The William Jefferson Chronicles

Nagin embraces Jefferson campaign
Mayor returning a political favor
Friday, October 06, 2006
By Frank Donze -

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who rarely misses an opportunity to tout his efforts to rid City Hall of corruption, said Thursday that he will enthusiastically urge voters to re-elect U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, the target of a sprawling federal bribery probe that has cost the veteran congressman his seat on an influential House committee.

When he was locked in a tough re-election campaign last spring, Nagin said, Jefferson was one of the few local elected officials to stand by him. As an embattled Jefferson prepares to face a dozen challengers in a Nov. 7 bid for a ninth term to the 2nd Congressional District seat, Nagin said he is returning the favor by agreeing to appear in campaign ads and literature.

"I've told the congressman that since he supported me during the mayor's race, that I would reciprocate," Nagin said.

Nagin, who has frequently praised Jefferson for his role in steering billions of dollars in federal hurricane recovery aid to the flood-ravaged region, has exhibited no qualms about being closely associated with Jefferson, who has not been charged with a crime.

In fact, Nagin invited Jefferson to speak at his June 1 inaugural.

On Thursday, Nagin said he is not the least concerned about how his endorsement of Jefferson might play on the national stage.

"Unless he is indicted prior to the election date, I do not believe my reciprocated support will generate a story with any type of legs," Nagin said. "His experience and relationships in Washington -- even in its current subdued form -- should be helpful for our city and state going forward."

The mayor said he will help Jefferson any way he can in the weeks ahead.

During the mayor's race, Jefferson agreed to be used in a campaign mailer and recorded a radio spot and an automated phone message on Nagin's behalf.

"We'll do the same thing," Nagin said. "You should see that soon."

Though the federal government's 18-month investigation has yielded no formal charges against Jefferson, the details that have emerged about his alleged offenses do not paint a flattering picture.

Separate raids on his New Orleans and Washington homes during the summer of 2005, followed by guilty pleas by two of his associates and an unprecedented raid of his Capitol Hill office, have grabbed headlines nationwide.

According to government affidavits, Jefferson is being investigated concerning allegations that he solicited and accepted bribes to help promote a cable television and Internet business in Nigeria and Ghana. The FBI has said in an affidavit that it videotaped a Virginia businesswoman handing Jefferson a briefcase with $100,000 in $100 bills on July 30, 2005, and that its agents found all but $10,000 of the cash four days later stashed in the freezer of the congressman's Washington home.

In June, the revelations prompted Jefferson's congressional colleagues to remove him from the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, providing his opponents an opportunity to question whether the congressman still possesses the stroke to get things done in Washington.

Jefferson, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence, welcomed Nagin's endorsement.

"I am thrilled to have the mayor's support for my re-election," he said in a written statement. "We have worked well together and will continue to work as a team for our city's recovery."

While some political observers might scratch their heads over Nagin's decision, the move did not surprise Ed Renwick, director of Loyola University's Institute of Politics.

"The controversy swirling around people doesn't seem to bother Ray Nagin," Renwick said. "He's made so many controversial statements and decisions himself."

As an example, Renwick noted that Nagin was the only prominent African-American Democrat in Louisiana to endorse Republican Bobby Jindal in the 2003 gubernatorial runoff against Democrat Kathleen Blanco.

Renwick said the political risk for the term-limited Nagin, who has no stated plans to run for another office, is negligible.

"He's already engaged in so many strange political machinations," he said. "What's one more?"

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Frank Donze can be reached at or (504) 826-3328.

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