Nagin joins the usual suspects as possible successors to Jefferson

Many of the same names who challenged Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) in the 2006 midterm elections are expected to run for his seat again should he resign or be forced from Congress in the coming months, with the possible notable additions of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (D) and Jefferson’s daughter.

State Rep. Karen Carter (D), who took Jefferson to a runoff last year, also would consider a repeat bid if Jefferson exited.

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The flood of 12 candidates who tried to take down Jefferson in 2006 has been relatively quiet about a rematch, apparently waiting for the federal corruption investigation into the nine-term congressman to come to a head and, in some cases, weighing other electoral battles.

That head came Monday, when a 16-count indictment set in motion preparations for the possibility that Jefferson would vacate his seat prematurely. Jefferson has given no indication that he will resign his seat, and he is expected by many to cling to his position on the Hill for as long as possible.

Carter, who lost by a surprising 57-43 margin in the runoff last December, would be seen as a front-runner should she decide to run for the seat again. In recent days, she turned down a bid for state Senate that she was widely expected to take on, but she remains interested in Congress.

“Right now, we don’t consider it an open seat,” spokeswoman Cheron Brylski said. “Even with the indictment, there’s a possibility that Jefferson would hold on to the seat for a great amount of time.
“However, if it becomes an open seat, I think Karen would be interested.”

The state Senate bid would have been against Jefferson’s daughter, state Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock, who is running for a promotion from the state House amid her father’s legal problems.

Despite the indictment, observers are not counting her out for a congressional run if she wanted to succeed her father. Louisiana is known for its political legacies.

The hottest name in local political circles, however, is Nagin, who narrowly won reelection to his current post in the months after Hurricane Katrina. Recent polls show Nagin’s popularity at just over 30 percent, but he would bring a sizeable campaign fund and name recognition to the race.

The buzz in recent days has been that Nagin would run for governor, as Democrats do not have a competitive opponent for the Republican nominee, Rep. Bobby Jindal (La.), this year. But observers say Nagin long has eyed Washington, and they see the House as a better fit for him than a long-shot gubernatorial candidacy against the popular Jindal.

“He saw getting reelected mayor of New Orleans as a kind of vindication — it was like saying, ‘It wasn’t your fault, Ray,’” a political science professor at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Pearson Cross, said. “He would immediately, I think, be the favorite for that seat.”

In a statement, Nagin spokesman Ceeon Quiett did not address a possible congressional run, instead focusing on Nagin’s work as mayor to rebuild the city.

“Rumors and speculation of any kind detract from this mission of recovery,” Quiett said. “It is important that we all work together for the recovery of this great city and region.”

Nagin and several other influential political figures endorsed Jefferson in the closing days of the runoff, hurting Carter’s chances. Many of the endorsers came from Jefferson Parish, which would like to see the next member of Congress come from its part of the district.

Jefferson’s runoff victory kept that goal nearer, as Carter is young and could feasibly have held the seat for many years.

One of the Jefferson Parish endorsers was state Sen. Derrick Shepherd (D), who finished third in the general election with 18 percent. Many expect him to run again as well.

A former mayoral candidate who finished fifth, Democrat Troy Carter (D), is also a potential candidate, as is fourth-place finisher Joe Lavigne, the lone Republican and lone white in the top five. The rest of the candidates mentioned are black.

Other potential candidates who did not run last time include state Rep. Cedric Richmond (D) and several New Orleans City Council members. Jefferson’s exit would open the door to many of his supporters who wouldn’t have run against him in the past.

The majority-black district traditionally has been heavily Democratic, and though questions about the area’s electoral makeup in the wake of Katrina persist, it will almost surely elect a black Democrat.

Nagin and Shepherd offered their thoughts after the indictment Monday but did not return calls about a potential campaign.

Nagin told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he did not regret endorsing Jefferson, and he praised Jefferson’s work on recent Katrina-related legislation. He called the indictment “disappointing” and Jefferson a “dear friend.”

Shepherd also stood by his endorsement, calling Jefferson the better of the two candidates.
The process for filling a House vacancy in Louisiana is ambiguous, and the state has not dealt with one in nearly 30 years, a spokesman for the secretary of state said. But the state is renowned for its many election dates and would likely be able to hold the special election on a regularly scheduled election date — the closest one being the gubernatorial primary on Oct. 20.

The governor, Democrat Kathleen Blanco, has the power to declare the date of the special election and technically can leave the seat vacant for the remainder of the term if she decides to, secretary of state spokesman Jacques Berry said.

For the election to be held on Oct. 20, the seat would need to be vacated by Sept. 3 to allow candidates to qualify in time. Beyond that, the election could be held on general election day on Nov. 17, as well as other elections on Feb. 8 and March 8.