Former City-Parish Councilman and one-time House candidate Chris Williams has his hands all over four local races. He won one Saturday, and the competition is stiff in the other three. Can the ex-politician ride their coattails back into power? By Leslie Turk and Heather Miller
Chris Williams had a lot to celebrate Saturday night. His pal Brandon Shelvin, the most controversial city-parish councilman in the history of Lafayette Consolidated Government (next to Williams himself, of course) — easily won re-election to the District 3 seat. Shelvin defeated challenger Lloyd Rochon, garnering almost 60 percent of the vote.
Williams was there Saturday evening at Shelvin’s campaign headquarters at Patterson and Willow streets, high-fiving and celebrating, but there were three other races Williams was watching just as closely Saturday night. And if those go his way on Nov. 19, the embattled Williams could once again expand his influence in the local black community.
It’s been a difficult year and a half for Williams. Some had written him off years ago as dead politically. His antics on the City-Parish Council, most notably the childish act of scribbling “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive” on the council dais, were a turnoff to many voters in District 44. Those constituents rejected him IN 2007, favoring Rickey Hardy in the runoff and sending the former Lafayette Parish School Board member into the state Legislature with almost 56 percent of the vote.
But it was a compromising position Williams found himself in last year that got the bad blood between the two really boiling. Hardy helped blow the lid on a scathing audit of the Lafayette Housing Authority after he realized Williams was making about $80,000 a year while also working full-time at UL Lafayette. Williams and four others serving as contractors on the Disaster Housing Assistance Program were fired, and federal investigators soon converged on the LHA.
It’s easy to see how the animosity between the two political enemies escalated and why Williams will stop at nothing to unseat Hardy, who faces political newcomer Vincent Pierre — nephew of Wilfred Pierre, Hardy’s predecessor in the Legislature — in the runoff next month. Insiders say Williams has been behind Pierre’s campaign since the beginning, campaigning with him, walking neighborhoods with him, strategizing and helping Pierre raise money. Pierre declined an interview with The Independent, but a campaign staffer adamantly denies that Williams has anything to do with Pierre’s bid for state rep.
Along with their private meetings, public appearances and opposition to Hardy, however, other evidence of their unity is hard to dismiss.
‘United’ We Vote
“A Voteless People is a Hopeless People.” — Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity
A trip to the mailbox was all it took for voters in north Lafayette to be reminded of this phrase, made popular by the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity in the 1930s and still echoed today through the fraternity’s national voter education and registration program.
Paid for by the United Ballot PAC, the United Ballot is a two-sided political push card that lists 11 local and statewide offices up for grabs on election day — with only one candidate named under each office. Lining the sides of the “ballot” are two messages, one asking for voters to “please vote for these candidates” and the other reminding the card’s recipients that “you may take this to the polls.”
The 11 candidates whose names were listed on the United Ballot are:
Tara Hollis for Governor
“Billy” Nungesser for Lieutenant Governor
“Tom” Schedler for Secretary of State
Donald C. Hodge for Commissioner of Insurance
Dale Bayard for Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) District 7
Demoine Ruthledge for BESE District 8
Donald “Don” Cravins for State Senator
Vincent Pierre for State Representative
Michael “Mike” Neustrom for Sheriff
“Mike” Stagg for City-Parish President
Brandon Shelvin for City-Parish Council, District 3
One-time state House candidate Chris Williams is
United Ballot’s “Message to Voters” is signed by United Ballot PAC President Elroy Broussard and Treasurer K. Babineaux. Campaign finance reports filed with the Louisiana Ethics Board reveal that Karen Babineaux registered the political action committee in 2004, three years before Babineaux served as Chris Williams’ campaign treasurer in 2007 when he lost his bid to Hardy for the House District 44 seat. United Ballot President Elroy Broussard, Williams’ longtime friend and political ally, ran unsuccessfully against Hardy for the Lafayette Parish School Board in 2006.
The United Ballot PAC spent $1,456.95 on the push card mail-outs, hiring a Fort Worth, Texas, firm to handle the mass distribution. The only reported donation to the United Ballot PAC for this election cycle so far is $2,250 from Breaux Bridge lawyer Glenn Soileau, a candidate for the St. Martin Parish clerk of court’s office who was soundly defeated on election day.
“This election will determine what path we take for the next four years in health care, education and economic development,” the United Ballot push card reads. “That path will impact our lives for decades to come. Let your voice be heard. Remember, ‘A Voteless People is a Hopeless People’ ... Call 534-8460 for a ride to the polls.”
The United Ballot’s directive to voters is eerily similar to Pierre’s comments in The Daily Advertiser on Oct. 22 following the Election Day returns.
“We’re going to focus on the things we’ve been talking about in the race: economic development, education and commitment to a united community,” Pierre told the daily.
Hardy V. The Machine
Hardy, who led Saturday’s race with 43 percent to Pierre’s 40 percent (Roshell Jones got 17 percent), appears to be facing an uphill battle — it’s not just Pierre he’s running against.
That’s because Hardy didn’t stop with the LHA and Williams. After the LHA’s close association with the Opelousas Housing Authority led federal investigators there — where Opelousas Mayor Donald Cravins had wielded influence over then-executive director Walter Guillory and others in the organization — Hardy teamed up with District 24 state Sen. Elbert Guillory and took on Cravins, too.
|Hardy, left, and Pierre face off in the
Nov. 19 general election
First, Guillory made it his business to invite the legislative auditor to conduct a compliance audit in Opelousas; auditors found that the city also did not have its fiscal house in order: felony theft, payroll fraud by a department director, payment for contractual services without a written contract, state bid law violations, the mayor allowing free rent of public buildings for city employees, cash from scrap metal sales not deposited in the city’s account for months. Poor controls, no controls.
With the Hardy-Guillory duo formally calling on the feds to further delve into the city’s business, the only politician harboring more disdain for Hardy is Cravins, which is why many observers believe Cravins’ ulterior motive in challenging Guillory for his former Senate seat is to get the vote out against Hardy (the districts overlap). Guillory edged ahead in the Oct. 22 primary with 46.38 percent of the vote (12,768) to Opelousas Mayor Donald Cravins’ 40.72 percent (11,210 votes). Candidate Kelly J. Scott came in third with nearly 13 percent of the vote. Scott told The Daily Advertiser he will not endorse Guillory or Cravins in the runoff.
With Williams as ringleader — and despite the many past differences they’ve had — Shelvin, Pierre and Cravins (and to a lesser extent former State Police Superintendent Terry Landry, who is in a runoff for the newly created District 96 House seat) are united in this campaign cycle. And they are being helped along the way by J’Nelle Chargois and KJCB radio.
“He’ll be rewarded in some shape or form,” Hardy says of Williams, should any of his candidates win. “He’s going to think he has some type of power.”
Despite the close race Saturday, Hardy is not backing down — though he has backed off his pledge to refuse campaign donations. He knows now that he needs them. “We have to get the message out,” Hardy says. Before the primary, he was confident that voters got “the message,” he maintains, but Saturday’s results indicate otherwise. “Rickey Hardy shined a spotlight on their wrongdoing, and people act like I’m on a witch hunt in the black community. What is Greg Gachassin? Isn’t he white?” Hardy asks. “I’m not going after individuals. I’m going after wrongdoing,” he continues. “Louisiana is a corrupt state. You have someone fighting corruption and trying to clear it up. If that’s not what you want, what do you want?”
We’ll know Nov. 19.
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