NEW ORLEANS — Democratic Rep. William J. Jefferson, the subject of a 19-month-long federal bribery investigation, was handily re-elected yesterday in this city still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina.
With 68 percent of the precincts reporting, Mr. Jefferson held a 59 percent to 41 percent lead over state Rep. Karen Carter, also a Democrat.
“I want to begin by thanking the Almighty,” said a teary-eyed Mr. Jefferson, flanked by his family and other elected officials. He called for unity among blacks and whites to “recover this great and wonderful city.”
Mr. Jefferson was forced into the runoff against Mrs. Carter when he failed to win 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 7.
Mrs. Carter conceded the election, telling her supporters, “This is democracy at work. I called Congressman Jefferson to congratulate him.” She offered to work with Mr. Jefferson to help New Orleans rebuild from Katrina.
Turnout yesterday was light, with an estimated 20 percent to 25 percent of registered voters casting ballots.
Ed Renwick, a pollster and political analyst at Loyola University in New Orleans, attributed Mr. Jefferson’s victory in part to lackluster support for Mrs. Carter from white voters in the predominantly black 2nd District, which includes most of Orleans Parish and part of Jefferson Parish to the west.
“Jefferson only got 6 percent of the white vote in the primary, so the white vote was hers to take,” Mr. Renwick said.
However, Mrs. Carter was hurt in the last week of the campaign by vigorous opposition from the powerful Jefferson Parish sheriff, Harry Lee.
Sheriff Lee was angered by comments Mrs. Carter made criticizing his department in Spike Lee’s Katrina documentary, “When the Levees Broke.”
She faulted sheriffs deputies for blocking Katrina refugees in Orleans Parish from crossing the Mississippi River into Gretna in Jefferson Parish.
“I don’t care who’s elected to Congress as long as it’s not Karen Carter,” he said during a press conference last week. Although Sheriff Lee did not endorse Mr. Jefferson, he paid for a mass mailing to 2nd District residents in Jefferson Parish, urging them not to vote for Mrs. Carter.
“Either the whites just stayed home or the Harry Lee mailouts affected the white vote,” Mr. Renwick said.
Mr. Jefferson had sought to make inroads in the conservative white community by portraying Mrs. Carter as pro-choice and pro-same-sex “marriage.”
The Carter camp then called Mr. Jefferson a hypocrite, saying he has long been supported by pro-choice and homosexual-rights groups.
One of those who cast a vote yesterday for Mr. Jefferson was Jene Allen.
“He started the job; let him finish it,” she told the Associated Press. “I know Karen Carter would be the first black woman [elected to Congress from Louisiana], but I think she played it dirty, too dirty.”
The bribery investigation involving Mr. Jefferson exploded in May 2005 when FBI agents raided the congressman’s Washington home and recovered $90,000 in marked $100 bills purportedly paid as part of a bribe to help a Kentucky high-tech firm expand its business in Nigeria.
No charges have been filed against Mr. Jefferson, and he has denied any wrongdoing. He has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of an FBI raid on his Capitol Hill office in August 2005, contending it violated the separation of powers.
Louisville businessman Vernon Jackson pleaded guilty to paying Mr. Jefferson $400,000 in bribes and was sentenced in September to seven years in prison. A former aide to Mr. Jefferson, Brett M. Pfeffer, also pleaded guilty in the bribe scheme last January and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Mr. Jefferson was forced off the powerful House Ways and Means Committee because of the cloud of suspicion.
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