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Monday, December 11, 2006

Why Jefferson won

New Orleans Voters Support Their Man Over F.B.I.

Published: December 11, 2006

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 10 — Outside the Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church, there was no surprise on Sunday at the re-election of Representative William J. Jefferson, only satisfaction.

The late-night comedians could joke all they wanted about the $90,000 that the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it found in Mr. Jefferson’s freezer and that the agency said was bribe money. White New Orleans could tut-tut at the seamy portrait outlined by the F.B.I. in its investigation of him, and at the guilty pleas of two associates of Mr. Jefferson, who is a black Democrat.

Supporters in the broken-down, crime-plagued Central City neighborhood here saw another picture: of a godly man persecuted by a racially biased government.

“There’s been no indictment; how can you say he’s guilty?” asked Brenda Dumas, clutching her Bible.

“Some call him a crook,” Ms. Dumas added. They say he’s corrupt. They have to prove that. To give up on somebody after all he’s done for us, that would be wrong.”

To the crowd streaming from Sunday services, the months of harsh headlines proved only Mr. Jefferson’s sanctity. His dignified mien, his church-going habits and omnipresent family entourage set the seal.

“I wouldn’t have voted for anybody else,” Johnnie Mae Patterson said. “He’s a God-sent man.”

Mr. Jefferson crushed his opponent, State Representative Karen R. Carter, also a Democrat, in a runoff election on Saturday, gaining 57 percent of the vote. How he did so may speak to strikingly different views of government here.

“The background to this is the cultural divide between blacks and whites, and their different attitude to law enforcement,” said Susan E. Howell, a political scientist at the University of New Orleans.

In the eyes of some, those differences have been accentuated by the legacy of Hurricane Katrina, and Washington’s failure to get New Orleans back on its feet. Mr. Jefferson is not blamed for the ruined black neighborhoods, but the United States government — his prosecutor — is.

Jefferson is a shitty pol, and a crook, but people in New Orleans thinks the government tries to jail successful black men. It was very easy for the scheming Jefferson to portray himself as a victim of a government vendetta.

Because it has happened. Remember Mike Espy? Well, there's a feeling that white prosecutors resent black success and must bring them down. This feeling was missed completely by the white progressives who backed Karen Carter, who will probably get the seat in the end. Black distrust of government, days after a decision to demolish thousands of public housing apartments, has reached a zenith.

Some people believe the government blew the levies, others, that they want to cleanse New Orleans of black people. Carter may have sounded good on the Internet, but in New Orleans, Jefferson was going to get the benefit of the doubt.

posted by Steve @ 12:56:00 AM

12:56:00 AM

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