Politicians Slip and Fall: Oliver Thomas’ “Reflections”

oliverNew Orleans Contrary to popular opinion, it is actually a very, very rare event for a New Orleans city politician to go to jail for some kind of corruption, regardless of our reputation.  The hometown paper, The Times Picayune, campaigned mercilessly for investigations and convictions of Mayor Marc Morial and his troops, largely to no avail, and in one of the rich ironies of politics and life, the biggest pillar to fall was their once lavishly touted fair haired boy and tech-reformer under the next Mayor Ray Nagin, who they had promoted as Mr. Clean.  One that did not get away was Stan “Pampy” Barre, a former cop, all around fixer, and owner of a popular politician hangout spot.  He fingered the even more popular – and populist – Councilman at Large Oliver Thomas for taking $20K to help grease a parking lot deal.

And, that was a shock.  Oliver was a friend and supporter.  Mayor Morial’s blessing and Oliver’s work on the inside when I ran the multi-union project, HOTROC, for SEIU, the AFL-CIO, HERE, and the Operating Engineers, ended up being the big success of our inside “leverage” campaign with the Piazza de’ Italia public corporation that built the Lowe’s Hotel, the only major post 9-11 property, and now the only union hotel in the city.  Earlier Oliver had been the key we needed when he cast the deciding vote preventing the privatization of the Sewerage and Water Board.  He has been one of our most vocal champions when we fought to raise the minimum wage.  Believe me, if he had been for sale, developers, hoteliers, and the privateers all would have paid way more than $20,000 chump change to take him out of those fights.  So of all the trees to be toppled and fall, the looming, large Councilman Thomas was the surprise never expected and the disappointment most deeply felt and impossible to replace.

When caught with the cookies, Oliver manned up, pled guilty, didn’t rat, and did his time.  We got some letters from him from the fed penitentiary in Atlanta that were moving and well thought out.  Big believers in redemption, when the bizarre news came out that he and his old friend, Anthony Bean, director of a community theater uptown had written a play about all of this, called “Reflections:  A Man and His Time,” I immediately went on line and bought six tickets so we would be well represented from the top (Local 100 ULU’s President Mildred Edmond) to the bottom (the rest of us organizers).

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Gulf Coast Hospitality Workers Need to Sit on Oil Spill Santa’s Lap Now!

Nimages-1ew Orleans My darling and brilliant niece’s husband, an Australian bloke who we dearly love, was working this summer running a high end, specialty bar at the W Hotel on Poydras Avenue in New Orleans during the time of the terrible British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill.  My daughter, Dine,’ now a mainstay of the Local 100 United Labor Unions organizing staff in New Orleans and ever alert to both injustice and opportunities started telling me a couple of weeks ago about huge, wild settlements going to bartenders in the French Quarter, CBD, and even in our Bywater neighborhood.  The amounts were amazing:  $7000 to one, $17000 to another, and so on!  I was skeptical.  She cited Will Miller as an impeccable source, so I was moved, but wanted to know more.  Maybe this was just a benefit being sought and received by a secret society of New Orleans bartenders, rather than part of the Kenneth Feinberg compensation and damages program, official called the Gulf Coast Claims Facility?

With the deadline hard on us for emergency claims to be submitted (Close of business on Tuesday 11/23!), I didn’t’ want to start an irresponsible gold rush, if this was nothing more than rumor fueled by alcohol coming from the hands of the same bartenders.  I know not to trust the hometown paper as the ultimate authority on these matters, but all of their storylines had focused on oil workers, fishermen, and others barely staying afloat with graphic photos from the beautiful and damaged bayou country south of the city.  Why were we not seeing pictures of lines trailing out into the streets here in broke ass New Orleans, if money was falling from BP trees, especially in the always hospitality hard luck and humidity summer season?

My daughter – the organizer – felt the issue was that not enough people knew this was possible and were going to apply and get the compensation.   Pressed this week for more information, she confirmed that other conversations with hospitality workers in her haunts, I mean after more outreach and research, she had turned up servers and other “line” workers who had applied and gotten payments also ranging in the thousands of dollars.              Ok, I’m there!

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