Sep 21, 200912:00 AM
The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde

Errol Laborde: 5 answers

to the argument, “Why do whites want reform now that blacks are in power, yet they never worried about it when they were in power?” 

When you are a prosecutor, prepare to have smut thrown at you. District attorneys, U.S. attorneys and now inspector generals all, by the nature of what they do, have to pursue often-shady people who, by the nature of what they are, will not be hesitant to defame people's reputations. Last week we saw an apparently decent and honorable man, former Inspector General Robert Cerasoli, become the latest victim of such wrath. When the dust settles, we suspect that there will be a racial link to the turmoil and a revision of the old argument that whites are concerned about prosecuting blacks but less concerned about prosecuting their own.


I know that hardly anyone, black or white, really believes this argument, yet it surfaces from time, as it did earlier this year over the City Hall transparency veto flap. (The argument is especially popular among those who have the most to lose because of reform.)  At the time I tried to grapple with the issue and presented some reasons why the argument is not true. Now that the issue has risen again, and after further review, here, in ascending order, is a revised, expanded list.

5. Back when white people were totally in power, other white folks were checking on them, too. During the era of machine politics, there was a “good government” element that looked suspiciously at the (all white) machine bosses. One reason New Orleans still has so many independent boards is machine-era reforms to weaken the power of the machines. Civil service reform began as a way of curtailing the arbitrary hiring power of the old bosses. Whites were thrown in jail, too, most notably Gov. Richard Leche and some of his cronies. As Huey Long lay dying from an assassin’s bullet, he supposedly lamented that without him to control his followers, they would all wind up in jail — some did. Former State President Michael O’Keefe, once the most powerful of legislators, is now serving his second term in a federal prison, and Edwin Edwards, the person who served the most terms as governor, is counting the remaining days of a 10-year sentence. Legitimate concern over the accumulation of political power knows no racial boundaries.

4. Federal prosecutors are better able to go after corruption than they were in earlier years because they have more laws to work with. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, Act gave investigators more legal tools for collaring –– and prosecuting ––crooks. The original targets of those laws were not blacks but a notorious band of white guys, the Mafia. RICO also has been used for nailing, among others, white-collar criminals and Latin-American drug dealers. 

3. Blacks being in power is hardly novel. Dutch Morial, the city’s first black mayor, took office in 1978, 31 years ago; a black majority City Council soon followed, so any effort at reform is not a sudden reaction against blacks.

2. If there is a new wave of reform, it has nothing to do with race but rather the post-Katrina mood to fix the things that are wrong with the city. We’ve rebuilt the levee board system and streamlined the assessors’ office all to make government more efficient. Education is improving partially because of the number of new charter schools. Those schools are reaching children across the spectrum and giving them opportunities, yet, pre-Katrina, efforts to establish charter schools were sometimes criticized as being racist because they weakened the then-black-majority school board. Now more people than ever, of all races, can have a say in planning their area schools. Despite the racial arguments, charter schools have empowered people, not taken power away.

1. Where there is waste in government, the most tragic victims are the ones who need government services the most, and that is usually the poor. Those are the same people who are most exploited by the racial arguments. That’s not just a sin against race; it is a sin against morality.

Let us know what you think. Any comments about this article? Write to All responses are subject to being published, as edited, in this newsletter. Please include your name and location. 


Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival - Comus to Zulu
by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via e- mail at or (504) 895-2266.





Reader Comments:
Sep 21, 2009 02:39 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Errol, this article , quite strangely leaves out a lot of important points. Back when whites were totally in power was light years different then when Dutch Morial was in power as you call it. When whites, pre and post Morial are in power, they are not only in control of the politics, but they are part of the group who makes up the bulk of the business infrastructure. That's a huge difference that seems to selectively escape you. You also fail to point out that most of dutch Morial's cronies were white. Had black politicians been as blatant as Edwards and some other white politicians they would have been in jail a lot sooner. Such as Bill Jefferson. And in his case appropriately so, I might add. I think you would agree no black politician as corrupt as Huey Long would continue to be romanticized. Dutch Morial had to spend far too much of his time dealing with a racist public, as it seems Our President is doing right now. Too bad the ugliest parts of our history always seem to repeat itself I won't comment any further on the rest of this article, as your glaring omissions make it somewhat unbearable. I do hope to read more of your articles , as I usually find many of them thought provoking and enjoyable.
All the best

Sep 21, 2009 04:46 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I'm truly fed up with the term "racism" and its excessive use as an excuse for shortcomings, failures, corruption, psychosis, and whatever else a person is having a hard time with. We live in the United States of America. We are first and foremost Americans no matter how we got here as long as it was legal, not Italian-Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, or whatever else Americans. We are all subject to the same laws and certainly have evolved socially to the point where we all have the same opportunities (President Obama). In the city of New Orleans there is no reason to use racism as a crutch. Members of the national minority control much of what happens here, just like in some other major cities, including our Nation's capitol. We have had a black mayor for 31 years, a black run city council, a black police chief, a black run schoolboard, black state representatives, black congressmen, black senators, predominantly black run public transit, black professional football and basketball teams. . . People!!! just look around you, quit complaining and demand that whoever is being paid by your tax dollars, or is in office because of your vote, does what they are supposed to do and does it with integrity, no matter what color. By the way I'm white, actually olive complexion, and I think President Obama is a hell of a lot smarter than many previous presidents, including Clinton, Carter & both Bushes. How good he is remains to be seen. He isn't perfect. And when I think he's wrong I'd like to just say he's wrong without being called a racist. That goes for any other public official working on my nickel.

Sep 21, 2009 05:12 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Thank you Mr. Laborde for commenting on the continued abuse of the race issue when people differ in political or community opinions. I am posting anonymously because I am a white citizen of metro N.O. who feels potentially threatened by black racists if identified. It is my opinion that the racists who are causing problems in our culture today are, unfortunately African Americans. Somehow, any time black politicians, black entertainers, black citizens are critized or identified as responsible for anti-social behavior or potentially criminal behavior toward the community, irresponsible African American apolegists claim white racists are at work again. Everyone who has observed the decline of the public school system, the neglect of public parks, the corruption within the inner circles of regulatory bodies of the city, the neglect of NORD for the city children, and the neglect of inner city neighborhoods realizes that African Americans have controlled the city politic of New Orleans for more than 30 years. They should be held accountable for the decline of our wonderful city. I am absolutely not a white racist, but I am a realist. I believe that black racists are tearing our communities apart by continuously inciting class warfare between the races instead of promoting a community that looks beyond color as Martin Luther King envisioned. Everyone should also remember President Obama is as white as he is African American. I see him as a politician who has radically different views of what is good for our country. I oppose his policies based on differing convictions, not on the color of his skin. That is TOTALLY irrelevant to me. I think I am doing exactly what Martin Luther King wanted, I am judging a man not by the color his skin but by the substance of his message.

Sep 22, 2009 12:50 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I also get angry when people bring up the sins or crimes of another race who appeared to get away with it in the past as a defense as to why they feel some current politician is being targeted now because of race. Frankly, if it were possible to go back and prove crimes against past or current white politicians, then I would want it to be done. In the same vein, I don't think someone should be let off the hook now because of their race. So when does it end? Just because so & so got away with it doesn't mean we need to tolerate graft from any of our officials now. Let's stand together and start cleaning up our act today, be it against any corrupt person of any race.

Sep 22, 2009 09:13 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

As a white person from Philly that was runout of a "black" neighborhood by my hate-filled, racist black neighbors, I have pondered this social reality for many, many hours. I have realized the existence of a few social realities that we, as a society, have failed to have the courage to acknowledge:
1. That, today, the biggest deterent to the success of too many blacks is based on a penchant for self-destruction--not on racism. Black school administrators lament not being able to get too many black parents to send their children to school more than 4 days a week and past the 6th grade, to send them to school with full bellies, and to instill the value of an education in their children;
2. That the large majority of black victims of violence were shot, killed, another black;
3. That, in American cities with the most egregious poverty statistics, violence, and political/government regulatory failures and corruption, the persons in power have been blacks--often for two generations or more;and
4. That certain black "civic leaders' assertions of oppression against blacks are not backed by statistics, and, more importantly, are actually self-defeating.
Here's a thought: given that too many of the most serious and ongoing social, financial, and physical injuries to blacks today are prepetrated by blacks themselves, who will we be looking to for reparations to make up for today's social shortfalls? Will future black civic leaders demand reparations from the "good blacks", from the "light-skinned blacks", from the whites still...If, in the future, such arguments and demands are to be made, wouldn't they necessarily have to go after blacks as well? And if they don't, doesn't that demonstrate that they are using skin color or race to make discriminatory decisions.

IE> doesn't the failure of blacks to hold blacks accountable for their bad behavior demonstrate, with precious clarity, that they are acting with racist intent?

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The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde


Errol LabordeErrol Laborde holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of New Orleans and is the editor-in-chief of Renaissance Publishing. In that capacity he serves as editor/associate publisher of New Orleans Magazine and editor/publisher of Louisiana Life magazine.

Errol is also a producer and a regular panelist on Informed Sources, a weekly news discussion program broadcast on public television station WYES-TV, Channel 12. Errol is a three-time winner of the Alex Waller Award, the highest award given in print journalism by the Press Club of New Orleans. He also received the National and City Regional Magazine Association Award for Best Column for his New Orleans Magazine column, beating out 76 city magazines across the country. In 2013, Errol received the award for the "Best News Affiliated Blog," awarded by the Press Club of New Orleans.

Errol’s most recent books are Krewe: The Early Carnival from Comus to Zulu and Marched the Day God: A History of the Rex Organization. In his free time he enjoys playing tennis and traveling with his wife, Peggy, to anywhere they can get away to, but some of his favorite spots are the Caribbean and historic locations around Louisiana. You can reach Errol at (504) 830-7235 or




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