Throughout the lengthy debate over Confederate monuments in New Orleans, many opponents of taking down the statues — such as U.S. Sen. David Vitter — have argued that by bringing up the issue, Mayor Mitch Landrieu has taken focus away from solving more pressing problems such as crime and crumbling streets.
One of the latest to levy the charge was Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who last week listed a host of problems facing the city that she said were more deserving of the administration’s time. She made the charge as she said she was prepared to vote against Landrieu’s push to remove four statues to Confederate officials or white supremacists in the city.
So Landrieu must have relished the opportunity to fire back when he was asked about Cantrell’s comment at a news conference.
“Smart people can do more than one thing at a time,” he said.
If Landrieu was hoping to prove his administration could walk and chew gum at the same time, the setting couldn’t have been more perfect. The quip came just after he and federal officials announced a settlement with FEMA under which New Orleans will receive $1.2 billion more to help repair the city’s roads and underground infrastructure.
A plea to bring down ‘symbols of hate’
One of the more ringing calls for removing the Confederate monuments came from Danatus King, the former head of the local NAACP branch who ran against Landrieu in 2014.
Noting that he and the mayor often disagreed, he said they agree now on the need to remove “symbols of hate” that “glorify people that were the terrorists and traitors of a terrible time in our country’s history.”
He ended his news release this way: “The time is now. The statutes (sic) must come down.”
Of course, bringing down all the statutes could leave a lawyer like King with very little business.
Lagasse, Young bid adieu to Jeff Council
At their last Jefferson Parish Council meeting before leaving office, veteran at-large Councilman Elton Lagasse promised that he would always be available to help parish officials if they need him, and President John Young said he is proud of the shape Jefferson is in.
The 76-year-old Lagasse — whose October bid to succeed Young came up short — joked that he would be looking for things to do because he doesn’t fish or play golf. Though he vowed to spend time with his grandchildren, he told the audience Wednesday, “Anything I can do, I’m always here. I’ll never tell you what to do, but I can tell you what not to do.”
Meanwhile, Young, 58, said the parish budget his administration submitted for 2016 — which is $27 million higher than the one for this year and $52 million higher than the one for 2014, despite having few significant new costs — was a strong indicator that Jefferson is fiscally healthy.
That was remarkable, he said, given that in the past decade Jefferson has weathered hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Isaac as well as the 2010 BP oil spill. The parish also experienced a corruption scandal that sent Young’s predecessor, Aaron Broussard, to federal prison in 2012.
“The best days of Jefferson Parish are ahead,” said Young, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor this fall.
Lagasse has been on the council since 2004. His at-large seat will be filled by Cynthia Lee-Sheng, who has been representing Metairie-based council District 5. Her successor in District 5 will be Jennifer Van Vrancken.
Young also joined the Parish Council in 2004 and won a special election in 2010 to become Jefferson’s president after Broussard resigned. He won his current term unopposed in 2011. Without elaborating, he said he is considering “several” employment options for when he leaves office Jan. 6.
Chambers renamed to honor parish official
The next time the Jefferson Parish Council meets in its West Bank chambers, it will be doing so in a room named for Anthony P. “Tony” DiGerolamo, who worked under four parish presidents before his death two years ago.
On Wednesday, Jefferson Councilman Ricky Templet — for whom DiGerolamo also worked — won passage of a measure to rename the Gretna chambers after the man affectionately called “Tony D,” credited by many as being the main reason the parish government complex that opened on Derbigny Street in 2004 was built.
Templet said the action shows “the respect we had for him and that he had for our parish.”
DiGerolamo began working for Jefferson as the director of fleet management under Parish President Michael J. Yenni, who took office in 1987. He then oversaw various departments — from libraries and recreation to the animal shelter and general services — under Presidents Tim Coulon, Aaron Broussard and Steve Theriot over the next couple of decades.
During that time, those speaking in support of Templet’s measure said, DiGerolamo was at the forefront of coordinating parish efforts to build the General Government Building that today houses facilities used by the council and parish administrative officials and is connected to the 24th Judicial District Courthouse.
Coulon on Wednesday recalled that discussions about the building were generally one-way, with DiGerolamo telling everyone what needed to happen before he went out and made sure it got done.
DiGerolamo had been battling brain cancer when he died at his home in Terrytown on Christmas Day 2013 at age 67.
Templet said a plaque honoring DiGerolamo will eventually hang from the rear of the Parish Council chambers in Gretna. The council, which alternates meetings between the east and west banks, will next meet in its Gretna chambers on Feb. 17.
New Tammany sheriff tries to end rumors
St. Tammany Parish Sheriff-elect Randy Smith hasn’t had much rest since he defeated five-term incumbent Jack Strain in a Nov. 21 runoff. “I’ve been bombarded,” he said of the calls, texts and emails he’s received.
But he’s ready to put something else to rest: the rampant rumors about who will be a part of his staff when he takes over July 1.
Those rumors have been swirling since Smith’s upset win, and he said they aren’t coming from him. “Most of the rumors we are hearing are coming from within the jail or the courthouse,” he said in a veiled shot at Strain.
But, Smith said, there are “no facts to the rumors.”
He said he plans to release a list of people on his transition team after Jan. 1. Another committee will advise the transition team, he added. The names of its members will be released after the transition team is named.
But Smith did name a couple of people who will serve on the advisory committee: former Covington Police Chief Richard Palmisano and Jeff Boehm, who has worked for Washington Parish Sheriff Randy Seal.
Buddy Spell, a Covington defense attorney who was an active Smith supporter, has been rumored to be in line to become in-house counsel for the new sheriff, but Smith said the two have never discussed it.
Smith said he has received inquiries from law firms all over the parish about the job. But there’s one lawyer he hasn’t heard from: Chuck Hughes, whose firm represented Strain and at times caused some heartburn for the sheriff.
Smith said he has yet to decide when he will resign as Slidell police chief, his current job.
Compiled by Jeff Adelson, Ramon Antonio Vargas and Faimon A. Roberts III