Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Orleans Councilwoman Clarkson’s Shift On CCC Toll Puzzling

The truth is, there really aren’t many politicians that I like and even fewer that I respect. I’ve interviewed them on the radio, written about them, had them try to be friends (as long as I was writing or speaking favorably about them of course). But, I see through them. They are politicians, and that’s not going to change.

I had a very good friend that I knew before he became a politician. Right before my very eyes he changed. He became a politician. In fact, the last time he called me, he screamed at me through the phone and hung up on me. We’re not friends anymore. Perhaps we never really were. 
I’ve always had a soft spot for Orleans Parish Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson.

I don’t know if it’s her maternal ways; if it’s because she could dress me down and smile while she was doing it; or a combination of reasons but I always liked and respected Jackie Clarkson.
Now, we certainly didn’t agree on every issue but Councilwoman Clarkson could give as good as she got. Trust me. Even through a phone line, I have been on the receiving end of Councilwoman Clarkson’s smiling indignation too many times to count.

But, unlike most politicians, Clarkson never ducked. I returned a call from her one day while she was in an Orleans Parish Council meeting. She took the call and said, “Could I please call you back in about a ½ hour?”
And she did call me back.

Several years ago, I was working at a Talk Radio station here in New Orleans filling in for one of their regular hosts. I told the station’s General Manager that I had booked Councilwoman Clarkson for an interview.
“Good luck with that,” the GM said. “She NEVER comes on this station.”

But she did and I interviewed her many times. Sometimes things got a little testy (I mean c’mon. If you’re reading this you already know that things can get testy with me and almost anyone, not just those people who happen to change their name to Yenni). But Councilwoman Clarkson was always courteous and never wouldn’t come on when she said she was scheduled.
In fact, when she was elected as Councilwoman-At-Large in November 2007 in a special election to replace the indicted Oliver Thomas, I was the first radio interview Councilwoman Clarkson did. Not WWL – WALT.

That’s why I’m so surprised by Councilwoman Clarkson’s recent statements about the CCC toll revote.
On Sunday, after the toll extension was crushed by voters in three parishes, Councilwoman Clarkson was on TV looking sad and gloomy like someone had stolen her favorite puppy.

On Fox 8, Councilwoman Clarkson said, “Structural maintenance is my biggest fear.”
"I want the voters to hold the people that represented the no tolls responsible. I want them to hold those political leaders responsible for making sure that bridge is maintained, lighted and policed," Clarkson said.

Not even 12 hours after the polls closed and Clarkson is already talking about bridge maintenance, lighting, and holding political leaders accountable?

Wait, isn’t Jackie Clarkson a “political leader”? Why isn’t she holding herself accountable for decades of mismanagement, waste and abuse?
I sat on my couch watching this piece on TV literally shaking my head.

“Did Jackie Clarkson really say that?” I asked myself.
I needed to go online to watch it again to make sure that I heard her correctly.

But I did.
Back when she was a State Representative serving the people of Algiers, Clarkson had an entirely different take on the CCC toll. In fact, she co-authored a bill that would have stopped the CCC toll in 1999.

That’s right: 1999.
In the 1998 Legislative Session, Clarkson and fellow West Bank State Rep. Steve Windhorst from Terrytown, co-authored House Bill 314 which called for the removal of the CCC toll no later than June 30, 1999.

In a New Orleans Times-Picayune article printed on May 10, 1998, Clarkson was livid at the waste and abuse that DOTD had perpetrated on the West Bank for years.
“I want to be severe. We have tried everything,” Clarkson said. “We collect $20 Million a year in tolls and $14 Million of that goes to fund bureaucracy (at the Department of Transportation and Development) and $6 Million goes to finance roads that should be financed by DOTD’s own money. Why take $20 Million from chronic bridge users from Algiers and Gretna and Terrytown for road projects for DOTD’s feeding frenzy?”

That was 1998. Since then, 24 years have passed with bridge users faithfully passing along $20 Million each year to the slush funds of DOTD and local elected officials for their pet projects.
I’m not a Math expert, but I can use a calculator. That’s $480 Million dollars out of your pockets that now-Councilwoman Clarkson wanted to stop in 1998.

If Councilwoman Clarkson thought it was a good idea to end the toll in 1998, how can it not be an even better idea now? The bridge is paid off. The State Police are providing protection (as they should have been all along) and we’ve had decades of more waste and abuse.
What happened? Why the change from State Rep serving the West Bank to Orleans Parish Politician raining down gloom and doom now that the toll extension was defeated?

Sounds like someone has some explaining to do…
Councilwoman Clarkson – you have the floor. The people of the West Bank are waiting and deserve an answer.