New 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).