Our Views: New look, old issue

A reorganization of the office of the U.S. attorney in the New Orleans area does not reflect a turn away from its tough prosecutions of official corruption, and may well enhance it. That’s good news for a community where a “who you know” political culture has led to abuses, including the high-profile prosecutions involving former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Jefferson Parish judges and court officials.

The new U.S. attorney, Kenneth Polite, appointed a veteran federal court lawyer, Richard Westling, as his first assistant, and announced the organization of a public corruption unit in the office.

The same organizational structure is used in other offices across the country, and Polite said it will allow prosecutors to build relationships with the FBI and other agencies in the often complex cases involving political corruption.

Polite also will dedicate a few more lawyers to the violent crime unit that he aims at street gangs, organized crime on the city and neighborhood scale, somewhat different from the traditional concerns of U.S. attorneys. We hope that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will make a contribution in this area, but as with his predecessor Jim Letten, we see the public corruption fight as a top priority.

It is where the federal prosecutors and courts can be a stern watchdog when the state system fails to do a thorough job because of local politics and political connections.

Cleaning up the system isn’t done in a day, and Polite’s office is integral to the maintenance of governments in the region that serve the public and not personal and private interests.