New Orleans City Councilwoman Stacey Head represents a majority-black district, and yet won overwhelming re-election earlier this year. Head, a Democrat, also survived a recall effort in 2009 – and a recent investigative report by the New Orleans Times-Picayune shows that effort was funded largely by a company linked to the pervasve practive of copper wiring theft from the city’s homes.
A report filed with the state Board of Ethics shows that of the $6,700 raised for the recall effort, some $3,000 was donated by Uptown Recycling, Inc., a sheet-metal recycler located at Earhart Boulevard and South Claiborne Avenue. Head spent several months attempting to shut Uptown Recycling down amid multiple reports that the firm was involved in purchasing copper from thieves who prowl abandoned homes, construction sites and businesses to make off with piping, wiring and other sources of the metal.
For her efforts, Uptown Recycling, whose owner Alvin Smith and two of his employees were arrested in 2007 for failure to comply with a city ordinance requiring documentation of the ID’s of those selling them copper, ginned up a recall effort. Smith, who is African-American, was joined by several predominantly black Baptist churches in the recall effort; some $500 was donated by First Zion Baptist Church, a Gert Town congregation led by Donald Berryhill. Berryhill is a New Orleans police officer who during the time the recall was under way was assigned to the city’s Sanitation Department. Former sanitation director Veronica White became engaged in a nasty tussle with Head over the latter’s investigations into waste and fraud within her department; White ultimately published several thousand e-mails from the accounts of Head and several other City Council members.
Head ultimately dropped her efforts to kill Uptown Recycling in 2008 amid charges of racism, and won re-election by a significant margin this year. But the disclosure of the finances of the 2009 recall effort show that in New Orleans, attempts at enforcing the law will expose one to charges of bigotry and efforts to ruin one’s political career.