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A look back at a 20-year Weekly odyssey

20th November 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Twenty years ago, this reporter published his first expose in The Louisiana Weekly, launching a varied career on these pages of chronicling political revelations, scandals, foibles, and the occasional reformist innovation—most of which would never have seen the light of day without this storied publication.

Throughout the autumn of 1997, multiple mid-ranking New Orleans police officers had privately complained to me that something was amiss in the way that the much-ballyhooed COMSTAT crime statistics were assembled. These veteran Cops alleged that crimes were being downgraded as they were entered in to the electronic record—not by much, often just reduced by one category of intensity of crime. The result, however, created the statistical appearance that incidents of crime in the Crescent City had fallen far more than they had in actuality.

As a recently unemployed campaign staffer, I failed at generating much interest in the mainstream media to publish my findings. Most local reporters discounted the warnings of the officers themselves, unless they self-terminated their careers by speaking “on the record.” Moreover, I had no journalistic plaudits to my name, certainly not enough to get anyone to take seriously a story which threatened to undermine the popular narrative of the late 1990s — that New Orleans had finally “solved” its crime problem.

I ruminated on how to get the word out about the “fudging of the stats at NOPD” late one stormy afternoon, as I sat behind my desk at the small art gallery on Julia Street—at which I had taken a managerial job, enjoying no immediate media employment prospects.

Suddenly, disturbing my introspection, the bell rang as a very stylishly dressed gentleman strode through the gallery door, out of the rain. He peered closely at the two Louis XIV wing-chairs in front of my desk, and said, without missing a beat, “Where do you get legs for chairs like that?”

I invited my mystery guest to sit in the aforementioned chairs, and he introduced himself as Bert Dejoie.

“Do you need any reporters?” I queried, and before Bert knew what he was doing, he led me through the rain to The Weekly’s office where I pitched the NOPD stats story.

The story caused a proverbial firestorm almost as soon as the paper hit the streets the following Saturday. An official long-form letter, delivered by registered mail, soon arrived from Superintendent Richard Pennington’s office complaining about my article, and every implication therein. The NOPD high command, though Deputy Chief Ronal Serpas, loudly denied the allegations, and City Hall backed up their defense. Of course, not many months passed before confirmation of the charges came, and quite a few District Captains were sacked for pressuring their patrolmen to alter the categories of crimes entered into COMSTAT to “improve their numbers”.

In 2002, Vincent Bruno tipped this reporter off to the rather curious bid process underway for the privatization of Lakefront Airport. The proposed 20-year private management contract seemed destined to end up in the hands of Larry Sisung, who just happened to also serve as “financial advisor” to the airport’s owner, the Orleans Levee Board. The contract was so badly written that the firm awarded control of the airport, theoretically, had the right to build waterfront homes on the runways, if that proved more profitable a use for the property than running an airstrip.

Moreover, the privatization contract proved only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of corruption at OPLB. I recounted in The Louisiana Weekly how the Levee Board President Jim Huey used public money to hire private investigators to tail his employees—and a local radio talk show host critical of his tenure in office. It seemed as if the Levee Board was concerned with doing everything but maintaining levees.

In reaction to the slew of articles in The Weekly, then-Gov. Mike Foster appointed Peggy Wilson as an interim nominee to the board. Using the initial investigations of this newspaper, the former Councilwoman began to demand that the Levee Board open its books to the public, and actually worry about flood control. In fact, articles in The Weekly heralded Wilson’s call for “sonic studies” to determine the integrity of the levee and floodwall system. She considered this a better use of tax monies—and time—than breaking ground on a movie studio on the Lakefront or trying to privatize the airport.

August 29, 2005 proved how Wilson—and this newspaper—wished that the board had listened to her advice! The Councilwoman’s warning was my first thought as the floodwalls collapsed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

In late 2002, I learned that a former prostitute, who went by the alias Wendy Cortez (nee Wendy Yow Ellis) had provided testimony to the Dave Treen for Congress Campaign that she had engaged in a nine-month affair with his opponent, State Representative David Vitter. The young politician and prostitute had met regularly at an apartment at the corner of Dumaine and Dauphine streets in the French Quarter.

Former Gov. Treen refused to use the damning information, believing it to be ungentlemanly. Vitter had no reservations, and his targeted negative advertising in the days before the election so smeared Dave Treen, that David Vitter pulled out a victory by just 800 votes. The former Governor’s staffers thought the State Rep. had crossed a line of decency, and so, they decided to recount to the media their interviews with “Wendy Cortez.”

The young woman, who had refused any form of payment, had come forward when Vitter literally ran from her presence while campaigning in Lakeside Mall. She thought him a hypocrite, especially since he reportedly ended their affair when the State Rep. learned her actual name was not “Leah” but Wendy—his wife’s name. At the time, however, Cortez refused to release her actually, legal last name “Yow Ellis.” She feared losing the new life she had built in Texas as a bookkeeper, and the story’s potential impact on her young daughter. Lacking an “on the record” interview, other reporters, who had learned of the scandal, refused to report it.

Everyone but The Louisiana Weekly.

The Louisiana Weekly, under my byline, was the first media source to reveal the prostitute allegations against the sitting Congressman. And for several years, we stood alone, as the mainstream press ignored evidence of Vitter’s Call Girl trysts. That is until 2007. Then, investigators employed by Larry Flint contacted us, and we helped them find Wendy Yow Ellis. In the course of the Hustler probe, another corroborating fact was discovered. They found Vitter’s cell phone on the DC Madam’s call list. The story exploded into the national consciousness.

Nightline, ABC News, The Washington Post recounted this newspaper’s struggle against the Senator, as did countless other media sources. In the end, Wendy Yow Ellis’ video testimony outlining the affair—the story this newspaper first unveiled—proved the major factor in David Vitter’s defeat in his 2015 Gubernatorial bid.

In 1998, I started writing a joint political column with former LAGOP Executive Director Jeff Crouere, and we hosted a radio show together. One day, we invited Duke on the air to talk about the mailing list that he had sold to Governor Mike Foster’s campaign. The former KKK Grand Wizard was surprisingly forthcoming, underestimating us, so it was to his regret later when I asked, “How do you pay taxes on the sale of such a list?”

“I don’t think I paid any taxes on it,” Duke blurted out, and then said he had to consult with his accountant. Jeff and I rushed from our radio studio at WTIX, and immediately wrote our column recounting the interview. It ran in The Weekly and online. Upon reading it, assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Letten called Jeff, asking for a copy of the interview tape. He used to obtain a search warrant for Duke’s St. Tammany home. The statute of limitations might have been expired on the sale of the list to Foster, but the illegal contributions found in Duke’s possession sent him to prison. Letten later credited Tidmore, Crouere, and our column in The Louisiana Weekly as bringing about the end of David Duke as a political force.

Of the thousands of my exclusives over the years, sometimes this newspaper miffed the mainstream press by beating them to the punch on a scandal.

Former Marine Col. Al Davis had become the Superintendent of the Orleans Parish School System with considerable “outsider” fanfare. However, when investigations of pay records discovered that his janitor father earned $70,691 for custodial work—a schedule that would require the elder Davis to work 75 hours per week at an advanced age without days off—and more than any principal made, it led to the younger Davis’ ouster.

The Louisiana Weekly ran the story first, breaking the payment scandal on the Internet and print edition just one day before anyone else.

The daily paper thought they had an unchallenged exclusive which could wait until their Sunday edition. As the weekend dawned on that Friday night at the annual Alliance for Good Government dinner, I received congratulations from my colleagues. The educational reporter for the TP, though, shot me glares of anger, but, his superiors learned that The Louisiana Weekly was a media force to take seriously.

In truth, only a fraction of the stories that I have written for The Louisiana Weekly over the last two decades immediately come to mind as I look back.

But here, right now, I toast to the soon-to-be-celebrated centennial of this newspaper, and to another 20 years of writing columns for it.

Besides Christopher Tidmore’s columns in this newspaper, he co-hosts the political radio program “The Founders Show” on Sundays at 8 a.m. on WRNO 99.5 FM and Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 8 a.m. on WSLA 1560 AM. Archived online at

This article originally published in the November 20, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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