Expert: Crime Challenges City's Leadership

New Orleans recorded 140 murders as of Aug. 29 -- the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina -- and the city is on pace to repeat as the nation's homicide capital, according to Texas State University criminologist Peter Scharf. "It's staggering, and nothing that has been tried since the beginning of the year has worked," Scharf says. "I'm projecting 204 total murders for the year," based on an average monthly total of 17 homicides during the first eight months of 2007. Using Mayor Ray Nagin's city population estimate of 300,000, the city's murder rate was 67.5 per 100,000 residents. Using the more conservative and more commonly cited population estimate of 275,000 residents, the city's murder rate is 73 per 100,000 people. Either way, New Orleans is way ahead of the next-highest murder capital -- Gary, Ind. -- which has a murder rate of 48 per 100,000 residents. Scharf, an unpaid consultant to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, will deliver an address titled, "Murder in New Orleans: A Crisis in Leadership," at the annual meeting of the Alliance for Good Government, beginning at 8 p.m. Friday (Sept. 7). "I'm going to discuss how the leaderships of other cities have reduced homicide risks, including Newark, Chicago and Richmond," Scharf says. For ticket information, contact Robert K. Moffett at 822-2224. -- Johnson


Jindal Gets His Enemy

With no incumbent to run against, Congressman Bobby Jindal, a Kenner Republican, may have had to change strategy coming out of the gate in his gubernatorial bid. That might explain why his lead issues have been corruption and ethics reform and not the record of his major opponent. Now, thanks to the Louisiana Democratic Party and its attacks on Jindal's religious writings, the frontrunner finally has a foe worthy of attack: the Democrats themselves. Michael DiResto, a GOP spokesperson, is scrambling to find a way to link the Democrats' ads, which ran largely in north Louisiana, to particular party donors. "I think the voters would like to know certain things about them, like how many of them come from out of state," DiResto says. From a strategic standpoint, the attack on Jindal worked in one sense: It knocked him off his free media message. But Jindal's nonstop, statewide bus tour is keeping his public conversation alive. Otherwise, the ads have clearly backfired on the state Democratic Party and, in the end, it could energize the evangelical base for Jindal and get other segments of his base out to vote. -- Alford


Speaking of Religion

It may be difficult to recall, but the 1983 Dave Treen-Edwin Edwards race had its own religious flare-up. Luckily for former Gov. Edwin Edwards, who was victorious in that race, the news didn't reach the masses until just before his inauguration. Then-Shreveport Journal Editor Stan Tiner got Edwards on the subject of religion during an interview where he discovered in Edwards' bathroom "Tocqueville's Democracy in America, the Bible and the latest issue of Playboy," John Maginnis writes in The Last Hayride, which chronicles the historic contest. Tiner asked Edwards -- who was raised Catholic, born again Nazarene, then reconverted to Catholicism -- if he believed Jesus Christ died on the cross, was buried and resurrected. "No," Edwards responded. "I think Jesus died, but I don't believe he came back to life because that's too much against natural law. I'm not going around preaching this, but he may have swooned, passed out or almost died, and when he was taken down, with superhuman strength, after a period of time he may have revived himself and come back to life." Edwards also said he was more than likely not going to heaven, "just as will most people I know." While the interview caused little stir in south Louisiana, the north Louisiana piney woods were all in a tizzy about it. That's the same base that the Louisiana Democratic Party targeted with its ads regarding Bobby Jindal's alleged comments about Protestants, and the same demographic that was apparently turned off by the ads. In the end, surprising even himself possibly, Edwards got away with his bold, faith-challenging gesture, but the modern Democratic Party may not. -- Alford


It's Called Jury Duty

Orleans Parish residents are stepping up post-Katrina as volunteers for jury duty and helping to ease a backlog of cases in the rebuilding criminal justice system, according to a local watchdog group. "Some 200 people have volunteered for jury duty at Criminal Court since May 2007," says Rafael Goyeneche, president of the private Metropolitan Crime Commission. "People are willing to get involved, and if you show them how, they can." However, more help is needed. The pool of available jurors has been greatly depleted in the depopulated city since Katrina. Employers should consider allowing qualified workers to volunteer their time for jury duty as a service to the city, Goyeneche says. "There's 12 sections of Criminal Court. If three or four judges call for juries on the same day, that will basically burn up the available jury pool." Service is for two days of one week. Persons selected for trials from a jury pool will receive $10 a day. No stipend is available for waiting in the jury pool. However, all volunteers will receive a free parking pass on the day they apply, according to the Orleans Parish Board of Jury Commissioners. To request a "Jury Service Volunteer Form," call 658-9200. -- Johnson


Caring for the Dead

"You truly judge a culture by the way they take care of their dead," says Gerard L. Schoen III, who is one of several area funeral directors serving on a volunteer committee for the proposed Katrina Memorial project. Led by Orleans Parish Coroner Dr. Frank Minyard, the proposed mausoleum will be the final resting place for the remains of 112 unclaimed and unidentified storm victims. Mayor Ray Nagin presented Minyard with a city check for $1 million during an Aug. 29 memorial service on the grassy site of the state-owned Baptist Hospital Cemetery on Canal Street near City Park Avenue. "This will be the one memorial site where victims of the storm will actually be buried," says Schoen, a sixth-generation New Orleanian and a spokesperson for Lake Lawn Metairie Cemetery. A thankful Nagin also reminded visiting news media that the city's burial grounds contribute to the city's tourist economy. And local death-care experts got to show their bright side. "How many cities in the United States have tourists come to their cemeteries?" Schoen said. Many tourists seek out local burial grounds because of our cemeteries' unique, majestic stone vaults. Local musicians are interned after buoyant jazz funerals. And once a year, Lake Lawn hosts an annual 5K foot race through its grounds to raise money for Save Our Cemeteries, a nonprofit that works for the charitable restoration of city-owned crypts. -- Johnson


Baker in Demo Crosshairs

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee should be reaching out to voters in the Baton Rouge region any day now. The DCCC has spent much of August targeting five Republicans who voted against SCHIP, a popular federal program that provides health insurance for children. Congressman Richard Baker, R-Baton Rouge, is on the Democrats' hit list. His district is slated to receive robo-calls explaining the Democratic interpretation of Baker's vote. "Republicans who continue to vote in lockstep with President Bush and against children and seniors in their districts will be held accountable," says DCCC chair Chris Van Hollen. The Democrats began running radio ads in other states last month, but the national party thought its money would be better spent on phone banks in Baton Rouge. The Democrats claim their SCHIP bill would provide 5 million American children with health insurance and improve Medicare coverage for 44 million seniors and people with disabilities -- by adding preventive health-care benefits, increasing benefits for low-income seniors and reducing unnecessary taxpayer subsidies to Medicare private plans. -- Alford


'Put Up or Shut Up'

"It's put up or shut up time for everyone who complained about the lack of leadership," during the Katrina anniversary celebrations, a testy Robert K. Moffett, president of the Orleans chapter of the Alliance for Good Government, said last week. The Alliance has scheduled free public forums at which citizens can hear from candidates for governor, the Legislature, and the New Orleans City Council at-large seat vacated by the recent bribery conviction of Oliver Thomas. Qualifying for the statewide Oct. 20 primary elections takes place Tuesday through Thursday (Sept. 4-6). Runoffs are scheduled for Nov. 17. The governor candidates' forum will be at 7:30 p.m. next Wednesday (Sept. 12) at Roussel Hall on the Loyola University campus. The forum for the City Council seat and other races will be in Roussel Hall at 7 p.m. next Thursday (Sept. 13). -- Johnson


Trailer Troubles

Of the 42,250 households living in FEMA trailers and mobile homes in Louisiana, 5,273 are in St. Bernard Parish, which was scheduled to start closing trailer sites last Friday (Aug. 31). "Our primary aim is get people into permanent housing," says FEMA spokesperson Andrew Thomas, citing a rental assistance program. Beginning March 1, 2008, FEMA will begin charging trailer occupants rent, which will increase by $50 each month up to $600 monthly by the time the temporary housing program closes March 1, 2009. "The idea is to have a seamless transition into self-sufficiency," says Gina Cortez, another FEMA spokesperson. More than 200 residents of FEMA trailer sites petitioned parish government officials, expressing fears they will have no place to live once the parks close. The St. Bernard Parish Council has asked FEMA to consolidate the remaining trailers into one park. No matter where they are housed, transportation remains a key concern for trailer residents who are lucky enough to have jobs. St. Bernard has lost 50 percent of its employers since Katrina, more than any of the five parishes hit hardest by the storm, according to a report released Aug. 17 by the Louisiana Recovery Authority. -- Johnson