W e hope that the nomination of Kenneth Polite Jr. to be the next U.S. attorney for the New Orleans area doesn’t promote a false choice between prosecuting either political corruption or street crime. Polite must do both. Even so, the resources of the U.S. Attorney’s Office aren’t unlimited, so residents deserve a clear understanding of how Polite would use money and personnel in advancing his office’s mission. That would give the public a useful view of his priorities.
Polite reportedly has told members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation that he will bring a new emphasis to fighting street crime if he becomes U.S. attorney. That’s prompted concern from Sen. David Vitter, R-La., that such an emphasis could detract from federal prosecution of political corruption. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, who strongly supports Polite, suggested the nominee could fight street crime, corruption and civil rights violations without compromising any of those missions.
“The last time I checked, public corruption didn’t kill a damn person in New Orleans,” Richmond said.
Such comments miss the point about the broader challenges facing New Orleans.
The city’s troubled pattern of political corruption has compromised its ability to deal with basic urban problems such as education and law enforcement. Cleaning up the city’s political culture is a necessary step in improving its civic health.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has the authority to prosecute racketeering, a powerful tool in the fight against street gangs.
Regardless of who becomes the next U.S. attorney for the New Orleans area, fighting violent crime in the city always will be a primary responsibility of local authorities. That reality should remain front and center as Polite goes through the conformation process.
Polite’s confirmation process, if handled correctly, should help clarify his goals as U.S. attorney. We urge him to be forthcoming as he’s under consideration for the job.