James Gill: Is Jefferson a factor in feud between Tracie Washington and Stacy Head?
Posted by James Gill, Columnist, The Times-Picayune May
21, 2009 4:45PM
Categories: News Impact Page
Tracie Washington and City Councilwoman Stacy Head will probably never see eye to eye on any issue, but their views appear more than usually diametrical when it comes to former Congressman Bill Jefferson.
Indeed, contrary perceptions of Jefferson may help explain why Washington went to all that trouble to post embarrassing e-mails from Head's City Hall computer on the Internet.
Washington, an attorney and civil rights activist, is a major fan of Jefferson and will be rooting for him when he goes on trial early next month in northern Virginia.
Head won her council seat in 2006 by ousting a long-time Jefferson protege. She went on to cross party lines by endorsing Anh "Joseph" Cao, the Republican who foiled Jefferson's bid for a 10th term last year.
That Jefferson even made the general election showed that his supporters are remarkably loyal. Loyal to a fault, perhaps. A federal grand jury had indicted him in 2007, two years after the FBI raided his house and found $90,000 in marked bills in his freezer.
The indictment was "fiction, " Washington promptly declared at a rally she organized as chairwoman of the Justice for Jefferson Steering Committee. She reminded those present that "the Constitution says that a citizen is presumed innocent until he or she has had the opportunity to defend himself."
Jefferson's supporters will not have needed reminding for they are forever quoting that part of the Constitution. This is an admirable feat of memory, considering that it does not exist. The Constitution nowhere mentions the presumption of innocence, a concept derived from the English common law.
An argument might be made that it is implicit in the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process, but Washington was not in the mood for subtlety that night, or, indeed, for understatement. Jefferson, she declared, was the victim of the "Machiavellian twisting of Karl Rove and his Brownshirts."
Backing up these evil forces was the press, which launched a smear campaign against Jefferson, according to Washington.
And we thought we were just reporting facts that seemed to suggest Jefferson was exploiting high office to shake down business owners looking for deals in African countries where he offered to pull strings with corrupt high-level officials.
Congress came in for some bashing that night too from another speaker who complained that it was most unfair that Jefferson had been kicked off Ways and Means when Republican members of Congress, Tom DeLay, Bob Ney and Duke Cunningham had been allowed to keep committee assignments after being indicted.
Passion got the better of the facts that evening. In truth, DeLay was removed as House Majority Leader, Ney lost his committee chairmanship and Cunningham resigned before any action could be taken against him.
Washington is not the only one wishing Jefferson well as he prepares for a June 2 trial, when he will face 16 felony counts, a mountain of damning evidence and a gaggle of witnesses who were involved with his various alleged scams. Among a crowd of supporters who gathered last week to honor the public service he sandwiched between his money-making excursions was Renee Gill Pratt, his aide in his days as a state senator two decades ago.
Pratt remained a staunch friend of the Jefferson family after being elected, first, to the state Legislature and then to the City Council. In fact, Head spoiled a real cozy set-up when she won the council seat from Pratt, who throughout her public career had steered vast sums of public money to non-profits established by Jefferson's brother, Mose Jefferson, and his sister, Property Tax Assessor Betty Jefferson.
The ostensible mission of those non-profits was to provide assistance for poor folks, but, according to a federal indictment, the Jeffersons just helped themselves to the money.
Mose awaits two trials in New Orleans, having also been charged with bribing the president of the Orleans School Board.
Since Mose Jefferson and Pratt are a long-time item -- and she was appointed director of one of the non-profits after losing the council election -- she must be hoping he beats the raps. But the Jeffersons' palmy days are a long way behind them now. Although some people regret that, a lot more do not.
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James Gill is a staff writer. He can be reached at 504.826.3318 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.