Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Saturday, July 6, 2002
Author: Gordon Russell Staff writer
Before proposing a six-figure job for former City Councilman Jim Singleton , Mayor Ray Nagin offered his campaign ally a City Hall position that would have paid roughly $60,000 a year. Singleton spurned the first job offer, a decision he may come to regret if he had his heart set on extending his career in city government. The lower-paying job would not have required approval by the City Council or Civil Service Commission -- unlike the second, a one-year post paying $110,482 that has attracted such stiff opposition on both fronts that Nagin is now talking openly about making do without Singleton on his staff.
In turning down the original offer, Singleton told Nagin that his 24 years as a councilman and deep institutional knowledge of the city budget process meant he was worth more money.
Singleton , who threw his support to Nagin in February after an unsuccessful mayoral bid, said he should be paid in step with other top officials in the new administration, many of whom now draw six-figure salaries.
According to Nagin , Singleton told him: "I can add value to the administration. You’ve already established market rates at this level. And that’s where I think I should be compensated."
The former councilman added that he "could go into the private sector and get a consulting contract and probably make double what’s on the table now," Nagin said.
But Nagin said he doubts the City Council will approve the new, one-year position -- executive assistant for government reorganization/operations -- that he is trying to carve out for Singleton .
Last week, a key council committee deferred action on the new position, along with 14 other jobs. Except for Councilwoman Renée Gill Pratt, none of the council members mentioned Singleton by name in voting to delay action.
But Nagin said more than half of the council members have told him privately that they won’t approve the new position because it’s for Singleton . They cited old political grudges, he said.
To recount a bit of the recent bad blood, Singleton supported the candidates who ran against council members Cynthia Willard-Lewis and Marlin Gusman two years ago. Gusman now chairs the Budget Committee that is delaying action on the job that would be Singleton ’s. Ironically, Gusman took the reins of that committee from Singleton early last year as part of a shift in power on the council.
Meanwhile, Singleton ’s BOLD political group has long been a rival to the Progressive Democrat organization, of which Pratt is a member. The two groups tangled most recently in the 91st District House race two months ago, in which BOLD-backed Rosalind Peychaud beat Progressive Democrat Jalila Jefferson.
"When you have somebody who is running for a position and someone else puts someone in to run against them and it’s a very negative campaign, they don’t forget that easily," Nagin said. "I think that’s what we’re running into.
"They’re saying ‘Look, when I was running, ( Singleton ) did this . . . He put this candidate in against me.’ And those wounds seem to be fairly fresh."
Nagin called the council’s apparent reluctance to endorse the new job "unfortunate." But at the same time, he doesn’t appear interested in investing much more political capital lobbying for the job. He’s concerned that the controversy over the Singleton spot could hold up his other proposals.
"I’m still going to push, but I’m not willing to sacrifice the other positions," Nagin said. "I think we would move forward with those and then try to clean it up on the back end."
But if the council Budget Committee, the group that last week deferred action on the Singleton position, does not approve the new job at its next meeting, Nagin figures the position might be dead.
"I think if they do that, it would send a strong signal that they’re really not going to pass it," he said.
In an appearance Wednesday on David Tyree’s radio talk show, Nagin sounded like a man ready to quit pleading his case to the City Council.
"I’ve tried everything," he said. "I’ve tried talking to them nicely. I’ve tried talking to them strongly. But they have dug their heels in and basically said, ‘Look, this is inconsistent, Mr. Mayor, with what you’ve been talking about.’ "
Singleton , while saying he doesn’t want to engage in a public back-and-forth with Nagin , seems frustrated that the new mayor has not argued more forcefully on his behalf.
"If he feels that the council should dictate to him his staff, and how it’s set up, and how it works, that’d be the first time I’ve seen a mayor do that," Singleton said. "But if he wants to do it like that, he can.
"If the council doesn’t approve (the new job), that’s the mayor’s problem. I’m going to survive one way or another."
Nagin called the job he initially offered Singleton the "Joe Giarrusso" position.
He was referring to a slot that former Mayor Marc Morial created in 1994 for Giarrusso, like Singleton a longtime councilman and political force in the city. Giarrusso, who also served as police chief for 10 years, became the city’s "criminal justice coordinator" under Morial.
Some political observers criticized that deal, just as many have criticized the Nagin - Singleton proposal, as a textbook example of political payback.
Giarrusso had endorsed Morial in the 1994 mayoral race, helping Morial shore up his share of the white vote. Likewise, Singleton ’s post-primary endorsement of Nagin was key to beefing up Nagin ’s share of the black vote in the general election.
Should the City Council refuse to approve the new position for Singleton , he won’t be able to simply go back and accept the first offer, Nagin said. The position has since been retooled: It now carries the title "commissioner of homeland security," and has a salary of $80,987.
"That’s off the table," Nagin said of the security position. "I need someone who has specific expertise in that area, and he wouldn’t qualify. Unless we can figure out another solution, we’re at a standstill right now."