NPR logo 'Cold Cash' Jefferson Ousted In Louisiana Shocker

'Cold Cash' Jefferson Ousted In Louisiana Shocker

Well, to use an old New Orleans expression, Holy Toledo!

Rep. William Jefferson, (D) who in 1991 became Louisiana's first African-American congressman since Reconstruction, was defeated Saturday by Anh "Joseph" Cao in a runoff. Cao, a Republican, becomes the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress. The district is overwhelmingly African-American and overwhelmingly Democratic.

Jefferson had been under indictment since 2007. Federal prosecutors said they had found $90,000 in alleged bribe money stashed away in his freezer. The FBI said it had Jefferson on videotape accepting bribes, money he received from businessmen in exchange for his influence in Congress to broker deals in several African nations. Jefferson says he is innocent.

Even when reports of wrongdoing came out in 2006 and even when he became a national punch line with late-night comedians Jefferson managed to win re-election. As it was, when he survived a multicandidate primary this year on Nov. 4 (a primary delayed because of Hurricane Gustav), most people thought he was, again, home free, at least politically. Cao, whose sum total of election experience was an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the state Legislature in 2007, was boosted by an aggressive GOP effort to portray Jefferson as corrupt. But practically no one thought the campaign would succeed.

Jefferson was first elected to Congress in 1990. The incumbent Democrat from the 2nd District, Lindy Boggs, bowed to reality and chose not to run again that year; she had been the sole remaining white incumbent in a black-majority district. Jefferson had won re-election handily ever since until 2006, when he was forced into a runoff as reports of his ethics woes became widespread. Nonetheless, he defeated fellow Democrat Karen Carter with 56.5 percent of the vote.

In another Louisiana runoff Saturday, in the 4th District (centered in Shreveport), Republicans apparently have retained the seat of retiring incumbent Jim McCrery. John Fleming, (R) a physician, held a 356-vote lead over Democrat Paul Carmouche.