"IQ" nickname challenged for assessor candidates
By Gordon Russell Staff writer
A legal skirmish gets under way today to decide whether a slate of challengers running in tandem against the city’s seven assessors can use “I.Q.” as their nickname in the April 22 ballot. Lawsuits have been filed against two of the seven challengers who qualified listing the nickname, which stands for “I Quit.”
All seven have pledged that if elected they would forgo the post’s $90,000 anual salary to hire a professional appraisal firm to handle property valuations.
The two lawsuits are set to be heard today in Civil District Court — one against 4th District challenger Chase “I.Q.” Jones and one against 5th District challenger Ron “I.Q.” Mazier. The suit against Mazier has been allotted to Judge Carolyn Gill-Jefferson, sister-in-law of 4th District Assessor Betty Jefferson.
The so-called “I.Q.” candidates have said their ultimate goal is to consolidate the seven assessor offices into one, a move that would require state legislation and voter approval, and that they would step down immediately should such legislation be approved. They have said the “I.Q.” nickname was intended as a reminder to the voters of that pledge.
But the lawsuits filed last week allege that using the nickname is illegal, citing a state law that generally allows nicknames to be listed on the ballot except when they “designate a title, designation, or deceptive name” or “an occupational or professional description or abbreviation.”
Neither of the suits list the incumbents as plaintiffs, but the citizens who filed them have connections to current assessors.
The suit against Mazier was filed on behalf of Algiers resident Jerry Hano, who declined in a brief interview to discuss his motives. Hano’s attorney, Ken Pickering, serves as the lawyer for the Board of Assessors, but Pickering said it was a coincidence that he is now representing a plaintiff seeking to bar a challenger to a board member.
Lionel Brown, who brought the challenge against Jones, listed as his address a 29-unit apartment building in Central City that was once owned by U.S. Rep. Bill Jefferson, brother of the 4th District assessor. Controversy swirled around the building two years ago, when it became public that in 1998 Betty Jefferson dropped the property’s assessment to $45,000, less than one-sixth the price her brother had paid for it. Rep. Jefferson transferred his ownership in the property to a friend, Bobby Higginbotham.
Brown, who could not be reached for comment, is represented by politically active lawyer Ike Spears, who did not return calls for comment. In serving the suit on Jones, Spears listed the case as “Betty Jefferson v. Chase Jones” on a fax cover sheet, though Jefferson is not named as a plaintiff.
Spears’ suit alleges that the seven “I.Q.” challengers have “conspired” to list the same nickname and that “none of the candidates was previously known by the nickname ‘I.Q.,’ ” a fact none of the challengers is likely to contest.
The suit calls the use of the name “confusing and deceptive” and says it “amounts to a publicity stunt and it deprives the voters of their consitutional right to be protected from confusion and from fraudulent and frivolous candidates.”
Shaun Rafferty, a lawyer and leader of a group that launched the “I.Q.” ticket disputed that characterization.
“The ‘I.Q.’ nicknames not only are not deceptive, they are accurate and descriptive,” Rafferty said. “They tell voters exactly what our candidates stand for. Indeed, voters who do not agree with our candidates’ platform have a better chance than they otherwise would to vote against our candidates because of the ‘I.Q.’ nicknames.”
Rafferty said he and other researched the use of the nickname before qualifying, even interviewing election officials, whom he said had no problem with the nickname. He said officials could only recall one instance in which a name was rejected from the ballot: when plumber Albert Jones tried to run for governor in 1999 with a nickname that was later deemed obscene. Jones, however, was allowed to use the nickname “Superman” when he ran unsucesfully for mayor in 2001.
“The statute’s use of the words “a nickname” clearly permits the use of any nickname other than the ones specifically prohibited,” Rafferty said. “Contrary to the suggestion in the lawsuit, nothing in the statute or the qualifying forms limits a candidate to using a lifelong nickname or a nickname that the candidate has used in the past.”
The suit against Mazier, while arguing against the nickname, also alleges that Mazier should be removed from the ballot because when he qualified he was not registered to vote in Algiers, the area represented by the office he seeks.
Rafferty said that Mazier has lived in Algiers since 2002 and that the candidate believed he had changed his registration at that time. When Mazier discovered last week that he hadn’t registered in Algiers, he did so then, Rafferty said.
Rafferty said he believes a candidate need only be a resident of the district to run, a qualification he said Mazier possessed when he qualified. However, Pickering disputed that, saying candidates must be registered to vote in the proper district when they qualify.
In a separate case, another lawsuit filed by Spears and Brown against another Jefferson challenger, Gerard Archer, was dismissed by Judge Madeleine Landrieu on Monday, according to Walt Pierce, Civil District Court spokesman. That suit claimed that Archer, who is not affiliated with the “I.Q.” group, had not been a resident of the 4th District for the requisite amount of time.
Judson Mitchell, a spokesman for Archer, said that Spears told the Archer camp he plans to appeal.
Archer and Jones are the only two candidates to qualify to run against Jefferson. Arnold has three challengers: Mazier, plus Kenneth Garrett Sr. and Benita Scott.
Gordon Russell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (504)¤826-3347.