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Looking to add Cuban salsa to New Orleans jazz, Mary Landrieu lobbies for Jazz Fest

Then-Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) in New Orleans in November 2014. (Edmund D. Fountain for The Washington Post)

In her new role as a lobbyist, former senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana has launched a Cuba practice.

Her first order of business?

Working with the New Orleans Jazz Fest in its quest to bring 150 Cuban musicians and artists to next year’s festivities.

“I’m a huge fan of Jazz Fest and I’m thrilled to have them as a client,” Landrieu said. “New Orleans has connections to Havana that are historic. It’s a natural fit for me as a former senator from Louisiana.”

Landrieu, a Democrat who lost her reelection bid in 2014 to Republican Bill Cassidy, joined the law firm Van Ness Feldman in 2015, where she is a lobbyist and policy adviser for corporate clients, including Noble Energy and Shell Oil.

Like many Washington lobbyists, she is also looking to take advantage of the Obama administration decision this year to begin normalizing relations with Cuba after decades of tense relations with the Cold War foe and she’s starting with an issue close to her roots.

Landrieu has deep connections to the city beyond serving as senator — her father Moon Landrieu was the mayor of New Orleans from 1970 to 1978 and her brother Mitch Landrieu is the city’s current mayor.

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation, the nonprofit that owns Jazz Fest, is Landrieu’s first client in her Cuba practice. She has taken the foundation’s leaders to meet with State Department officials and is setting up similar meetings with Treasury and Commerce officials to discuss how Cuban musicians and artists would be compensated and could obtain visas.

This year’s Jazz Fest, an annual music and food festival, begins Friday.

As a former senator, Landrieu has a two-year “cooling off period” mandated by ethics rules before she can lobby members of Congress, but there is no explicit cooling off period for former senators lobbying federal agencies.

This has allowed Landrieu to also set her sights on the Food and Drug Administration in service of another client looking to take advantage of the thawing relationship between the United States and the island nation.

She is representing the U.S. premium cigar manufacturers in pushing back against a FDA regulation she says could put premium cigar makers out of business. The clients are the Cigar Rights of America, a lobbying group, and the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, a trade group for tobacco makers and distributors.

Landrieu said the regulation could hurt the ability of Cuban cigar makers to export their products to the United States.

“I agree with the president in opening up relations with Cuba,” Landrieu said. “Outlawing or making it more difficult for Cuba to export their number one product is not a good way to start a relationship.”