It is not because the dead bodies get on his nerves that Jeffrey Rouse is quitting as coroner of Orleans Parish after one term.

The live ones are what Rouse can't take. He has determined that he is too pure a spirit for Louisiana politics.

The glad-handing, fundraising and speechifying that make up an election campaign are very wearing, no doubt, and candidates must always wonder what contributors expect for their money. Whatever scope for special favors exists down at the morgue must be limited, however. Otherwise, it hardly bears thinking about.

Certainly, coroners' races do not attract the big bucks that cascade on candidates for offices with power over the living. A viable candidate for the legislature, say, will always attract well-heeled fans. But when Rouse qualified for re-election, he had only $14,300 on hand. Dwight McKenna, the only candidate left now that Rouse has called off his campaign, declared zilch.

McKenna is not quite certain to be our next coroner, for Rouse quit too late for his name to be removed from the ballot. If Rouse were to poll more than half the votes, and he hadn't changed his mind again, he'd have to resign from office so a stand-in could be appointed pending another election.

McKenna, who lost narrowly to Rouse in the coroner's race four years ago, may need to commit a gaffe of historic proportions if he is to finish second to a candidate who isn't there. It could happen, for McKenna is well known as an ex-con, and some voters will always take a dim view of that. But it's now 25 years since he swapped a seat on the Orleans Parish School Board for a federal prison cell, and chances are he could win this election simply by keeping his mouth shut.


Not only has Rouse abandoned his campaign, but he has endorsed McKenna, being “convinced that his plan for a more public role for the coroner's office in health education and violence prevention is the logical next step in the evolution of the office.”

McKenna's medical background might be slightly more relevant than Rouse's when it comes to sorting out the stiffs. McKenna, as an internist, will have ushered more of his patients into a better world than Rouse did in his psychiatric practice. Indeed, it was to handle to handle the office's responsibility for committing the insane that then-Coroner Frank Minyard hired Rouse in the first place.

If a shrink is an odd fit for coroner, Minyard, who held the job for 40 years, was no less of a square peg himself. Minyard's gynecological training did not exactly prepare him for terminal duties.

Rouse is now exiting much as Minyard did. Minyard, then 84, abandoned his reelection campaign four years ago and endorsed Rouse over McKenna and another candidate. McKenna, who had already lost to Minyard in 2002 and 2010, denounced the move as a “scam.” The plan, according to McKenna, was for Minyard to scare off the opposition, step aside and hand the job to Rouse.


It wouldn't have been the first time that trick had been played. Lawrence E. Chehardy was elected Jefferson Parish Assessor 40 years ago when he qualified at the last minute and the unbeatable incumbent, his father Lawrence A., bowed out.

The weirdest aspect of that election was that Lawrence E. Chehardy was well qualified for the job, and held it for 34 years. He is now chairman of the state Tax Commission.

McKenna can hardly expect to go on to such a long and distinguished career if he is elected coroner. He's already 75, and will always be best known as a tax cheat. In addition to his bids for coroner, McKenna has made a few attempts to win back his school board seat and seemed well established as a perennial loser.

But if Rouse's abrupt withdrawal is reminiscent of Minyard's four years ago, there is nobody to allege collusion his time. McKenna said he had “no part” in the move.

Rouse has opined that the coroner's job requires purely technical skills and should be appointive anyway. But we had no idea Rouse figured he should be the one to make the appointment.

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