WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu recommended New Orleans lawyer Kenneth Polite Jr. on Friday to serve as the next U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
The 37-year-old Polite, who also is a state civil service commissioner, would fill the void left when embattled former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten resigned in December amid a scandal concerning two top prosecutors anonymously criticizing judges and defendants online.
Dana J. Boente, of Virginia, is currently serving as the interim U.S. attorney in New Orleans.
Landrieu, who has the authority as the state’s senior senator, opted to recommend only Polite to the president rather than a “short list” as she originally stated.
“I’m honored to be the person who was ultimately nominated,” Polite said in a brief phone interview.
If he gets the job, Polite said, “I am prepared to serve without reservation.”
Landrieu said in the announcement that the New Orleans area needs a “strong and proven crime fighter to protect the citizens of the Eastern District and root out corruption where it exists …”
“Mr. Polite is part of the next generation of dynamic leaders who are committed to ushering in that change,” Landrieu stated. “He believes in the potential of our region and understands that establishing and nurturing the public trust will be critical to this effort. His legal experience and years as a prosecutor, combined with his stellar academic credentials, quickly elevated him to the top of an impressive field of candidates.”
Landrieu spokeswoman Amber McDowell said Polite “quickly rose to the top” of a strong pool of candidates and became the “clear choice” for the senator. So the decision was made to recommend only one person, she said.
The next step is for President Barack Obama to consider whether to move forward with nominating Polite.
Then the question is if U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., would attempt to block the nomination. Vitter did not respond to interview and requests for comment Friday. His spokesman, Luke Bolar, said Vitter likely will not discuss the matter until a formal nomination is made.
Polite, a New Orleans native, currently serves as an attorney with Liskow & Lewis, a New Orleans-based law firm where he practices law in business litigation, appellate advocacy, government investigations and white-collar criminal defense.
Prior to joining Liskow & Lewis, Polite was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he served as lead counsel in numerous investigations and prosecutions of federal criminal offenses, including bribery, extortion, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and identity theft.
Polite was named to the state Civil Service Commission in early 2011 by Gov. Bobby Jindal. Polite was one of three recommendations made to the governor by Xavier University President Norman Francis. This past year, Polite was critical of some of Jindal’s privatization and hospital layoff plans.
Polite is a graduate of Harvard University and the Georgetown University Law Center. He clerked for 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Thomas L. Ambro, of Wilmington, Del.
But Polite admitted he has more “humble beginnings.”
He was born to teenage parents and raised early on in the Calliope and Lafitte housing projects of New Orleans and then in the Lower 9th Ward.
“I’m sure this is a proud day for my family and my parents,” Polite said.
He went on to become the first African-American valedictorian of De La Salle High School in New Orleans before going to Harvard.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu seconded his sister’s choice and described Polite as a “sound choice” to serve as the new chief federal prosecutor, adding that Polite would continue the mission of fighting corruption and street violence.
“Kenneth is part of the next generation of leadership from our city who will ensure that we continue to root out corruption and fight crime so that our region can continue the remarkable progress we have made in the last several years,” Mayor Landrieu said.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, also spoke highly of the recommendation.
“I fully support (Friday’s) recommendation, and I am confident that, if nominated and confirmed, Kenneth is up to the task before him as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana,” Richmond said in a prepared statement. “Kenneth is a bright young man who has been educated at some of the country’s top educational institutions.”
Richmond also noted Polite’s dedication to his hometown.
“For some time, I have stressed the importance of finding someone who can restore integrity to the U.S. Attorney’s Office so that it can again gain the public’s trust,” Richmond added. “In Kenneth, I think we have found that person.”
In making the recommendation, Sen. Landrieu said Polite has the support of many leaders from the business community to law enforcement and watchdog groups. She specifically named Bollinger Shipyards CEO Boysie Bollinger, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand and New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche, among others.
“Kenneth Polite possesses all the tangible attributes both personally and professionally that make him a qualified candidate for this appointment,” Goyeneche said in a prepared statement. “However, it is Ken’s intangibles that include leadership ability, communication skills and his desire to serve that set him apart.”
Daniel Monteverde, of The Advocate’s New Orleans bureau, contributed to this report.