Vote to send message to city, nation

Posted Nov. 18, 2008, at 7:08 p.m.

I’m staying just a few blocks from Jefferson Davis Parkway. His statue has withstood everything the elements could throw at it since it was set in place back in 1902.

Back then Jefferson Davis was still classified as a traitor. He led a great civil war against the United States of America and wasn’t pardoned until 1978 when fellow Southerner Jimmy Carter set the issue of his treason aside.

When looking at the weathered monument, it’s really not so remarkable that the statue withstood the ravages of nature as it is that it withstood the test of fair play and decency. Why wasn’t this statue angrily torn down in the dark of night, after a lynching, during the civil rights movement or after America watched what happened to Saddam Hussein’s statue in Iraq?

Certainly that treatment of the Iraqi ruler — and the response of the American public to it — set an example of what to do with tributes to those who tortured, enslaved or executed people simply because of ethnic or cultural differences or because the victims rebelled against such treatment.

But I’m not in New Orleans now to study history, but because it is the center of Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District. This year Hurricane Gustav landed in bayou country forcing area residents to evacuate. This disruption in everyday life also interrupted the political season. The district’s voters were then given more time to vet and select their United States representative.

If you were here you’d admit that this part of the country, with its vivid reminders of its failing infrastructure, sure needs adequate representation. Then again, if you went up the Mississippi River about 2,000 miles to Minneapolis — where a bridge collapsed last year killing 13 and injuring 145 — you might argue that the whole country needs more adequate representation.

So this election, rescheduled to Dec. 6, is pretty darned important to the fourth-largest import city in the U.S. Because it will send a voice to Congress about the need to focus our political attentions back home where we can rebuild infrastructure while we recover from this recession, it’s pretty important for the rest of the coun-try, too.

One of the candidates, a community organizer and activist named Malik Rahim, is running a campaign based on the message that “strong people need good representatives.” Malik — a man who stayed behind after Hurricane Katrina struck, built the first post-Katrina medical clinic and provided desperately needed coordination for disaster relief — further explains that “weak people need strong leaders” but “strong people need good representatives.” He knows how strong the people of New Orleans are and he has proved that working together they can rebuild a city destroyed — not by natural disaster — but by disastrously poor government.

He’s up against an incumbent who, because of recent indictments, government searches of his congressional offices and alleged misconduct no longer leads or represents. And while incumbent Rep. William Jefferson appears to be no relation to Jefferson Davis, someone should have called it treason when, according to ABC News, the congressman “used National Guard troops to check on his property and rescue his personal belongings — even while New Orleans residents were trying to get rescued from rooftops.”

There are two other candidates in this race for Capitol Hill, and while seemingly fine people they are mere footnotes in this battle between the man who stayed behind rescuing lives and providing health care and the incumbent congressman who used the privilege of his office to retrieve his personal effects with the help of a “5- ton military truck and a half-dozen military police,” even as his constituents languished torturously in the flood.

Malik Rahim never got his things rescued because Malik Rahim never left. He stayed behind and opened his home as a distribution center for water, food, clothing, blankets and cleaning supplies. Since then he has stayed in New Orleans rebuilding homes and helping his neighbors move back. He leaves the area only to raise money and recruit volunteers to help with his rescue organization, Common Ground Collective. Check out to learn more.

It’s time now for Malik Rahim to go to Washington and represent the strong people of New Orleans and for Mr. Jefferson to come home.

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at