I had always believed that the government was going to have a difficult time proving its case about the $90,000 they found in William Jefferson’s freezer. Turns out, the jury agreed and found Representative Jefferson not guilty on that specific charge.
Unfortunately for the former Congressman, the jury found him guilty of 11 of the 16 counts, including violating federal RICO statutes, arguably the most damning charge leveled against him.
For a Harvard-educated lawyer who was elected the first African-American Congressman in Louisiana since Reconstruction, today’s verdict represented an almost Shakespearean demise– and in Shakespeare, as with William Jefferson, a character’s demise is typically self-inflicted, borne out of arrogance, ego, an unquenchable thirst for power, and a willingness to skirt morals and ethics for personal benefit, regardless of the collateral damage.
By pure chance, I briefly met William Jefferson about a year ago (at the DNC), and he seemed like a quiet, avuncular guy. Perhaps in the past, Jefferson carried the air of an important, distinguished Congressman, but when I met him, he seemed detached, slouched, and exhausted.
Louisiana Republicans may decide to pounce on this conviction in order to make blanket generalizations about all Louisiana Democrats. However disingenuous it is (considering their simultaneous defense of David Vitter, whose “serious sin” most likely also violated the law), I acknowledge it is now low-hanging fruit for Republicans.
Here is what they fail to understand: There is absolutely no doubt that the vast majority of informed Louisiana Democrats are also pleased by the verdict. They are equally offended by his abuse of power, his exploitation of his office, and the pay-to-play system he seemingly flagrantly embraced.
And though it may sound counter-intuitive: In the long-term, William Jefferson’s conviction can only help Louisiana Democrats, a party desperately in need of rebranding.
Their message should be simple and succinct: Send him to jail.
I have a funny story about the whole Jefferson debacle. His home in Washington was raided by the FBI on August 3, 2005 (three and half weeks prior to Hurricane Katrina making landfall.) They didn’t raid his congressional office until May of 2006.
When we were dealing with the crisis at the Superdome, so this must have been Wednesday night, August 31st, or or Thursday night, September 1st, 2005. Circumventing normal channels (and It’s possible that he went through Nagin, the NOPD headquarters or somebody else at the Hyatt) then Representative Jefferson commandeered one of my vehicles and drivers to go retrieve some of his “belongings” from his New Orleans residence. I didn’t find out about the “mission” until that vehicle got stuck and the driver contacted us, and I dispatched a rescue mission.
I wonder to this day what was so important that he placed himself, and several of my troops at unnecessary risk at that particular time. I do know that it happened the same day the FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) arrived at the Superdome to provide us with some backup.
Food for thought….
Though I believe that justice was served in this case, in no way does it make me feel “pleased.” This whole debacle, especially the trial and its verdict, makes me very sad. I am saddened about the lost opportunities. I am saddened by the nola.com comments (I wonder why I even read them anymore), which express such joy and glee that an historic member of our community and important member of a prominent influential family, will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars. Though I agree with the verdict and would have served the same were I on the jury, I do not feel like rejoicing. I feel mournful. Though his crimes should be put in the open and punished to deter others from such corruption, I am sensitive to how these actions, their repercussions, and the public’s derision can serve to continue to divide our community, a community in need of reconciliation and healing.
I write this from the point of view of basic humanity, but also from the point of view of a Louisiana Democrat. Although in many ways I find myself more ideologically represented by the Green Party, I am registered Democrat in Jefferson’s former district (I voted against Jefferson for Malik Rahim in the 2nd District election, who ran as the Green Party candidate) and I cannot say that I feel pleased at all by this whole thing, or the result.
I fear that we will have to undergo the same tortuous episode in the next few years with Nagin. Undoubtedly these episodes are the fault of those that perpetrate the nepotism, corruption and dishonesty. However, we are individually responsible for how we respond to such events, and are responsible for how they are perceived in the public sphere. You may disagree, but that is legitimately how I feel.
I offer my honest sympathies to the families and to everyone who have suffered the neglect of a such a dishonest representative, which is, indeed, all of us.
I echo your sentiments. I don’t take any perverse pleasure in the downfall of Jefferson. I’m not a Democratic voter, but William Jefferson was a compelling figure. At least initially, he was the most legitimate African American politician that Louisiana has produced for the national stage. His voting record was decidedly liberal, but I had respect for him, until all of this corruption (which seems intrinisic in New Orleans) came to light.
It seems that Louisiana can’t catch a break. Either we have overtly flamboyant and openly corrupt politicians (Huey and Earl Long, EWE, to a certain degree Cleo Fields, others), outright sociopaths (Duke), political elites from privileged families, (Longs, Morials, Landrieus, Fosters, etc.), guys with serious character flaws (Livingston, Jefferson, Vitter), and the list goes on. Even when we get reasonably decent people who are, relatively speaking, bland and ordinary (in a good way), they end up wilting under pressure, or in the public spotlight (Blanco and Jindal). It’s probably too early to write Jindal off, but it seems that the days of Louisiana producing figures the stature of Russell Long (again, a member of the Long family), or even a Gillis Long (ditto) or a pre-scandal Livingston seem long past.
Clancy has a great piece about Jefferson posted on The Gambit’s blog: http://blogofneworleans.com/blog/2009/08/06/in-his-own-words/
Michael, I agree with you; this is sad. There is no doubt about it.
But as Clancy points out, more than being sad, it’s a waste.
Clancy stole his piece from the Times Picayune … or perhaps the Times Picayune stole it from Clancy … who knows? But it’s interesting that both editorials used the same jumping off point to make their case.