Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Color of Money

Bill Jefferson, the disgraced Congressman who keeps bribe money in his freezer, has weighed in on DA Eddie Jordan's resignation. Jefferson concludes that Jordan merely sought to replace the non-legal staff with persons who were loyal to his election campaign. (No white Assistant DA's were replaced.) I think there is a kernel of truth in that. Jordan indeed did what every public official has ever done, which is to hire his own cronies. The problem in this case is that Mr. Jordan's inherited staff was overwhelmingly white (a historical vestige of Harry Connick's office), which he replaced with a staff that is overwhelmingly black.

In the cauldron of racial passions, it was a foregone conclusion that a jury was going to find discrimination. (In case, you're wondering, the federal jury pool tends to tilt significantly white despite the majority black population in Orleans Parish.) The real question, however, is whether this discrimination was lawful or not: Were persons hired and fired because of, in or in spite of, race? I don't know what Mr. Jordan's real motivation was, and the jury's verdict must be respected. But I think it is unfortunate that the controversy over questions of basic competence have been overshadowed by the indelible mark of racism. Mr. Jordan should be removed from office because his competence and leadership of the DA's office is in serious doubt, not because the DA's office can't afford to pay the monetary judgment. (After all, we don't disband the government every time a court orders our public officials to pay for their mistakes.) It shouldn't be about the money. Not so for Mr. Jefferson. It's all about the money in his case, and Mr. Jefferson should take a page out of Mr. Jordan's book and make a dignified exit.

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