As Louisiana prepares to observe the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta has been indicted for the fourth time in a year and a half, and more indictments might be in Peralta’s future. He now faces 22 counts on a wide range of allegations. Among other things, Peralta stands accused of forcing employees to help him stalk his ex-wife, pressuring them for campaign donations and taking a kickback on a technology contract.
Corruption charges are always bad news for public officials and the taxpayers they’re sworn to serve, but this is an especially sad development as Louisiana marks a decade since Katrina and subsequent levee breaks devastated the New Orleans area. From the suffering and destruction, which desolated St. Bernard, came a resolve to build a new future for this region that left politics-as-usual behind.
Ten years later, Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans during Katrina, is serving time in federal prison for corruption during the city’s recovery. Peralta’s recent arrest will, for many inside and outside the state, affirm the old stereotype of political chicanery that’s held Louisiana down.
Louisiana has no monopoly on political wrongdoing, of course, so perhaps our reputation as a banana republic is unfair. But as the state markets itself to the world, perception is often just as potent as reality. That’s why we have a special obligation to ensure that government at the state and local levels is free of abuse.
Peralta has not been convicted of any crime, and he will, like any citizen, have his day in court. We hope that justice moves as swiftly as possible concerning the multiple indictments he now faces. The pressure on Peralta to resign affirms a simple political reality: In the wake of these charges, it will be profoundly difficult for Peralta to credibly lead St. Bernard.
Regardless of their ultimate resolution, the charges against Peralta are a profound distraction from the challenges that St. Bernard residents still face nearly 10 years after a historic disaster.