Outcries in our Fair City

Today, Tuesday, New Orleans’ District Attorney Eddie Jordan resigned. There may be a few people sad, but not all that many. Jordan is the former U. S. Attorney who put four-time governor Edwin Edwards into the state penitentiary for racketeering, and was a hero to a lot of people. Now he leaves his office in disgrace.

What happened was this.

Jordan won election to this post after long-time D.A. Harry Connick, Senior, had retired. Connick is a white, one of the few Anglo office-holders in New Orleans the last few decades. If anyone had a problem with how Connick ran things, other than the usual gripes you hear about anyone in city government, I never heard. But when Jordan came in, he took over with a vengeance.

He fired 36 employees in the D.A.’s office, all of them white, then hired a whole battery of new employees, all of them African-American. He assured everyone there was nothing racist about that. Now, there may have been a day when an incoming politician could get by with that, but these days, there are laws against racial discrimination. I don’t know Mr. Jordan, but friends who do say he is the kindest, nicest gentleman you will ever meet. Even so, it may not have occurred to him that laws against racial discrimination work both ways.

The fired employees hired lawyers and took it to the courts, and without batting an eye, the court ruled against Jordan. His office was to pay nearly $2 million in actual and punitive damages.

Jordan kept insisting he was not a racist and not guilty of this charge, and so appealed the ruling. The state supreme court ruled unanimously that the lower courts had done right and he was liable for the damages, which by then had accrued to over $3 million.

Meanwhile, as this was being fought in the courts, New Orleans became a battle ground for gangs and drug pushers and multiple overnight killings became the rule. The DA’s office was never able to keep up with all the crime and most killings went unsolved. The public was outraged.

Occasionally, an assistant DA would get a conviction of some minor criminal and the public would howl again, wondering why they weren’t finding the murderers and ending the killings. Jordan responded that he could only prosecute what the police department brings to him, that his people are not the investigators. But the perception was there.

Next came wholesale departures from the DA’s office. Poor wages, heavy work loads, and bad public relations conspired to encourage assistant district-attorneys to seek employment elsewhere.

When the supreme court ruled that the DA’s office had to pay the $3 million, Jordan turned to the city for help, insisting his office did not have the money. City Council President Arnie Fielkow said, “No way.” The city is still in a crisis situation and needs infusions of money, he pointed out, and does not have the money to bail out Jordan’s office. Talk surfaced about impeaching Jordan.

Then last week came the final straw.

A few blocks away from Jordan’s Algiers home, some young men robbed a guy in a Hummer. Not a good idea, for the fellow then chased their vehicle and rammed it. The culprits scattered, and amazingly, one of them ran to Jordan’s house. It turns out that Jordan’s girlfriend, who was there, knew the guy and let him in the house. When questioned later, she said that last weekend she had been visiting her mother in Baton Rouge and needed a ride back to New Orleans and this fellow and two friends gave her a ride.

Anyone rolling your eyes yet?

Jordan claims the fellow came into his house saying he’d been in a wreck, stayed a few minutes and then left. The police questioned the DA and some people accused him of harboring a fugitive. I think they caught the guy and his buddies later, not sure. But it sure left Jordan looking like a passive, do-nothing. And once again, the public howled.

So, this week, with talk of impeachment, talk of the DA’s office taking bankruptcy, talk of the plaintiffs taking possession of the assets of the DA’s office, and talk of the state attorney general’s office taking over the DA operation, Jordan cut his losses and resigned. One of his assistants, Ms. Landrum-Johnson, was named to replace him. Jordan emphasized that she will not be a candidate for district attorney in the next election.

The new DA announced that she’ll be hiring some new help and establishing high standards and doing a good job. Everyone hopes so. This is one brouhaha this recovering city does not need. We need law enforcement, peaceful nights, and safe neighborhoods.

I wrote here a couple of weeks ago about my own minor infraction–the ticket I received for running a red light in Gardendale, Alabama, when even the cop knows I did no such thing. He wrote the ticket because I had to come to a sudden stop and ended up across the white line. There was no traffic a mile in any direction, but because I had crossed the white line, as soon as I had a green light and he saw my out-of-state license, he pulled me over and wrote a ticket for “running a red light.”

This Tuesday morning I sat at the intersection of Little Farms and Airline Highway, waiting to get on the highway to head toward the seminary for a preaching conference. The traffic is heavy at 8 am, and you wait your turn. When my side of the intersection got the green light, the downtown-bound traffic just kept coming, running the red light. Any cop could sit here every morning and write a dozen tickets an hour. But no. We don’t even prosecute the actual red-light-runners, let alone the white-line-crossers.

There ought to be a happy medium in here somewhere. Lord, bless those law-enforcers who understand they are there to protect and to serve, and who take that seriously.

Bobby Stults is the new pastor of Oak Park Baptist Church in Algiers. He was headed to the same conference I was this morning, and arrived late. “I spent over an hour on General DeGaulle,” he said, referring to the main artery leading out of that neighborhood onto the West Bank Expressway. “I think there was an accident on the bridge.” Bobby just moved here from a small community on the Northshore where the traffic, he said, is practically non-existent. Welcome to the city, Brother Bobby. Lock your doors.

The Corps of Engineers is committed to raising the levees around this city. Out on Lakeshore Drive of New Orleans, they’re hauling in dirt and building them up. What they will do about the streets which lay across the tops of the levees I do not know, but presumably, they will be tearing them up, building them up, and repaving them. Big job, and traffic patterns are going to be disturbed once again. (The ride up and over a much-higher levee ought to give the children a thrill.)

The one place that had no flooding during or after Katrina was the Mississippi River, but the Corps is building up the levees alongside it, also. On the surface, no pun intended, that looks good, but in Tuesday’s paper they announced that they may not replace the bike paths atop the levees. That would be disastrous.

That so-called bike path is where I walk four or five mornings every week of my life. It’s my route to sanity, the best thing about living in our part of this metro area. For me and a lot of others, it is not a bike path. It is a walking or jogging track and it is better than any park. Outsiders should imagine a lovely green expanse with well-trimmed lawns–they really do keep it looking terrific–and a jogging/biking/walking track that goes on for 13 miles, and this alongside the greatest river in North America where you can watch the water traffic while meditating or doing your morning prayers.

The headline in Tuesday’s paper about this matter reads, “Outcry ensues over bike path plans.” The head of a cyclist organization said, “It isn’t just the guys in the funny looking jerseys”–that would be the bikers–“who use that path as a recreational outlet. Just go out there on the weekend, and you’ll see hundreds of people using it.”

The paper says the money for the bike path came from the Federal Highway Administration, the state transportation department, levee districts, and local governments. In other words, everyone had a hand in this wonderful addition to our city and our lives.

Thankfully, all our state leaders are saying not to replace that path would not be acceptable.

I’m not sure when the track was paved, but we moved here to River Ridge in 1994, and one day I walked to the top of the levee to see what it was like. There was a trail of sorts along the ridge, but one covered with shells (the local equivalent of gravel) and it was uncomfortable to walk on. The paving of that track was like a Christmas gift to the citizens. I still marvel at it, and frequently while walking, give thanks to the Lord for such a beautiful, convenient, and safe place to walk.

Reuben Mabry was on local television the other night. I knew he was with the Corps of Engineers, but had no idea he was a higher-up muckety-muck who would represent the organization in talking with the media. The show was a full half-hour and I watched much of it, impressed that this good friend was so knowledgeable, so personable, and so professional. I performed his marriage to Susan a few years back, and was glad to be his pastor until they moved off to Picayune or Slidell or somewhere.

Putting a good face on the Corps is always a good idea. We owe a great deal to the Corps of Engineers, regardless of the bellyaching you’ll often hear around here. Not only Reuben, but others I have met in that organization have been first class individuals.

Pontchartrain Baptist Church, located on Robert E. Lee Boulevard by the lakefront, just a few feet from a billion-dollars worth of floodgates protecting them from the lake, has a sign on their front lawn: “God Bless the Corps.”

2 thoughts on “Outcries in our Fair City

  1. You need to lay on your horn when cars keep running lights like that. One, to alert any other drivers who might see the green light and hit the gas without paying closer attention. Two, in case there is a cop nearby engaged in a box of doughnuts. Get his attention. Three, because it’s alot nicer than giving the finger. 😉

  2. Marty’s suggestion might work until someone comes through in “road rage mode” and decide’s to open fire. Such things are happening and people are being killed. We have been warned in e-mails not to flash our lights to let another car know they need to turn theirs on or dim their lights. The cars that received the flashing turns around and catches up with the car that flashed their lights and they open fire.

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