Allan Katz and Danae Columbus: Can Tom Benson make everyone happy — including himself?

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Allan Katz and Danae Columbus

First some full disclosure: Allan has know Tom Benson since his Times Picayune days and even spent a weekend at Tom’s ranch in Texas; Allan and later Allan and Danae did consulting work for Benson; Gayle Bird Benson used to come on our cable show to raise money for St. Louis Cathedral; we attended their wedding reception ten years ago; Danae has also worked with lawyer Randy Smith on campaign events.

So, like everyone else in New Orleans, we have been closely following the Benson family feud and the obvious greed that surrounds it. Who would have thought the tenacious ninth ward graduate of St. Aloysius and Loyola-trained accountant would become the billionaire that everyone — except his other four living children, apparently — are fighting over.

We never got the impression that the three Rs were really all that close to the Bensons.  If they truly cared about Tom, they would have embraced Gayle, and worked hard every day to live up to the inheritance they were destined to receive.

Tom Benson has every right to be concerned about his legacy and the future of the franchises he worked so hard to build. Gayle Benson could well be “the love of Tom’s life” and has done a good job of keeping Tom happy and content in his later years. Although Gayle has only been intimately involved in the world of sports for a decade, she has put her stamp on the teams and the Superdome.  With the help of Lauscha and Loomis, the teams will continue to thrive.

We know a little something about interdiction too. Danae interdicted her mother when she became unable to care for herself or her assets.  If Tom Benson could run a meeting this week on future ticket prices for the Pelicans, he is not a candidate for guardianship, in our humble non-lawyer opinion.

Randy Smith is a smart and very successful lawyer who will continue to make a strong case for interdiction. While that bid will probably fail in the end, it has been a effective public relations tool to question Tom Benson’s motives and Gayle’s credibility.  When all that artificial fuss passes, the real issue will come back into focus – does Tom Benson have enough money to make everyone happy, including himself.

The actual value of the Saints and Pelicans probably exceeds the value of the promissory note that Tom submitted. That’s why the trustee rejected it, to protect himself from a suit by the three R’s. According to one of our lawyer friends, the teams may be worth more after Tom’s death if Gayle inherits them because no inheritance tax would be due. 

Let’s say that Tom is eventually able to satisfy the three R’s financially and still leave the teams to Gayle. What will Gayle do with the teams in 20 years? Could she leave the Saints to the Catholic Church for them to manage like any other property they own?  The Ursuline nuns would probably pray for the Saints every Sunday.  Profits from the franchise could keep neighborhood churches open across the city, fund more Catholic education, feed the poor…

Regardless of the eventual outcome, the hard-working, hard-driving, big-hearted Thomas Milton Benson will never be forgotten.  That is a good thing.

NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JEWISH WOMEN TO RECOGNIZE JULIE SCHWAM HARRIS MONDAY

We first met Julie Schwam Harris many years ago during a presidential campaign. Though she was not the local campaign manager, Julie was definitely in charge. Her kids were no longer babies and she was ready to emerge on the scene as a smart, hard-working activist who could be counted on to support many social justice issues.

During her sixteen years at City Hall under Marc Morial and Ray Nagin and now as a full-time advocate for women and families, we could always count on Julie to help positive create change in our community. Whether advocating for equal pay for women at the legislature or speaking out on women’s health issues, Julie has always been there.  Julie will be receiving the Hannah G. Solomon Award Monday, February 2 at the Westin Canal Place. Tickets may be purchased online at ncjwneworleans.org.

Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several television programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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