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Commentary: The Love and Loyalty for Troubled New Orleans Congressman Jefferson Has Faded

Allan Lengel

Allan Lengel

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com
WASHINGTON – I always marveled at the voter loyalty Rep. William J. Jefferson generated.  Long after the FBI found $90,000 in marked FBI bills in his freezer in August 2005, many many people in the “Big Easy” still loved him.
Apparently, Saturday there wasn’t enough of that kind of special love to go around. He lost his bid for a 10th term in the general election.
Two years ago, when I was reporter at the Washington Post, I went down to New Orleans to follow Jefferson around on the campaign trail. He seemed like an affable man, humbled by all that he had gone through with the FBI. His homes had been raided. His office had been raided, but he had yet to be indicted.
In the French Quarters, at some of the watering holes, it was easy to find folks who were fed up with Jefferson. But others. Well, they still believed in him. They said they were giving him the benefit of the doubt. One loyalist at a 55-plus apartment building in the Third Ward who had come downstairs to the activity room to hear the Congressman speak, told me:
“All of them are stealing. He just got caught. Since he’s been in office, he’s one of the few black officials who has been able to get in office and do something for the people.”
That opinion seemed to resonate. A few weeks later, Jefferson won his ninth term.
Well, apparently this time, the loyalty had worn thin. Even though demographics had shifted since Katrina, a ham sandwich could have still beaten a Republican in that Congressional district, particularly in this political climate. Instead, it was a Republican who unseated Jefferson. I think in this case, the cry for “change” trumped any anger toward President Bush or the Republican party.
Jefferson now has to keep dealing with his public corruption trial, which should take place some time next year in an Alexandria, Va. courtroom before a no-nonsense federal judge T.S. Ellis III. The case has dragged on, with Jefferson challenging the government in pre-trial motions every step of the way.
Meanwhile, he’s got some company when it comes to legal problems. His sister Betty Jefferson, his brother Mose Jefferson and his niece Angela Coleman were indicted in July on charges of skimming hundreds of thousands of dollars from a non-profit group they controlled. Yes, the Jeffersons are keeping some in the legal community employed.
Sadly, whatever happens to Jefferson, few outside of New Orleans or Capitol Hill will remember him for anything but a little footnote in his life: The guy who hid $90,000 in his freezer.


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