Corruption in New Orleans? Say It Ain't So!

Reported by the LA Times, New Orleans City Councilman, Oliver Thomas, resigned today after pleading guilty to charges that he took kickbacks.

The humorous part of the story is the shock among New Orleans residents, considering Thomas one of the least corruptible, straight shooting politicians. He was thought highly of and was a leading contender for a future mayoral run.

The longest-serving member of the New Orleans City Council resigned today, hours after pleading guilty to charges that he took kickbacks from a businessman who wanted to keep a parking lot contract for the French Quarter.

The swift fall of Oliver Thomas, who until recently served as the council's president, stunned New Orleans' political world and led many citizens and commentators to fear that it would further tarnish the city's image at a time when many think the stain of corruption is hurting Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.


Thomas, 50, was considered a future mayoral candidate and one of the city's most effective elected leaders. He was also regarded as one of the least corruptible figures in a city long sullied by sleazy politics.

He is the biggest political figure to fall in a wide-ranging federal investigation of New Orleans government that has already netted several other elected officials, including the former president of the Orleans Parish school board -- and he probably won't be the last.

The U.S. District Judge took a dim view of the charges against Thomas:

When prosecutors finished explaining the charges, U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance castigated Thomas for embarrassing New Orleans at a time when it could not afford such notoriety.

Callers to a local radio talk show were dismayed

On WWL-870 AM, one of New Orleans' lively talk radio stations, news of Thomas' disgraceful end elicited a torrent of anger and disbelief from Louisianans. Many callers noted that Thomas seemed like one of the few straight shooters in city politics.

"If our best guy pleads guilty to corruption, what are we left with?" said the show's host, John "Spud" McConnell.

Despite that, at least one caller was undaunted by the corruption.

Although most people condemned his acts, some of the chatter demonstrated that New Orleans had a ways to go before it became intolerant of corruption. After the station broadcast Thomas' mea culpa, a man called in and said he didn't care. He said he would still vote for Thomas if he could.

We shouldn't be surprised by his sentiments. After all, New Orleans is the city that reelected School Bus Nagin as Mayor even after his disastrous performance. And Louisiana reelected William Dollar Bill Jefferson even with a possible indictment hanging over his head, and plenty of evidence to support it.

Why is that New Orleans residents seem to be shocked by these developments? Every casual observer of Louisiana politics isn't.

A note of interest - in four articles I read on this story, not one mentioned what party Thomas belongs to. Yeah, I know, he's just a city councilman. But he's a city councilman in New Orleans, a city that is receiving billions and billions of dollars in federal government taxpayer dollars to rebuild the city; a city that has been under democrat party governance for decades. Yet not a mention of his party affiliation.

I'd wager money he's a democratic. If he was a Republican I have no doubt that fact would have been in the opening paragraphs.

What I did find, in The Times-Picayune article, is that Thomas held the black at-large seat. There is also a white at-large city council seat. Political observers are concerned that this could present an opening to upset the racial balance of the at-large council seats.

As potential candidates study the field, a key issue will be the unspoken rule that has kept the two at-large council seats divided between white and African-American politicians since the mid-1970s.

During the recent election, Thomas was handily re-elected to the "black" at-large seat, while Clarkson and Fielkow battled for the "white" seat. Some black political commentators already are expressing fear that Thomas' departure might provide an opportunity to upset the racial balance in the at-large seats.


"Race is going to be a very contentious issue in the upcoming council race," said Sidney Arroyo, a political consultant who has worked for many local politicians, including Thomas. Holding the election at the same time as the governor's race would help African-American candidates because the turnout would be higher, he said.

Do these people realize this is 2007? Does the black population of New Orleans really think the black elected politicians in that city have really represented their best interests? I suppose it could be so, as they have continued to elect democrats despite their poor track record over the decades.