Bill Jefferson Lost House Seat, N.Y. Times Frets About Surge of White Voters

Controversial Rep. Bill Jefferson (D-Louisiana), the congressman who notoriously hid tens of thousands of dollars of federal sting money in his freezer, lost his House seat in a shocker Saturday in an election delayed by Hurricane Gustav. Anh "Joseph" Cao, a 41-year-old Republican, will be the first Vietnamese-American in Congress. Obviously, this happened with next to zero national media attention, just as Rep. Jefferson was re-elected in 2006 after the freezer revelations without much national media attention. Will they report this ethnic first now?

Reporter Adam Nossiter in the New York Times suggested that the system failed, that a black-majority district failed to work as it was designed. Nossiter found that the problem was a surge of white voters angered by corruption charges:

The upset victory by the lawyer, Anh Cao, was thought by analysts to be the result of a strong turnout by white voters angered over federal corruption charges against Mr. Jefferson, a black Democrat who was counting on a loyal [read: black] base to return him to Congress for a 10th term....

In heavily white precincts, turnout was about 26 percent, while it was only about 12 percent in the heavily black precincts, said Greg Rigamer, a New Orleans demographer and analyst.

The exact percentage of blacks here, like the population itself, is unknown after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, but is thought to be 55 percent to 60 percent, down from around 70 percent before the storm. The City Council has turned majority-white after years of being led by blacks.

"It’s clearly shifted," Mr. Rigamer said of the population. "You have fewer African-Americans in the city than previously."

But Mr. Rigamer also suggested that the corruption charges against Mr. Jefferson pushed whites to the polls in unusual numbers. "The bottom line," he said, "is this is an issue-driven race that ignited turnout in the white community."

Nossiter is also suggesting that blacks are much more interested in electing someone with their skin color than electing someone who’s ethical. Late in the story, he added some biographical detail about Mr. Cao:

Mr. Cao, 41 and known as Joseph, fled Vietnam at age 8 after the fall of Saigon. His father was a army officer who was later imprisoned for seven years by the Communist government. Mr. Cao, who has never held elective office, has been an advocate for the small but prominent Vietnamese community here and has a master’s degree in philosophy from Fordham University.

Nossiter added that Republicans also retained retiring Republican Jim McCrery’s seat in the other election delayed by Gustav. But he ended the story with local pundit Elliott Stonecipher saying the results show a more "progressive" New Orleans. That might be right if "progressive" means ethical, but Louisiana has taken a decided turn toward Republicans in the last two years.

[Jefferson TV ad image from the Blotter blog at ABCNews.com]

For a local take, check out the New Orleans Times-Picayune coverage.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis