It's a doozy, folks. They just don't make columnists like Chris Rose anymore - which is an absolute shame.
Of thieves, defendants and hypocrites
Will the honest, capable politicians please stand up?
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
When the William Jefferson indictment came down, I admit to having very little visceral reaction. As a casual observer of Louisiana politics for the past two decades, I'd suspected that he and some of his kin were bad seeds.
When the Vitter thing came down, all I could do was shake my head and laugh. The lurid hypocrisy of Mr. Family Values was almost too stupid to get angry about. What a loser.
But Oliver. What the hell? It's like a knife in the back.
I've known Oliver Thomas more as a friend than a politician for more than 20 years. We used to play basketball together every Monday night in a steamy school gym down in Bywater for years.
He and his brother played. And his dad came to sit and watch the games, sitting alone in the stands watching a bunch of newspaper guys and assorted others gracelessly bang their bodies together.
Except Oliver. He moved through much smaller guys with extreme agility. In fact, he could score at will in these pick-up games, and often did. He played college ball and it showed.
He was a friend of one of my colleagues at the paper and the first guy I got to know personally in town who became a New Orleans politician. That term scared me. I thought: This guy seems really cool. My impression of such a lifestyle was that honorable men had nothing to do with it.
And I had Oliver pegged as an honorable man.
But my sentiments have been largely validated over the years as I witnessed the debacles -- no, the horrors -- of the Morial, Jefferson and Edwards political machines, the three insurance commissioners imprisoned since I've lived here, the constant parade of crooked judges, the School Board thieves and the whole damned thing.
Truth is, I just about puke when I hear the name Morial anymore. When, people, are we gonna change? When do we get to stop apologizing for being from Louisiana?
Oh, Oliver. He had panache and street sense and was funny as hell. In fact, every time I ever shared a stage with him, he stole the show, and I'm supposed to be the professional funny man.
And I guess that was just one of his many sidelines. To read about his willing participation in the cesspool of Morial-era graft and corruption, it's hard for me to reconcile that he was stealing. From me, from you, from us.
The fat cats and grifters have been selling the city, parcel by parcel, and dividing up the profits while thousands upon thousands of residents -- their constituents -- live lives of squalor and lost hope, all the while thinking that guys like Oliver and whoever else are on their side.
If you think there is no connection between bad politics and images of, say, 30,000 people dying of heat outside the Convention Center two years ago, then you're not following the bouncing ball.
Voters be damned. They don't have any money.
I realize that corruption exists elsewhere in this country and one of my colleagues at the paper has gone to great lengths to document it as to make Louisiana seem no more remarkable than other locations in this matter.
But we are. Because our process is infected, rotten, dying from the inside out. In other venues, corruption is the shocker. Here, it is expected, and that is the sad truth and I guess that's where Oliver and Honor went their separate ways, on the power climb.
Another colleague at the paper -- and many political elders in the state -- are finding a soft spot in their hearts for Edwin Edwards, implying that because the man is old and has served half his prison term, that he should summarily be released to live a life of genteel retirement by some pristine waters, fishing instead of mopping prison floors.
What a load of hooey. Edwards is lucky he didn't spend more of his life behind bars and he should bank that when he goes to bed at night in his prison cot. The operative systems that guys like him set in place is one where their cronies -- these obvious, pathetic and ill-spoken lowlifes -- walk off with state and city money while the state and city fail, falter, die.
And, like the scumbags they are, now they turn on each other. Pampy Barré, a bar owner who somehow became an expert and highly paid consultant on everything from building airport runways to operating the Sewerage & Water Board, is the guy they say fingered Thomas as a way to skim off his own prison term and it just makes you want to shout.
A little bit louder now. Throw all the bums in jail, I say. Let's clean some serious house.
It makes you wonder who's next? What's next? While we're waiting, I have an idea, and it ties into all that Edwards nonsense:
Remember when we all watched Cleo Fields pocket a massive wad of cash from Edwards, all of it secretly filmed and played for us on TV?
And remember Edwards went to jail for something to do with all this and Fields did not and he swore up and down that everything was above board and he would give us a very reasonable explanation about all this when the time was right?
Well, while we're clearing the air on so many matters of corruption these days, I'm thinking now might be a good time.
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Columnist Chris Rose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (504) 826-3309, or (504) 352-2535.