Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao (R)
Louisiana 2nd District
Founded by the French in 1718, ruled by the Spanish from 1763 until it was sold to the United States in 1803, New Orleans was a Creole city—part French, a bit Spanish, more than a touch Caribbean—when the American flag was raised over what is now Jackson Square. The statue of Andrew Jackson still seems an intrusion in a square set off by a French Market, the Cabildo, the Presbytere, the Pontalba apartments and Cathedral St. Louis. New Orleans was the fifth largest American city from 1840 until the Civil War and the only sizable city in the South. Yet even as it was sending Southern cotton to the mills of Lancashire, it was an alien cultural force in both the nation and region. Urbanized, yet poor and in many ways primitive, New Orleans had yellow fever epidemics late in the 19th century, even as it was installing electric lights. It had a riot in which Italian immigrants were massacred, even as it was laying streetcar tracks and telephone lines. This was one of the most corrupt American cities during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, when its votes were regularly bid for and bought. Like other Southern cities, it became rigidly segregated after 1890.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
For a time during the 1970s oil boom, New Orleans seemed to be a fast-growing Sun Belt city. But in the 1980s, it was beset by economic woes. Its port lost business—oil to Houston and Latin American trade to Miami—though it still shipped large amounts of grain. In the 1990s, New Orleans took a turn for the better. Crime plummeted and no longer depressed tourism. Visitors wanted to see the gaudy bars of Bourbon Street, the graceful restored houses in the Garden District and the Mardi Gras parade. They wanted to dine in the storied restaurants, with a cuisine all New Orleans’ own, spicy and rich and unaffected by trends in low-fat food. Incomes went up, and home ownership increased, among blacks as well as whites. Mayor Ray Nagin campaigned to tackle corruption, but was criticized by fellow African-Americans for not paying enough attention to community needs.
But the nation has since acquired other images of New Orleans. As Hurricane Katrina made landfall early on a Monday morning, Aug. 29, 2005, more than 20,000 people huddled at the downtown Superdome, the shelter of last resort. Although they were told to bring food, water and medicine, many did not. The scene inside was nightmarish, with no power or provisions, and conditions worsened when the storm ripped two holes in the roof. A few days later, city officials began to load people on buses for transport to cities that were better positioned to provide services. The breach of the city’s levees led to a surge that churned through the low-income Ninth Ward, while the French Quarter, on higher ground, was largely untouched by the floodwaters. When the city started to dry out, Nagin begged people to return, though services were starkly limited.
During the months following the devastation, it became clear that the city was in for a very long recovery. Thousands of government trailers became semi-permanent homes. City residents who had fled the floodwaters only slowly trickled back, if at all. Only portions of the city got regular utility service. The recovery proceeded, but expectations repeatedly were downsized. In May 2007, the Kaiser Family Foundation issued a report saying, “Hurricane Katrina, and the failure of government at all levels to respond to it more effectively, was personally devastating for a large percentage of the Greater New Orleans population in ways that continue to reverberate today.” Overall, a third of Greater New Orleans residents said their lives remain “very disrupted” or “somewhat disrupted,” a sentiment shared by 59% of people living in Orleans Parish. In 2008, the last government trailer parks closed, and the restaurants in the French Quarter were back in business. But the numbers continued to tell the story of the city’s struggle to rebound. Its population was down from 460,000 to about 320,000 in 2008, public-school enrollment was down 52% and transit riders were down 75%. As the city repopulated after Katrina, the population jumped nearly 14% from 2006 to 2007, but then it slowed dramatically in the next year, increasingly only 3% in 2008. “It’s very clear we’re going to have a much smaller, very different New Orleans,” retired Brown University geographer Robert Kates told USA Today.
The 2nd Congressional District of Louisiana includes almost all of the city of New Orleans, everything except a few affluent white neighborhoods. It has nearly half of Jefferson Parish, African-American neighborhoods in Metairie and Kenner, and the West Bank towns of Harvey, Marrero, and Westwego. In the French Quarter—the Vieux Carre as it was originally called—are the 19th-century-row houses decked out in their island pastels and ornate wrought-iron railings. At street level are restaurants, art galleries and jazz and blues clubs, and the narrow sidewalks fill up nightly with diners, revelers, and patrons of the tiny voodoo establishments that are found only in New Orleans. South of the quarter is the downtown district, with its skyscrapers and the Superdome, and to the east is the old slum known as the Irish Channel, a reminder that New Orleans had more foreign immigrants than any other part of the South. Up St. Charles Avenue from the Vieux Carre is the Garden District, with the graceful intact homes of the rich early American settlers. The city’s population was 60% African-American in 2007, and the district is solidly Democratic. John Kerry won 75% of the vote here in 2004 and Barack Obama got 75% in 2008.
Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao (R)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: March 19, 1967, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam .
Home: New Orleans.
Education: Baylor U., B.S. 1990; Fordham U., M.A. 1995; Loyola U., J.D. 2000..
Family: Married (Kate); 2 children.
Professional Career: Instructor, Loyola U.; Legal cnsl., Boat People SOS.; Mbr., Natl. Advisory Cncl. Of the U.S. Conf. of Catholic Bishops, 2002; New Orleans parish board of elections, 2007
The new congressman from the 2nd District is Anh (Joseph) Cao, a Republican who won a December 2008 runoff. Cao (GOW) is the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress. His victory in the overwhelmingly Democratic district was no doubt influenced by the legal problems of the ethically challenged incumbent, William Jefferson. Cao’s life story offered voters an uplifting alternative to the sordid tale of Jefferson and his freezer full of illicit cash. Three days before Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese, in April 1975, Cao, then just 8, escaped in a U.S. military-transport plane with a brother and sister. His father had been a military officer and was sent to a Viet Cong “re-education camp;” he was reunited with the family years later. Cao settled with an uncle in Houston, where he graduated from high school and got a bachelor’s degree in physics from Baylor University. He joined the Jesuit order, did missionary work in Mexico and Vietnam, and earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Fordham University. Cao taught at Loyola University in New Orleans, got a law degree there, and began to represent immigrants in the local Vietnamese community. Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, he organized and gave legal advice to civic groups, helping one of them shut down a landfill that had been put in a Vietnamese neighborhood. In 2007, he ran for the state House and missed forcing the race into a runoff when he lost by just 250 votes.
|Anh "Joseph" Cao (R)||33,132||(50%)||($234,559)|
|William Jefferson (D)||31,318||(47%)||($342,240)|
|Malik Rahim (Green)||1,883||(3%)||($945)|
|Anh "Joseph" Cao (R)||Unopposed|
Under ordinary circumstances, Cao, as a Republican, would have had no chance in this district. But he was running against nine-term Jefferson, whose career took a plunge after the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided his Capitol Hill home and found $90,000 in “cold cash” in his kitchen freezer, part of more than $400,000 that the investigators’ affidavit called bribe money. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stripped him of his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, despite pleas from the Congressional Black Caucus to wait until Jefferson had his day in court. Even after Jefferson was indicted in June 2007 for bribery, he sought to retain his House seat. In a seven-candidate Democratic primary in October 2008, he led the first round with 25% of the vote. That forced a runoff with Helena Moreno, a former television news anchor who was making her first run for elected office. Jefferson refused to debate, and Moreno pledged to restore respect for Louisiana. Still, Jefferson won the primary runoff, 57%-43%.
Cao won the Republican nomination without opposition and raised $113,500 for his campaign. With turnout expected to be low for the Dec. 6 contest, he worked with local Republican activists to get out the vote among Republicans and the roughly 20,000 local Vietnamese. He campaigned on traditional conservative positions, opposing abortion rights and supporting government vouchers for private-school tuition and a reduction in the size of government. He promised to restore “ethics and honesty” to the office. Jefferson spent $342,240, and assured voters that despite losing his committee post, he maintained influence through his connections to other members of the Black Caucus. Cao won 50% to 47%. His margin of victory came from Jefferson Parish, which cast 32% of the vote and which Cao won 60% to 38%. Jefferson won in Orleans Parish, 51%-45%. The contest was held a month after Election Day, when Barack Obama took 79% of the vote in Orleans Parish.
Cao’s victory was one of the few bright notes for Republicans in 2008. House Minority Leader John Boehner crowed in a post-election memo, “The Future Is Cao.” The freshman got seats on the Homeland Security and the Transportation and Infrastructure committees. When Democrats said they would target him in 2010, Cao said that he had proved the political experts wrong in 2008 and “I’m sure we’ll prove them wrong again.” If he somehow manages to win a second term in this district, he might subsequently get a boost from redistricting.