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.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 895-2266.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. ON WYES-TV, CHANNEL 12.
NOW ON WIST RADIO-690 AM, THE ERROL LABORDE SHOW, FRIDAYS, 6 P.M; SATURDAYS, 8 A.M. AND 2 P.M.; AND SUNDAYS, 8 A.M. AND 5 P.M. THE PROGRAM IS ALSO STREAMED ON THE WIST WEB SITE.