The 16 percent of eligible voters who bothered to cast ballots in yesterday's congressional runoff election in the New Orleans area sent Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) back to Washington for a ninth term, handing the ethically challenged politician a decisive 57 percent of the vote in his race against attorney and state Rep. Karen Carter.
The first African American sent to Congress from Louisiana since Reconstruction, Jefferson also has the dubious distinction of having been named one of the most corrupt members of Congress by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Jefferson is currently the subject of an FBI probe for allegedly taking money from iGate Inc., a Kentucky-based tech company, in exchange for his help getting the company deals in Africa. Two of Jefferson's close associates have already pleaded guilty.
The folks at Bayou Buzz offer some insights into why Jefferson emerged victorious, noting Carter's close relationship with the insurance industry, her criticism of the Jefferson Parish sheriff's role in the infamous Gretna bridge incident following Katrina (click here to see the anti-Carter attack flyers mailed out by Sheriff Harry Lee) and Jefferson's stance on social issues, which appealed more to conservatives.
Other pundits such as Richard Valeriani at Huffington Post have pointed to Louisiana's history of political corruption in their efforts to explain Jefferson's victory. But shadiness at higher levels of government was another factor in the election that shouldn't be ignored. As New Orleans blogger Adrastos adroitly observes:
It's also interesting to me that no one is pointing a post-Dollar Bill victory finger of blame where it belongs: the FBI. If not for the FBI's arrogance and incompetence in searching Dollar Bill's Capitol Hill office, Jefferson would have been indicted some time in October. In a classic bit of Bush administration incompetence and overreaching, the FBI got a warrant and conducted a search without considering the political and constitutional implications of busting into a Congressman's office. It pissed off everyone on the Hill, y'all. I understand that Attorney General Torture Boy signed off on this one personally so he gets a share of the blame as well. Repeat after me: Dollar Bill has NOT been indicted because of the pending appeal on the search of his office. The FBI has so completely screwed the pooch on this case that it won't shock me if Dollar Bill is NOT indicted in the Nigerian Telecomm shakedown scam.
New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Michelle Krupa makes a similar observation in her report on the election in today's paper:
Jefferson may have benefited from widespread post-Katrina disgust with the federal power structure. Under one theory, if the national government could fumble the region's recovery so badly, its lawyers also could be targeting Jefferson wrongly.
In the meantime, some Democrats in the New Orleans area are calling on incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to return Jefferson to his seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, according to the Times-Picayune. Jefferson was stripped of that position last spring after the FBI allegedly found $90,000 in bribe-tainted cash in the freezer of his Washington home.