The Democratic U.S. congressman from New Orleans, William J. Jefferson, turned a silk purse into a sow’s ear. The first black congressman from Louisiana since Reconstruction, a Harvard Law graduate, had the world on a string. And in many instances, it could be argued, he served his congressional district well.
But, then again, he did not.
When Hurricane Katrina struck, the congressman found it more pressing to commandeer the National Guard so they could help him remove some precious items from his home while some of his constituents were sitting on their roofs tops begging to be rescued.
There was also that little incident where the Feds found $90,000 in marked bills in Jefferson’s freezer in his D.C. home.
The New Orleans politician faces a run-off for his congressional seat on Nov. 4. On that day, Louisiana voters ought to make sure that they send Barack Obama to the White House and Rep. Jefferson to the retirement home.
The congressman had his chance and blew it. Wayne Hicks at the Electronic Village agrees. Here’s some of what he had to say about the Louisiana congressman:
Rep. William Jefferson .... Please, Just Go Away!
Do you believe that things come in threes? If so, perhaps there is still hope that New Orleans congressman William Jefferson will fade from sight soon. First, Kwame Kilpatrick was forced from his position as mayor of Detroit. Second, OJ Simpson was forced from his position as a sports icon.
Perhaps U.S. Rep. William Jefferson will be #3 on this list. Jefferson, seeking his 10th term in Congress, faces a December trial on charges that he took bribes, laundered money and misused his congressional office for business dealings in Africa.
Of course, the people of New Orleans can end his career on November 4 when his congressional district holds a runoff. Jefferson was the first Black elected to Congress from Louisiana since Reconstruction. But, it is time for him to go away. Since he won't retire, it is up to the people to put him away.
OJ Simpson had false hope before he was found guilty by Las Vegas jury. Perhaps Jefferson is a wee bit too confident. He addressed a few dozen family members and supporters at a restaurant in a section of eastern New Orleans still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina. “We look forward to a rigorous campaign but a successful outcome,” Jefferson said.
A victory in the Nov. 4 runoff would send Jefferson to a Dec. 6 general election in the heavily Democratic district against a little-known Republican.
Read the rest of the Electronic Village post here.
And, this is what I had to say about Jefferson in my Chicago Sun-Times op-page column more than a year a ago.
Rep. Jefferson a Bad Actor
January 21, 2007
BY MONROE ANDERSON
I'd bet my bottom dollar that William Jennings Jefferson's folks taught him what all perceptive parents taught their black baby boomer children about the secret of succeeding in the racially challenged U.S. of A.: ''You've got to be twice as good as the white man.''
Somewhere along the line, the 60-year-old Harvard Law graduate forgot his upbringing.
U.S. Rep. Jefferson was arraigned Friday in federal court on charges of racketeering, money-laundering, soliciting bribes, wire fraud, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In total, the Louisiana Democrat racked up 16 violations of federal law and if convicted, he could face 235 years in federal prison.
A politically potent, well-connected African-American man taking a criminal legal hit that big, unquestionably failed to do something right. Jefferson, who has been fairly mum publicly about the case but has maintained his innocence, is either bad at appearing to be a good public servant or has acted badly as charged.
The congressman's got some powerful proof to overcome. The feds have successfully flipped two co-conspirators and established a solid paper trail for good measure. Last year, Brett Pfeffer, a former congressional aide, admitted soliciting bribes on Jefferson's behalf and was sentenced to eight years in prison. Another Jefferson associate, Vernon Jackson, the former chief executive of the telecom firm iGate Inc., was sentenced to 87 months in prison for paying $400,000 to a company controlled by Jefferson's wife in hopes of landing contracts from the U.S. Army and a number of African nations. Both Pfeffer and Jackson agreed to cooperate in the case against Jefferson.
From all appearances, Jefferson has been caught red-handed -- on video and by wire as well as live and in living color. Federal investigators say they videotaped the congressman on July 30, 2005, receiving a briefcase containing $100,000 from an FBI informant. A few days later, the FBI executed search warrants to examine Jefferson's homes and car, seizing a number of items, including $90,000 in marked bills stuffed in a home freezer.
Cold cash aside, I'm painfully aware that one of the great American pastimes is locking up black men. Our nation boasts the world record, with more than 1 million African-American men in prison and jail. That's more than all the black men in all the prisons and all the jails in all the other countries on the planet combined. Our imprisoned black men, as a rule, are uneducated, poor and powerless. Jefferson is none of that. Ideally, as a duly elected national lawmaker and leader, you'd think he'd be about setting a good example.
Jefferson, whose 2nd District includes New Orleans, won reelection in a runoff last year partly because of Louisiana's legendary quirky politics and partly because Mayor C. Ray Nagin and other prominent black politicians endorsed him. In 1990, he became the first black member of Congress from that state since Reconstruction.
Last week, Jefferson garnered a similar but more dubious distinction: He is the first U.S. official to face charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits U.S. nationals and corporations from corrupting foreign officials.
One of the foreign officials allegedly was Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who recently resigned. Just how good do you have to be to corrupt a Nigerian official? Only Russian palms are less difficult to grease.
This is not the first time Jefferson has received bad press. He was criticized in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Five days after the hurricane made landfall, Jefferson commandeered a National Guard detachment to recover personal property from his home. When the truck that was chauffeuring him to his home got stuck, Jefferson called on more Guardsmen, a helicopter and a second truck to help him out as untold numbers of his constituents sat on the rooftops begging to be rescued.
While it's easy to harbor bad suspicions, I imagine the good congressman was simply checking on his laundry.