Daily Champion (Lagos)

Nigeria: Bribery Scandal - Americans May Reject Jefferson At Polls

Orlando, Florida — AMERICAN Congressman, Mr Williams J. Jefferson, who has been linked to alleged financial scam involving Nigeria's Vice President Atiku Abubakar may lose his re-election to the House, as many Americans have said they would not vote for him.

The Democratic Party's candidate is under pressure to explain the financial scam trailing his tenure ahead of next week's poll.

The embattled lawmaker already abandoned by his party currently awaits the official pronouncement from Washington on the outcome of the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI} which has investigated cases of bribery against him.

Reports in the media on the Jefferson campaign in New Orleans particularly in Third Ward, his local constituency, indicated that voters remained sceptical of his chances against 12 other opponents in the race for the House of Representatives.

His opponents include eight Democrats, three Republicans, and one Libertarian. Unless the winner gets more than 50 per cent of the vote, there will be a runoff in December. Political observers said they expect Jefferson to be in a runoff and possibly win, unless he is indicted.

One issue against the highly influential African American lawmaker has been the $100,000 found in his freezer by FBI investigators whose report has so far not cleared him. His case was further compounded by the party's withdrawal of support for him but rather sponsored another candidate to enable them retain the seat rather than lose it to Republicans.

"I'm not voting for him because of the $100,000 in the freezer," said one of former Jefferson's supporters who declined to give his name. "You find $100,000 in your freezer, I ain't voting for you."

Jefferson has been in the House for the better part of two decades, becoming the first black lawmaker elected to the United States Congress from Louisiana since the Reconstruction.

He has held seats on the Budget, Ways and Means committees. But in his Third Ward constituency and elsewhere, some voters are no longer deciding on Jefferson based on his credentials or his legislative record, but on the $100,000 he was allegedly videotaped accepting from an FBI informant.

FBI agents later found $90,000 in marked bills in Jefferson's freezer, wrapped in foil. The other $10,000 was later accounted for.

As Jefferson campaigns for a ninth term, the Harvard Law School graduate has shed little light on the federal investigation of bribery allegations, other than to insist on his innocence. In his television campaign, he talks about "the presumption of innocence afforded every person" and said, "For over 18 months, the federal government has investigated me and has yet to bring a single charge against me."

That message appears to be resonating among voters and so, despite the constant threat of a federal indictment that sources familiar with the probe say is a foregone conclusion, the 59-year-old politician is confidently campaigning.

Jefferson is showing up at public events, ready to work the crowd and touting a record of passing key legislation and getting funds to help post-Katrina New Orleans. Recently he went on the offensive, publicly accusing two of his 12 opponents of being "ethically challenged."

"He's a formidable candidate," says Danny Ford, executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party. "He's not been indicted or convicted. He's got a lot of support."

"I think to the common person, this has gone on so long, if the federal government had something they would have indicted him by now," says Michael M. Davis, a member of the Jefferson Parish Democratic Executive Committee, which has endorsed Jefferson.But other voters have little doubt about the ultimate outcome.

"There will be a special election when he's convicted," predicted Jim Monaghan Jr., who owns Molly's at the Market, a popular watering hole on Decatur Street. "How can he not be with 90,000 frozen dollars?"

State Rep. Karen Carter, Jefferson's most formidable challenger, adds: "It's not about innocence or guilt. The Justice Department will take care of that. There's a cloud of suspicion that hinders the incumbent's ability to be effective."

Carter has the endorsement of the state Democratic Party, which for the first time in decades turned its back on an incumbent. And his own party earlier this year kicked him off the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Jefferson "is not the underdog, but he's certainly playing that card to supporters," said Brian Brox, a political science professor at Tulane University in New Orleans.

At a recent campaign at the William Guste high-rise apartments in the Third Ward, a tireless Jefferson took off his suit , rolled up his sleeves and began shaking hands and exchanging hugs with a sea of smiling, receptive voters. Many of them were African American and middle-aged. Some wore "Don't Mess With Jeff" buttons.

Among those in attendance was Joshua Travis, 64, who said: "You're innocent until proven guilty. Ain't that the American way?"

Another attendee, a 58-year-old man who declined to give his name, said the FBI probe makes no difference.",

All of them are stealing. He just got caught. Since he's been in office, he's one of the few black officials who has been able to get in office and do something for the people," the man said.

After giving a spirited stump speech, Jefferson got personal. "People ask me, 'Jefferson, how you keep on going with all that's going on . . . and people saying things about you?' I tell them how to do it. You know how to do it. I just turn it over to God.

"When you see me going around the campaign, when you see me with my head up at work, that's how it gets done. . . . Keep working and keep praying and keep praying."

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