Saturday, January 9, 2010

Broussard's resignation

Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard video

Just two days after his Chief Adminstrative Officer Tim Whitmer stepped down in a hail of controversy, Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, a lifetime politician with a career three-plus decades old, abruptly resigned from his office yesterday. In a shocking turn of events, precipitated by a months-long federal investigation in alleged improprieties in parish government, Broussard did by himself what thousands of angry homeowners had hoped he would do right after Hurricane Katrina. It was Broussard who decided he wanted to not imperil the lives of parish employees who worked the drainage pumps in Jefferson Parish. Fearing the housing complexes where they worked would not stand up to the pummeling from the hurricane's winds, Broussard ordered the men to leave their posts and evacuate the area. Many of them resisted, wanting to man the pumps despite the risk to their lives and limbs. When the drainage canals overspilled from excessive water backed up from the storm and from breaks in levees leading to Lake Pontchartrain, Jefferson Parish suffered extensive damage to homes and businesses. Broussard took the brunt of the criticism, but defended his actions as having potentially saved lives. Angry homeowners saw things differently. They surmised that had pumps been working during and after the storm, much of the billions of dollars in damages to personal and public properties would have been lessened. Broussard survived a recall petition launched against him in 2005 after the storm, but his criticism of the federal government's response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina helped him regain favor in some voters' eyes. Broussard was featured on two segments of Meet the Press with Tim Russert in the weeks after the flooding had occurred in September of 2005. On his first appearance on September 4 he made emotional statements about the death of one of his employee's mother in a St. Bernard Parish nursing home and the lack of a response to save her before she died. Broussard was challenged about the accuracy of his earlier statement on a later show on September of 25 by Russert when it was determined that statement contained glaring inaccuracies. While never disputing the discrepancies, Broussard claimed he was only repeating the story told to him by his staffers. It took Broussard two years to climb in popularity again and he narrowly escaped having to be in a runnoff against one of his more outspoken detractors only two years ago. If ever there were an example of an entrenched politician, Broussard was it. It was such a surprise to everyone in the news media that special local reports broke into regular programming throughout the day. Speculation now is rampant over whether Broussard resigned in the face of an impending federal indictment for malfeasance in office or other impropriety. Tim Coulon, a Jefferson Parish mainstay and a close confidante of Broussard, was forced to resign his position with the Louisiana Superdome Commission at the behest of Governor Bobby Jindal over allegations of wrongdoing - or the appearance of the same - not that long ago. Following Whitmer's resignation under fire and Broussard's decision to follow him, political observers are now wondering if the veritable straw that broke the camel's back wasn't a story that leaked to the news media a day after Whitmer stepped down. The story dealt with the possibly improper leasing of a Nova Scotian lodge owned by Broussard to vendors who had done extensive work with the parish government. The Metropolitan Crime Commission questioned the practice and Broussard was on the defensive just the day before he decided to quit, telling reporters he was innocent of any wrong-doing. At the time that Broussard was making his decision to resign Friday, Jefferson Parish officials were busy handing over documents to federal investigators related to the 25-year River Birch garbage disposal contract with the parish that experts suggested could be worth $160 million over the life of the contract. Between allegations of improper awarding of parish contracts and other finger pointing by critics, Broussard was in a no-win situation. He probably did himself and the parish government a great service by stepping down. Now the question is who will fill his very large shoes? Only five days ago Jose Gonzales was a middle management employee, who assisted CAO Whitmer. By Tuesday he was the CAO and with Broussard's departure is now the defacto parish president. An interim president will be named by the parish government soon and by law he or she cannot run for the permanent office. Sources suggest the election for a permanent parish president will be next February, but that will only be for the final two year's of Broussard's existing term. For the pundits it could be a very interesting race. For the voters of Jefferson Parish, it's either an embarrassment or a blessing. With the ongoing investigation ramping up, it shouldn't be long before we hear from the federal prosecutors if Broussard is in their sites for more attention. Many of us will recall Broussard as a district councilman and school board member prior to his entry into the Kenner mayor's race in 1982. That bitterly fought race against two other established politicians - Raoul "Skip" Galan and Kernan "Skip" Hand - cost Broussard dearly. It took him nearly a decade to pay off his gargantuan campaign debt. Only days after taking the oath of office, Broussard became a national celebrity when a tragic Delta plane crash occurred just outside the boundaries of the New Orleans International Airport. Beside the 146 on board the plane, eight residents in their homes or on the ground were killed in the explosion and fire that raced through the Kenner neighborhood. Broussard was given high marks for his take charge attitude and the baseball cap he wore with the "K" for the city of Kenner became an overnight best seller. Following two more successive terms as mayor, Broussard decided to venture into more powerful positions in Jefferson Parish politics. He won election to the Jefferson Parish Council and was selected as chairman from 1995 to 2003. Voters gave him the parish presidency in 2003 and he last ran for office in 2007, winning re-election without having to enter into a runoff by 1.5% of the vote. There is little doubt that he leaves behind a formidable legacy. Whether he is fortunate to stay retired and not become the target of the federal probe remains to be seen. Lips are pretty tight down on Camp Street at the Hale Boggs Federal Building, where the prosecutors led by U.S. Attorney Jim Letten have been quietly pressing forward, interviewing witnesses and pouring over large caches of documents. Who will follow Broussard as interim president and who will run for what's left of his term is anybody's guess right now. It all shapes up to be more local politics as usual, but how history will recall Broussard - as hapless victim or corrupt politician - no one can say.
Art Clokey, the animator of Gumby and Pokey, first premiered on the "Howdy Doody Show," passed away yesterday at the age of 88. Clokey resisted putting replicas of the green bendable figurine on store shelves because he didn't want critics to suggest he was only in the animation field to reap retail sales. Despite his late entry into the marketplace, Gumby and Pokey figures eventually rang up millions of dollars in sales, but not before two television series were aired 20 years apart starring the green figure with the slanting head and his horse friend. Clokey figured it took him 40 years to make substantial money from TV receipts and merchandising. Eddie Murphy's "Saturday Night Live" depiction of Gumby was well regarded by Clokey, who said Gumby needed to laugh at himself. Now that Clokey is gone, one wonders what will become of the green animation figure? I've heard of one report that says a distraught Gumby and Pokey have both gone on a bender. (Ouch.)

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