, the ads were purchased directly by the four companies Masters represented. That made them political action committees and obliged them to disclose their donors, the ethics opinion said.
Irons, who launched her mayoral campaign with a pledge to "take the for-sale sign off City Hall" -- a clear jab at the patronage practices of the Morial era -- shot up in early polls and was considered the front-runner in fall 2001 as the race began to heat up.
In the final weeks before the 2002 primary, she came under fire for holding more than one public-sector job, as well as for her campaign's insinuation that her brother, who was killed by police during a chase after an armed robbery, had been an innocent victim of violence.
The Irons camp, with its lead slipping away, sought to blame the Pennington and Nagin campaigns for the ads. Irons filed suit in Civil District Court, seeking without success to unmask who was paying for the ads Masters purchased.
The Irons camp questioned Masters' motives, pointing out her relationship to Barre, but Masters at the time said it had been more than 20 years since she took part in a New Orleans political campaign and scoffed at the implication that she was doing someone else's bidding.
Rodney insisted he knew nothing about the attack ads. "The only reason Ms. Irons put me in the suit was so that she could take a shot at Mayor Morial," he said at the time.
Political consultant Cheron Brylski, who advised Irons during the campaign, said that "the attacks were beyond the pale of what is hardball politics. Here is the evidence of what we all believed: that there was an organized effort to destroy her personally and professionally, not just politically."
Attorney John Rawls, who represented the four companies set up to place the ads, countered: "I stand behind those ads. They were truthful, and they performed a valuable public service. And they put the spotlight on misrepresentations and misstatements by a person trying to become mayor of New Orleans."