Jefferson Overcomes Scandal, Wins Reelection

By Cain Burdeau
Associated Press
Sunday, December 10, 2006

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 9 -- Voters looked past a federal bribery investigation of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) and reelected the eight-term congressman in a runoff election Saturday.

Jefferson grabbed a commanding lead over state Rep. Karen Carter, a fellow Democrat, almost as soon as the polls closed in the New Orleans district. With 44 percent of the precincts reporting, Jefferson, had 61 percent of the vote.

Louisiana's 2nd District was one of the nation's last unresolved midterm races, and the runoff election put Jefferson in danger of becoming the only Democratic incumbent to lose this election year.

In her concession speech, Carter embraced family members and pledged to work with Jefferson, particularly on the area's recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

"I guess the people are happy with the status quo," she said.

Jefferson, Louisiana's first black congressman since Reconstruction, has been the target of a wide-ranging investigation into allegations that he took bribes -- including $90,000 allegedly found in his freezer during an FBI raid -- from a company seeking lucrative contracts in the Nigerian telecommunications market. He has not been charged with any crime and denies any wrongdoing.

He described his win as "a great moment and I thank almighty God for making it possible."

The scandal turned the campaign into a debate largely divided along racial lines, an age-old dynamic in this city that has intensified since Katrina displaced large numbers of blacks and upended their demographic and political dominance.

In the Nov. 7 election, whites overwhelmingly voted for Carter, 37, and were her most enthusiastic financial backers, while Jefferson, 59, drew widespread support among blacks.

Carter raised nearly five times as much money as Jefferson, but she was largely outflanked in endorsements as Jefferson picked up the backing of Mayor C. Ray Nagin and other prominent black politicians.

The endorsements spoke to Jefferson's solid footing in New Orleans politics. He arrived here in the 1970s as a Harvard-educated lawyer from rural north Louisiana, the sixth of 10 children brought up in a three-room country home. By 1980, he represented New Orleans in the state Senate.

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