After an uneventful primary and a largely uneventful runoff in the race for Louisiana's House District 93 seat, the last 36 hours have been whipsaw-crazy and downright vicious, culminating yesterday in a lawsuit filed by candidate Helena Moreno against her opponent James Perry. (If you're not up on the insinuations and allegations that flew around yesterday between Moreno and Perry, catch up here.)
At a press conference this morning in the law offices of Bruno & Bruno, Moreno struck back against what she labeled "despicable" action by Perry and read a statement titled "James Perry's Abuse of a Tragedy," which concluded, "The only question that remains is what kind of twisted mind must James Perry have that he can exploit a tragedy for his own personal gain."
The "tragedy" was a 2002 traffic accident with one fatality in which candidate Helena Moreno had been involved -- but not cited. An NOPD report found that the other driver had gone through a red light and concluded the “primary causative factor of this crash is Operator Error,” but adds, “Had Ms. Helena Moreno been traveling at or below the posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour instead of the estimated speed of 35 miles per hour as per her own admission, the crash may not have occurred.” Moreno was never charged with a crime in the incident, but Perry, in a statement, said "I find the tragic facts disclosed in this report very troubling. The thing I find most disturbing is the fact that Ms. Moreno seems to have put her own professional ambition ahead of the health, well-being and the very life of another person."
Attending this morning's press conference in support of Moreno were attorney Vinny Mosca (whose daughter-in-law was driving the car that struck Moreno's Jeep Cherokee) and Moreno's former WDSU-TV coworker, Kriss Fairbairn, who had gone to the scene of the accident after being phoned by Moreno.
The wild card was former state Rep. Louis Charbonnet III, the third-place finisher in the primary, who was on hand to both endorse Moreno and announce he had filed his own lawsuit against Perry for what Charbonnet said were willful misrepresentations in campaign flyers. (Charbonnet did not bring a copy of his lawsuit.)
Other campaign flyers from the Perry camp -- these targeting Moreno -- were also a topic. Both featured a photograph of Moreno laughing as a drink was being prepared in front of her. One had the caption "Helena Moreno has an ADDICTION to deliquency" -- with the word HYPOCRITE stenciled over Moreno's image. Moreno said the photograph was taken at a charity event at which she was one of the celebrity bartenders, and denied ever having a problem with either alcohol or drugs.
The tenor of the campaign has turned so ugly that Moreno said she would not be attending two scheduled debates with Perry -- one scheduled to be taped at WDSU-TV that afternoon for a Sunday night "Hot Seat" program, and the other a public forum sponsored by Crimefighters Saturday evening. "I will not be sitting in the same room as James Perry," Moreno said. (Norman Robinson, host of "Hot Seat," went ahead and taped the program with Perry alone, according to WDSU.)
The drama in the House District 93 race is disproportionate to the attention voters paid to it earlier this month. In the May 1 primary, only 2,369 votes were cast -- about 9% of the registered voters in a district that includes some of the city's most visible neighborhoods: most of the French Quarter and all of the CBD and Warehouse District, along with the Morial Convention Center, the Louisiana Superdome and the New Orleans Arena.
In that primary race, Perry received 890 votes; Moreno, 643 votes. It was enough to put them both into the runoff.