Jailed former housing official seeks mercy

Eleven months into a five-year federal prison sentence, former city housing official Stacy Jackson is hoping for a little mercy this holiday season.

The former director of New Orleans Affordable Homeownership — who admitted taking bribes from vendors in a scandal that became a black eye for former Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration — wrote an abject letter to U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon just before Thanksgiving.

Jackson’s neatly handwritten note explains that she was nervous on the day she was sentenced — Oct. 17, 2014 — and unable to speak her mind. She goes on to say what she wished she had said that day: that she made “horrible decisions” and should have taken responsibility for them sooner.

Jackson aggressively fought the charges against her, claiming prosecutorial misconduct, until entering a guilty plea on the eve of trial.

“I am not my worst mistake,” Jackson’s letter continues. “Quite the contrary, I’m so much more. I’m a good person!”

Jackson, who did offer a tearful apology on the day she was sentenced, speculates on whether Lemmon might have treated her more leniently had she expressed the fullness of her feelings that day. But ultimately, she writes, she just wanted the judge to know what she meant to say.

Lemmon, who noted that Jackson otherwise seemed to be an upstanding citizen, gave her the maximum sentence for the charge to which she pleaded, saying that the plea deal itself represented a substantial break for her.

Jackson is serving her sentence at a prison camp in Texas. She is scheduled to be released in May 2019.

N.O. initiatives to aid black males praised

At least in one national group’s opinion, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s NOLA for Life initiative and other efforts prove the city’s commitment to bettering African-American men’s lives.

In a report released Friday, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement — an Open Society Foundations initiative composed of hundreds of organizations committed to improving life outcomes for black men and boys — ranked New Orleans fourth among 50 U.S. large, midsize and small cities in 29 states.

New Orleans received 85 points on a 100-point scale that measures “a city’s level of engagement and committed action helping black men and boys achieve,” the report said.

Those points were broken down as follows: a full 30 of a possible 30 points for the NOLA for Life strategy and national initiatives in which the mayor and city are involved, such as Cities United and President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge program; 20 of a possible 20 points because several organizations committed to improving black male outcomes have a “significant presence” in the city; 16 of a possible 20 points for $2.3 million that local philanthropic organizations received over four years for programs benefiting black males; seven of 10 possible points based solely on demographics — black males make up 58 percent of the city’s male population; and 12 of 20 points for the number of local organizations and individuals that are part of the campaign’s network.

The campaign did not track the effectiveness of NOLA for Life and other city-led programs. Neither did it take into account cities’ black male unemployment rates — which one recent study pegged at 52 percent in New Orleans — or crime rates.

NOLA for Life is Landrieu’s multi-part murder reduction strategy, first unveiled in 2012.

Cities United is a national partnership to eliminate violence-related deaths of black males, launched in 2011 under Landrieu’s and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s leadership. My Brother’s Keeper, the Obama initiative, is aimed at linking boys and young men of color to opportunities.

“I am proud of the progress that our community has made to create opportunities that enable black men and boys in New Orleans to realize their full potential,” Landrieu said in response to the report.

Cantrell offers lessons on disaster resilience

At the invitation of San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, New Orleans City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell was the guest speaker at the California city’s Disaster Resilience Summit on Tuesday. She shared lessons learned from her leadership of the Broadmoor neighborhood following Hurricane Katrina.

Lee, whose city faces continuous threats from earthquakes and drought, said he learned many valuable lessons from New Orleans’ recovery that have enabled San Francisco to create a plan that avoids some of the considerable challenges New Orleans faced.

Cantrell said U.S. cities are increasingly aware that organizations working at the neighborhood level will be in the forefront of meeting residents’ needs in the days and weeks after a large-scale disaster. She said it is essential that cities expand their capacity to create neighborhood-level efforts for care and support services for all residents.

“It is a top priority to do all we can to make our city sustainable and to lessen the stress we as citizens create for our climate and environment,” she said. “We must be prepared, from the grass roots up, not just for the type of disasters we know we are vulnerable to, such as floods and hurricanes. We also need to be prepared for mass shootings, attacks and natural disasters that we cannot yet imagine.”

Compiled by Gordon Russell, Jessica Williams and Bruce Eggler