William "Billy" Broadhurst, an adviser to former Gov. Edwin Edwards and countless other elected officials across the state, died Sunday at home in Crowley. He was 77.
Broadhurst, a lawyer who rose to prominence as a political operative working with a wide range of officials and as a lobbyist for some of the most powerful interests in the state, never sought elected office or the limelight but was a constant fixture in the background of Louisiana politics.
"We’ve all lost a very fine man," Edwards said Monday. "He was very intelligent, very aggressive and very energetic, but his greatest asset was his loyalty. He was very loyal to his friends and very helpful, and you could always count on him."
"He never was interested in the spotlight; he liked to be in the background to help his friends," Edwards added.
Broadhurst, who would play a role in the sex scandal that derailed Gary Hart's 1988 presidential campaign, began his career working for Edwards' law firm before going on to become an adviser on his campaigns and to his administration.
The man known to friends as "Billy B" eventually built a statewide and national reputation as a knowledgeable and astute political strategist who could always be counted on to know the right people as well as the latest information and the full history of an issue or campaign.
"For anyone fascinated by — or addicted to — Louisiana politics, Billy Broadhurst was an unparalleled repository of fact, fiction, rumor, innuendo, gossip and spot-on prognostication," former Times-Picayune political reporter Frank Donze said.
"If you enjoyed following this Byzantine blood sport closely during an election cycle and you didn’t have him on speed dial, you were probably behind the curve. A brief conversation was like spending an hour poring over an encyclopedia, a history book and a road map.''
Former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, D-La., described Broadhurst as "the man behind so many leaders."
"He was always the man in the background, but the man in the background who was providing incredibly valuable information about whatever the topic was," said Breaux, whose relationship with Broadhurst dated back to before he was in Congress.
Breaux, Edwards and Broadhurst all hailed from Crowley, a small town near Lafayette that has cast a long shadow over Louisiana politics.
Entergy New Orleans CEO Charles Rice, who served as the city's chief administrative officer under Mayor Ray Nagin, described Broadhurst, who worked as an adviser to the utility company, as a "great facilitator" and "bridge builder."
Rice marveled at how Broadhurst was able to broker a detente between Nagin and a hostile New Orleans City Council led at the time by Eddie Sapir, one of Broadhurst's closest friends and allies.
"Because he had so many relationships, coupled with his knowledge and his keen political mind, I think that had a lot to do with his ability to come up with solutions to a lot of political issues," Rice said.
Outside Louisiana, Broadhurst was best known for his role in the scandal surrounding Hart, who was an early favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988.
Broadhurst had been hosting Hart and two women on his yacht Monkey Business in Miami when reporters snapped a picture of Donna Rice sitting on the presidential candidate's lap, providing evidence of his infidelity.
The ensuing scandal drove Hart from the race. It is also widely viewed as a turning point in American political journalism that saw reporters' focus turn to the private lives of candidates and elected officials, areas that earlier had been considered out of bounds.
In the 1990s, amid multiple federal investigations into Edwards and his associates, Broadhurst was indicted on fraud charges of skimming money from construction contracts for two riverboat casinos that operated in New Orleans for less than two months before shutting down. He was acquitted.
Even those on the opposite side of the political spectrum described Broadhurst as a mentor and an influence.
"He was the proudest of Democrats and I the most obstinate Republican," former political consultant Bill Kearney said in an email Monday, before going on to describe Broadhurst as a "political giant and political genius."
"He did not need the spotlight even when people wanted him in it," Kearney said. "Strategizing over a great meal or in a room debating was how he accomplished great things. While the telephone was an appendage to his person, he preferred to be in meetings with people, as this was where the action was."