Oct 112018

Martha Lemoine talks about the US Constitution to students of the Nancy Marsiglia Institute. (photo by Danae Columbus for UptownMessenger.com)

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

In a fiery speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Gold Star father Khizr Khan talked about falling in love with the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. A Pakistani immigrant whose son Army Captain Humayun Khan was killed in Iraq in 2004, Khan offered to lend Donald Trump his copy so Trump could look up the words “liberty” and “equal protection under the law.”

New Orleans civic activist Madalyn Schenk was inspired by Khan’s speech and decided to form a different kind of book club – one that exclusively studied the Constitution and accompanying documents. That “constitution club” has now grown into the Nancy Marsiglia Institute, a 12-week cooperative program between Loyola University Law School and the United Way of Southeast Louisiana. The late philanthropist Nancy Marsiglia was the first person Schenk approached to participate. Soon other women including Councilmember Helena Moreno, Patty Riddlebarger, Ruth Kullman and United Way COO Charmaine Caccioppi joined in. Constitution expert Martha Lemoine Palmer, a mentor teacher and national judge for the Center for Civic Education’s We the People project, agreed to lead the class. Loyola Law School Dean Madeleine Landrieu – then Appeals Court Judge – bestowed the first graduation certificates.

“A Muslin American’s love of the Constitution inspires a Jewish woman to invite a group of friends to study at her kitchen table and a Catholic university takes it to the next level with help from the United Way,” said Schenk. “That is what America should be all about. So much of what we learn one day is on television the next day.”

The Institute was announced on the first anniversary of Marsiglia’s death and is funded in part by her family along with former Senators John Breaux and Mary Landrieu. The inaugural class – which meets weekly at Loyola’s Law School – includes a diverse group of leaders from the seven parish region such as St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom, Keith Liederman, Jackie Shreves, Carol Asher, Lisa Manning Ambrose, Ron McClain and Pres Kabacoff. Tuition is required, but scholarships are available.

“The United Way of Southeast Louisiana is pleased to partner in this outstanding program. The whole purpose of the Institute is to provide an opportunity for individuals from diverse backgrounds to respect different viewpoints and engage in civil discourse,” said Caccioppi. “Never in American history has promoting civil discourse been more important. We don’t have to attack one another.”

“I have taught government at Sacred Heart and Country Day. But this group of students are completely amazing,” said Palmer. “They have read their homework and are ready to discuss how the Constitution and the Bill of Rights apply to our daily lives. No one wants to miss class.”

“Learning more about the Constitution is so relevant and timely, especially when we consider what is happening in the Beltway currently,” said McClain who heads up the Institute of Mental Health.

Registration for the Institute’s spring semester begins October 17. For more information, see www.unitedwaysela.org/application-spring-2017.


If fundraising prowess was the key indicator of Election Day success, the candidates who reported the most cash on hand 30 days out would the automatic winners. Richard Perque would be our new Civil District Court Judge; Jared Brossett would take over as Clerk of Civil District Court and Timothy David Ray would remain in the First City Court slot. Yet, their victories are by no means certain. According to numerous consultants, having raised the most money is important, of course, but the candidate’s message and how he or she connects with the voters also counts. With only three weeks remaining, undecided voters still make up a significant portion of those likely to go to the polls. To put it mildly, many New Orleans voters just don’t care. Therefore, all three races are a toss-up. Anything can happen.

Between voter apathy and the desire of top shelf donors to contribute to all-important congressional races around the country, money for hometown races has been harder than usual to raise. Several local candidates in this cycle have loaned themselves funds or relied on family money to reach voters.

Richard Perque has done a masterful job of fundraising in the race for judge. In the most recent campaign finance report filing which was due Tuesday for the period ending September 27, Perque received $47,550 in donations from more than 100 companies including 15 which contributed $1,000 or more. They include Calvin Fayard, John Litchfield and Stephen Rue. With $107,295 cash on hand, Perque will be able to fund all the bells and whistles.

Together, Perque’s three opponents – Omar Mason, Marie Williams and Kenneth Plaisance – only raised half as much in this cycle. Williams has received no funds from any donors but has made loans to her campaign. Plaisance reported one donor, albeit a $5,000 contributor, the Robinson Law Firm. Mason raised $15,925 with 9 contributors of $1,000 or more and loaned himself $12,500. It appears unlikely that any one candidate will receive 50% of the vote in the November primary election. Perque could make the runoff against one of the African-American candidates.

With $170,275 cash on hand, Jared Brossett is reporting more available funds than Chelsey Richard Napoleon in the Clerk of Civil District Court race. But Napoleon raised twice as much as Brossett in this reporting period. She enjoys 12 donors of $1,000 or more including Duplain Rhodes, Liberty Bank and Metro Services Group. Brossett attracted 9 donors who gave $1,000 or more including Boysie Bollinger, Randy Greenup, and Louis Lauricella. Brossett started the campaign with a bigger war chest but Napoleon is hungry for a victory.

Timothy David Ray has only been Clerk of First City Court for a few months. With the help of his mentor Judge Ellen Hazeur, Ray has been able to attract donations from law firms and organized labor. In this report, Ray has 10 donors who have given a minimum of $1,000 including several family members and a $2,000 PAC contribution. Former State Representative Austin Badon shows financial support from the business community and from lawyers. Badon reports 6 donors of $1000 or more including Bobby Savoie, Joe Exnicios and Vaughan Fitzpatrick.

With early voting set to begin in 12 days, candidates are making a last minute push to raise money. Those with the available resources are doubling down on mail pieces, social media and canvassing. Some are also planning television commercials. Political organization like the Alliance for Good Government, OPDEC, R-PAC, BOLD and LIFE are preparing their ballots. While turnout projections remain low, there is still time for citizens to study the candidates and the constitutional amendments. Don’t miss this opportunity to have your voice heard.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-elect Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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