|Quiet Jefferson-Moreno race finally comes to life|
by Michelle Krupa, The Times-Picayune
Saturday November 01, 2008, 9:46 PM
After conducting their campaigns largely out of public view for the past month, U.S. Rep. William Jefferson and former TV news anchor Helena Moreno took a few swings at each other in the final days before Tuesday's Democratic Party runoff in the congressional 2nd District.
The contest will determine who gets to square off against four other candidates in the Dec. 6 general election. With more than two-thirds of the district's voters registered as Democrats, though, the winner of Tuesday's runoff is almost certain to head to Capitol Hill.
Until now, Jefferson and Moreno largely had spent the weeks since the Oct. 4 primary in separate corners. Moreno accepted interviews with radio and TV stations and community and political groups, and she said she would relish a face-to-face debate with Jefferson.
But the incumbent, seeking his 10th term as he awaits trial on 16 federal corruption charges, said he did not "have anything to prove in a debate." He appeared publicly once -- to receive the endorsement of a group of local pastors.
With money hard to come by, commercials and fliers from the respective campaigns were nonexistent heading into the final week.
In recent days, however, Moreno threw the first major punch of the runoff campaign.
In a TV ad that began airing Wednesday and will run through election day, Moreno stands in front of a Marrero post office.
"My opponent is responsible for what's behind me," she says. "Not the building. No, just the name on the building."
Since his legal troubles began, Moreno says in the ad, Jefferson has "authored and passed" only two bills in Congress, including one that named the post office for Lionel R. Collins, a Jefferson Parish lawyer and judge who brought several major civil rights cases in the 1950s and 1960s. His son, Lionel Collins Jr., once worked as Jefferson's chief of staff.
Moreno goes on to say that Jefferson is the "second least-effective congressman in the nation," ranking behind even 57 freshmen members. The statistics appear to be drawn from the nonpartisan research group Knowlegis, which ranks members of Congress on more than 20 criteria, including positions on committees, ability to pass legislation and influence within their party.
After news of the FBI probe that led to his indictment became public, Democratic leaders stripped Jefferson of his committee assignments.
"We've lost our voice in Washington," Moreno says in the ad. "With your help, I'll speak loudly for us all."
Jefferson struck back Friday with an e-mail sent by his campaign to news outlets. In it, Jefferson expresses disappointment at Moreno's "last minute attempt to distort my record of service."
Arguing that "Congress is built upon interpersonal relationships," he writes that during the years he has forged strong ties with colleagues that have helped him serve the region.
During his current two-year term, Jefferson said, he authored five bills, including one in which Congress vows to "see the recovery through to its ultimate end." He also takes credit for getting several items into a 2007 recovery spending bill, including money for levee construction and education assistance.
Jefferson also touts his efforts to quash "duplication of benefits" rules that have barred disaster victims from accessing certain federal-aid programs and to convert millions of dollars in federal Community Disaster Loans to local governments into grants. However, neither of those measures has been successful.
In closing, Jefferson maintains that Moreno's ad is nothing more than an example of her inexperience.
"Through her clumsy and ill-informed attacks, my opponent has once again not only shown her desperation but also she lacks the ability and experience to effectively serve the people of this district," he writes.
The winner of Tuesday's Democratic runoff will face Republican candidate Anh "Joseph" Cao, Green Party candidate Malik Rahim, Libertarian Party candidate Gregory Kahn and independent Jerry Jacobs in next month's general election.
Only Democrats and unaffiliated voters are allowed to vote in the Democratic runoff. The district includes most of New Orleans, most of Jefferson Parish's West Bank and parts of south Kenner.
Michelle Krupa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3312.