Bill Jefferson is struggling to retain his seat as U.S. Representative from the Second District of Louisiana against Karen Carter and several other candidates. This report is excerpted from the Associated Press, via MSNBC:
(Bill) Jefferson arrived on the New Orleans scene in the 1970s as a Harvard-educated lawyer from the backwaters of north Louisiana, the sixth of 10 children brought up in a three-room country home. By 1980, he represented New Orleans in the state Senate. At 42, he became the first black from Louisiana in the House since Reconstruction.
The law firm Jefferson founded became the largest black-owned practice in the South. He created a political organization, the Progressive Democrats, which fielded candidates for the school board, assessors' races, state House seats and mayoral contests.
But he was criticized because his law firm took lucrative contracts from Southern University and the attorney general's office while he served in the state Senate. But no punitive action was taken.
Questions lingered. Records show Jefferson defaulted on loans and was sued for poor maintenance of his extensive real estate holdings. He also overdrew the bank account of his congressional office, which Jefferson attributed to sloppy bookkeeping.
"That's why he's called 'Dollar Bill,'" said Susan Howell, a political analyst with the University of New Orleans. "He's been hobnobbing with the highest and lowest."
It was Dutch Morial, the city's first black mayor, who dubbed him "Dollar Bill Jefferson" because of his purported fondness for money.
Jefferson's latest money trouble stems from allegations in an FBI affidavit that he accepted $100,000 in cash in 2005 from an FBI informant in a scheme to bribe Nigerian telecommunications officials. All but $10,000 of the cash was found four days later in the freezer of his Washington home, the FBI said.
Two of Jefferson's associates pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges; one, a Kentucky businessman, admitted paying more than $400,000 in bribes to a phony company headed by Jefferson's wife and family to obtain favors from the congressman.
"Who knows what goes on in your house? Nobody tells me where to put my dollars. If I to want to carry them in my pocket, if I want to carry in my sock, that's my business," said Helen Lang, the president of the Section 8 Resident Council, a community group that has endorsed Jefferson.
Jefferson responds to the criticism with his own fire. After a recent debate, Jefferson said he was "not going to tolerate" his rivals presenting themselves as "being on the ethical high horse."
"Our national image is at stake in his election," (challenger)Karen Carter said. "I think it's time to restore credibility and honesty to this office."
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