Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Considering the DA Race

There are four candidates running for District Attorney of New Orleans:

Leon Cannizzaro

Jason Williams

Ralph Capitelli

Linda Bizzarro

And the election is fast approaching. I don't think anyone needs to be reminded how important the DA's office is, I don't think anyone forgets Eddie Jordan's embarrassing tenure.

What are people's thoughts on this race?

Briefly, and I hope to expand on this later, here's what I'm looking for:

1. Acknowledgment that New Orleans and Louisiana have amongst the highest incarceration rates in the world and that this reinforces the social conditions that tend to lead to crime.

2. Commitment and a plan to setting a new mission for the DA and NOPD that emphasizes a reduced incarceration rate. This means a concerted effort toward community policing practices that abandons this city's 'catch-and-release' philosophy. This means no more book throwing at non-violent drug defendants and the open-minded entertainment of decriminalization policy. This means more than continuing to fund the drug court programs.

3. Commitment and a plan to refocus resources being wasted to prosecute petty drug dealers on cases involving violent crimes. This means forensics and, especially, witness protection.

4. Deep reluctance to employ the death penalty.

5. Enthusiastic commitment and plan to prosecute white collar criminals.

6. Passion for researching and experimenting with successful methodologies from other cities and states.

7. Ability to articulate and advocate for more sensible gun ownership policies at the state level.

8. Plan to initiate substantive changes at the DA's office in the face of a resistant Mayoral and NOPD administrations.

9. Core administrative and managerial competency.

10. History of ethical and transparent practices and demonstrated freedom from powerful political and industrial alliances.

Yesterday there was a forum for DA candidates and I thought the T-P recap was quite interesting:

Each of the candidates claimed to be prepared to target violent crime and put murderers and armed robbers behind bars. Many similarities emerged on the policy issues: All vowed to improve the often-fractious relationship with the New Orleans Police Department; all support the creation of more specialized units to handle different kinds of cases, from sex crimes to public corruption; all pledged to provide better management for an office with an $11 million budget and 200-employee staff.

Instead of finding substantial differences on the issues, the candidates repeatedly returned to how their attributes best qualify them for the job during the forum at Loyola University sponsored by a collection of community groups less than three weeks before the Oct. 4 primary. An expected runoff of the top two vote-getters will be held in November.

They better find some substantial differences amongst them on the issues because I know that the candidates can't possibly have the same prosecutorial ideologies. Our incarceration culture resembles that of a totalitarian state, we need transformative leadership not marginal reform.

I'm open-minded toward pretty much all of the candidates though it's very difficult not to totally throw Leon Cannizzaro under the bus for touting in a TV ad his endorsement from national GOP bankroller and blatant racist Boysie Bollinger. At least he's not keeping it a secret, I guess.

On second thought, I'll just go ahead and throw him under the bus. It would take a miracle for me to vote for someone enthusiastic about an endorsement from an animal like Bollinger.

If you've attended any of the DA candidate forums, please feel free to list your thoughts. Or if you have not gone to any DA forums, like me, please feel free to add some questions or priorities.


jeffrey said...

I think you're making this more complicated than it needs to be. While I agree wholeheartedly with your criteria, I think they are largely irrelevant to the political realities of this race.

Simply put, the District Attorney is the most powerful person in the city of New Orleans. At least this is true under normal circumstances when the DA is not an incompetent boob and when the Mayor is not granting himself emergency powers left and right.

Of course, we won't learn anything from the candidates' rhetoric. I expect them all to pump out some version of how "tough" they all are. This is meaningless, as I'm sure you are aware. But the power to prosecute or not to prosecute carries an awful lot of weight in this town. The point is all manner of interests are clawing for whatever degree of pull they think they can buy from whoever wins this race. Interpreting how these interest align can be tricky though.

While you are right to be suspicious of Bollinger here, I'll add that Cannizaro also has the AFL-CIO endorsement. And from my perspective that is just as meaningful if not more so.

Keep watching though. This is a very important race.

jeffrey said...

I didn't make it clear why you're "making this more complicated than it needs to be" It is complicated. But the issue is further clouded if you're expecting any of the candidates to meet the criteria you enumerate.

Anonymous said...

it gets me hot when you call boysie an animal like that.

E said...

I dunno how I'm further clouding a race between candidates unwilling to distinguish themselves by enumerating some questions that may provide clarity.

Rereading your comments I think you really like my post but just wanted to sound contentious.

You agree with my criteria and echo my frustration with the elementary discourse characterizing the race thus far. You agree that this office is amongst the most critical that we have a chance to vote for.

jeffrey said...

I wasn't disagreeing just trying remove some unnecessary ambiguities.

E said...

Do you have a preference in the race? Tell me more about why Cannizzaro might not be so objectionable after all.

jeffrey said...

I try to avoid having any preferred candidates. In this race I'm most interested in electing the candidate who is least likely to prosecute petty crimes in order to score political points.

Sometimes that might also be the DA least likely to prosecute Boysie Bollinger... but if it is, so be it.

E said...

What do you know about Jason Williams?

jeffrey said...

I suspect that he will be most beholden to the portion of the constituency most interested in "getting the drugs off our streets" by any means necessary and will be tempted to demonstrate his progress in this endeavor by continuing the overzealous prosecution of petty drug possession cases.

Mind you, this is not necessarily my read on what the man is about... only what I think he will be under the most political pressure to act upon.

bayoustjohndavid said...

I did urge everybody to try to make this report an issue in the D.A.'s race (a judicial race also), but I don't think anybody mentioned it. I know that other bloggers have mentioned the issue (obviously, it's in this post), but it's a shame that article didn't engender any wider discussion. I don't know if people didn't want to be accused of "trashing Keva," or if it's that the story was easy to miss online.

Anyway, I discussed the article with Williams at RT3, and he said he'd end the practice. Of course, you wouldn't have to be a genius to know what somebody who brought up the City Business article wanted to hear. I'll take Williams at his word, but I'd like to see the question of felony acceptances for marijuana possession come up at a forum so that all the candidates would be on the record.

It's not just that Cannizzaro brags about Bollinger, he brags that he's the preferred choice of most of the city's politicians. Considering the history of our D.A.'s office, that's not just a facile criticism on my part. The fact that Capitelli has started the first attack ads (at least that I've seen), makes me wonder what his internal polling is showing. Seems like the better attack ad would be, "Cannizzaro:the choice of politicians; Capitelli: the choice of prosecutors."

E said...

Great comment.

I spoke to Jason Williams for a little while at RT3 as well and found him to be pretty candid about his distaste for our overall reliance on catch-and-release. I'd like to hear more from him.

You're absolutely right about the need to press that article in the face of each of the candidates and force them to go on the record.

I also expected this post to generate a little bit more commentary and I agree with your diagnosis for Capitelli.

cjnola said...

Looking at your list of requirements I can't believe you would not vote for Cannizzaro. he fits all of your criteria and if you won't vote for him because one individual endorses him that doesn't show a commitment to soving the city's problems. Cannizzaro had the largest drug court in new orleans history because he wanted people to get help and to keep them from recycling through the system. People from all walks of life support him and he has the ability to bring people together. Without a leader people will follow there will be no change. Capitelli is not the choice of prosecutors. He got that list of 100 prior to Cannizzaro entering the race and many people have switched allegiance. There are over 200 former and current ADA's who support Cannizzaro.He is the candidate of the people of this city- all of the people.

adrastos said...

Cannizzarro was an excellent judge and in this town *some* Dem will get the Repub endorsement for a major office. I'm undecided but leaning to Capitelli.

As to Williams, his connections bother me. Being Sidney (Got really rich in office and right afterwards) Bathelemy's son-in-law is a big minus to me. But he's the only black candidate, which gives him a shot. The Sidney connection is why he got the OPDEC nod.