Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) testifies on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017 in Washington, D.C., at the second day of a confirmation hearing for Attorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions, (R-Ala.) before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA/TNS)

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U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond on Thursday acknowledged arranging a meeting between Orleans Parish Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Rouse and his sole challenger, Dr. Dwight McKenna, preceding Rouse's stunning decision to drop his re-election campaign. But the congressman said he did not attend the meeting. 

Rouse announced late last month that he was dropping his bid for a second four-year term. However, he left the race after the qualifying period, likely handing the office to McKenna, a surgeon who once served prison time after being found guilty of tax evasion. 

"I was asked to notify Dr. McKenna that Dr. Rouse was interested in meeting with him," a statement from Richmond's office said, without elaborating on exactly who made the request.

Richmond's statement also didn't elaborate on why Rouse's camp may have felt it needed to go through a third party to reach the challenger, but the congressman said he assumed he was chosen as the intermediary because of his "decades-long relationship with Dr. McKenna."

Richmond said he was not present for the meeting between McKenna and Rouse, adding, "I had nothing to do with any discussions between them."

Rouse confirmed those details Thursday. "I knew that Cedric knew him well," Rouse said in a statement. "I didn't even have Dwight's number."

Richmond's remarks came two days after McKenna thrust the New Orleans congressman into the center of his campaign. 

In a live online interview with the New Orleans Tribune, a newspaper that his family owns, McKenna said he had been asked by Richmond to meet with Rouse over breakfast at Le Pavillon Hotel to discuss Rouse's wish "to get out of the race." There was at least one more follow-up phone call before Rouse's Aug. 24 announcement, McKenna said. 

Those comments Tuesday were some of the first McKenna had made since Rouse's withdrawal, and they were the first mention of Richmond having any involvement in the race. 

McKenna, a former Orleans Parish School Board member, is still actively campaigning because Rouse quit the race roughly a month too late to have his name taken off the Oct. 14 ballot. 

Votes cast in favor of Rouse will still count; if he receives more than McKenna, he would need to resign to avoid serving a second term beginning in May. In that case, his deputy would serve as interim coroner until a special election could be held to pick a permanent replacement. 

Rouse has said he regrets waiting until after qualifying ended to decide he no longer wanted the job of coroner, which involves determining how people died, often in criminal cases. But he has said he is tired of politics and wants to recommit himself to his psychiatry practice, among other things. 

McKenna has said his past experience as a surgeon and familiarity with trauma will serve him well as coroner. He also has suggested the time is right for New Orleans to elect its first black coroner.

He has avoided answering questions about his prison stint, after which his rights of citizenship were restored by then-Gov. Edwin Edwards. However, in the past, he has maintained he never intentionally withheld taxes and said it does not take away from his medical qualifications. 

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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