Crashing the party: Jefferson’s survival vexes Democrats on ethics
Democrats are unsure what to do about Rep. William J. Jefferson if he remains in Congress.
The Louisiana Democrat, who was stripped of his Ways and Means Committee seat by his caucus this summer, is in a tough runoff election against state Rep. Karen Carter, a Democrat who was endorsed by the Louisiana State Democratic Party.
Democrats refused to speculate about Mr. Jefferson’s future in the party before the Dec. 9 election.
“We have to wait and see what the voters of New Orleans do,” said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, the presumed speaker in the 110th Congress.
Mrs. Pelosi, a Californian who attacked Republicans on poor ethics and corruption, made an example of Mr. Jefferson after a federal investigation of the eight-term congressman was made public.
A search warrant affidavit released in May said Mr. Jefferson had solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and discussed payoffs with African offi- cials. It also said he was involved in numerous schemes to use his family members to hide business interests in high-tech ventures he promoted.
FBI officials said they found $90,000 in the freezer at Mr. Jefferson’s home during a sting operation after the Justice Department accused the congressman of taking $100,000 in bribe money from an informant.
Other Capitol Hill Democrats, who did not wish to be named, said Mr. Jefferson should expect nothing from Mrs. Pelosi or other party leaders.
“I don’t think he has anything coming his way,” one Democrat said.
Regardless, Mr. Jefferson is optimistic about his chances of retaining his seat.
“We will be re-elected, and we fully expect to keep our seniority,” said officials in Mr. Jefferson’s office.
Mrs. Carter, 36, placed second in Louisiana’s open primary Nov. 7, with 22 percent of the vote. Mr. Jefferson led the slate of 13 candidates, receiving 30 percent of the vote. He is expected to gain a large number of the votes cast for state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, a Democrat who came in third with 18 percent.
Meanwhile, members jockeying for leadership positions on committees have largely ignored Mr. Jefferson’s plight.
Ten House races have not been decided because of recounts in states including Pennsylvania, Florida, Connecticut, North Carolina, New Mexico and Georgia, but Mr. Jefferson’s race is the most troubling for Democrats.
If he wins, he likely will be remain under a cloud of suspicion going into the 110th Congress.