The William Jefferson Chronicles

Scandal Woes Could Benefit Jefferson, Analysts Say
By Randy Hall Staff Writer/Editor
June 19, 2006

( - Losing his seat on the influential Ways and Means Committee and being investigated in a federal bribery probe could actually benefit U.S. Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), political analysts told Cybercast News Service.

"Oftentimes, being an embattled Louisiana politician can actually be a benefit," said Pearson Cross, assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana Lafayette. "If anything, I think voters in the state's 2nd District are going to see him as 'put upon,' that he was unfairly stripped, and I'm certain he's going to spin it that way."

According to Cross, the eight-term congressman is going to say: "I haven't been indicted. I'm not formally charged. This is essentially relieving my district of the representation it needs in the middle of the Katrina cleanup which is ongoing, and it in fact has a deleterious effect on the district."

Cross's remarks echoed comments Jefferson made before the House of Representatives voted Friday to remove him from the Ways and Means Committee, a coveted post because the panel is deeply involved in writing tax laws.

Nevertheless, "getting accused of corruption or bribery or incompetence or just about anything else in Louisiana has never been a bar to holding office - or returning to office," Cross noted. "We've had lots of incidents where people have been convicted, and if they're not forced to leave office by the nature of their crime, then they're just re-elected.

"It's not a shoo-in, but I would expect Jefferson to be re-elected if he's not, in fact, indicted or forced to step down," he added. "This would fit in right with the tradition of struggling Louisiana politicians," which Cross said was most recently demonstrated when Ray Nagin ran for re-election as mayor of New Orleans.

"The more it appeared that Nagin was circling the wagons and under attack and beleaguered, the more his constituency - and by that I mean mostly the black residents of New Orleans - rallied to his support," Cross said.

"Pundits on the outside were looking at [the election] and saying, 'Oh, getting rid of Ray Nagin would be a no-brainer'" due to the city's poor response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, Cross noted. "It seemed like the tide - if I can use that expression - had swept against Mr. Nagin and would sweep him out of office.

"In fact, that was not the case," Cross said, due to voters' perception that Nagin "was embattled, 'he's one of ours,' 'let's close ranks,' and I would suspect you would see a lot of that surrounding Congressman Jefferson."

Edward Chervenak, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of New Orleans, told Cybercast News Service that he believes Jefferson's re-election "depends on who steps up to the plate to challenge him."

"So far, I haven't seen any name politicians step up and say, 'Well, this guy's carrying a lot of baggage here. This is a city that needs lots of help right now, and Jefferson's a real distraction,'" Chervenak said.

Incumbents "try and build up a reservoir of good will" between themselves and their constituencies, Chervenak said. "It's not so much about vote choice or stances on the issue, it's about 'I'm here for you. I'm concerned about the district.' If a challenger can undermine that, that makes the incumbent vulnerable."

In Chervenak's opinion, the person most capable of defeating Jefferson in the Nov. 7 election would be someone like Oliver Thomas, Jr., president of the New Orleans City Council. "He has lots of crossover appeal. He's popular in the African-American community as well as the white community."

Jefferson does have a Republican challenger in this fall's election, a lawyer named Joseph Lavigne, though Chervenak noted that 67 percent of voters in the district are registered as Democrats, with only 12 percent as members of the GOP.

Regarding Jefferson's ouster from the Ways and Means Committee on Friday, Chervenak noted that the move had been engineered by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

"I guess Pelosi's stance is she wants Democrats to hold a higher standard" because the party is focusing on the "Republican culture of corruption" as an issue for the fall.

Cross agreed, noting that "Jefferson was clearly standing in the way of that, and I think the Democrats felt that to have any chance of taking the House, they had to toss him aside."

"If you're going to run against the 'party of corruption', you can't be the 'party of corruption,'" Cross added.

Jefferson was also the subject of a Cybercast News Service investigation that exposed a possible conflict of interest in his involvement with a charity distributing relief funds after Katrina.

The congressman was also listed on a liberal group's "most corrupt list," but Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Jefferson was merely an "errant congressperson," whose woes couldn't be compared to GOP corruption.

Nevertheless, Chervenak said that Jefferson could solve many problems by answering one question: "How are you going to explain $90,000 in your freezer?

"I'm still waiting for that explanation," Chervenak concluded.

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