NEW ORLEANS — It’s notoriously difficult to unseat an incumbent sheriff in Louisiana. And on the face of things, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who will next face voters in February, would seem to be sitting pretty. He’s been elected easily three times, and he’s got nearly $600,000 in the bank, according to his last campaign finance report, filed in February.
But there’s trouble at Orleans Parish Prison, as anyone who’s been following politics in the city knows. Gusman has been under intense fire — much of it coming from Mayor Mitch Landrieu — over his management of the jail, his primary responsibility as sheriff.
There’s also a sprawling federal investigation into corrupt contracting practices in the Sheriff’s Office and a record of violence and suicide in the jail that has led federal authorities to mandate a series of reforms by consent decree.
Perhaps more damning was the series of videos that recently went viral on the Internet, showing inmates snorting and shooting drugs, swilling beer, brandishing a loaded handgun and even cavorting on Bourbon Street.
All of that leads political observers to predict that Gusman, who might have expected a cakewalk just a few short months ago, will face stiff opposition. But from whom?
Former longtime Sheriff Charles Foti, who left the office to become attorney general in 2004, an office he lost four years later, has told people he is considering a run.
Foti did not return a call seeking comment.
Orleans Parish School Board President Ira Thomas, who is chief of Southern University at New Orleans’ police force, has also been meeting with potential backers.
“Obviously, there are concerns about the management of the jail, and those videos,” Thomas said in an interview Friday. Thomas declined to say whom he’s been meeting with, but said he is trying to figure out how much money he’d need to put together for a credible run.
Other names that have surfaced are Public Service Commissioner Lambert Boissiere III and former NOPD Capt. and departmental spokesman Marlon Defillo, both of whom said they have no interest in the position at the moment.
A big question as the field develops is whom Landrieu, as the city’s most visible politician and Gusman’s leading critic, might back. Landrieu will be facing his own re-election, but with his sizable war chest and relatively high approval ratings, may not face much opposition, freeing him up to become a player in the sheriff’s race. Emily Arata, a deputy mayor under Landrieu who has run political campaigns for him in the past, declined to comment.
NEW ORLEANS — Under state law, all elected officials and some appointed ones must file financial-disclosure forms each year listing all of their sources of income and business interests. Forms for 2012 were due to the state Ethics Board on May 15.
The disclosures, assuming they’re done truthfully, can provide a fascinating window into the business dealings of public officials. For instance, embattled St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan’s 2011 disclosure, filed in May 2012, showed that Galvan’s private medical practice was paid $53,236 that year by the city of Slidell to help with inmate care in Slidell’s jail. That arrangement has since come under scrutiny, partly because the care has primarily been provided by Mark Lombard, the chief investigator for the Coroner’s Office, whose salary is paid by taxpayers.
The form also showed that Galvan owns a computer consulting firm called Galcor Inc. and that he owns half of a land-holding company called Florida Parishes Holdings. That firm was the buyer in a 2006 land deal that has also been called into question amid a federal investigation into the Coroner’s Office.
This year, however, records show that Galvan has yet to file his disclosure form and is in fact asking for extension. To read all of the disclosure forms that have been filed on time go to: http://ethics.la.gov/PFDisclosure/DisclosureSearch.aspx.