Last time, I introduced myself and explained the column name: 13th Ward Rambler. Given that I ramble at times, it’s almost self-explanatory but I digress. It’s what I do.

This time around I’d like to dish about the featured image. It’s a collage by Max Ernst, Birdmen. It comes from his 1934 surrealistic novel, Une Semaine de Bonte. It’s been modified for our purposes by my publisher. That’s a fancy way of saying we put some lettering over the image when this column took bi-weekly flight. It has nothing to do with the 2013 Oscar winning movie Birdman, which should have lost for Best Picture to Boyhood.

I’ve been using Ernst’s art to illustrate my posts at First Draft for years. I’m preternaturally fond of Surrealist art and Ernst was one of the mainstays of that artistic movement. He was also one of the founders of the movement whose motto should have been, in Tom Stoppard’s memorable phrase, “My art belongs to Dada.”

Max Ernst was a genuinely international figure. He was born in Germany in 1891, worked in Paris for many years, and fled France before the Nazis came knocking on his door. They were not fond of so-called degenerate artists such as Max Ernst. 

Ernst spent 18 years in the United States spreading the Surrealistic “gospel” before returning to France where he died in 1976. He held dual French and American citizenship but was really a citizen of the world; a concept that Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and other right-wing populists are working to expunge.

That’s probably more than you wanted or needed to know about Max Ernst, but the column title entitles me to ramble.

I’d written 85% of this column when I heard tragic news about some old friends. If you follow me on Twitter, I’ve talked about it there at some length. I wanted to flesh out my thoughts and share them with you here. I’m not usually a sentimentalist but this has brought out my softer side.

A Death In The Extended Family: 

I’ve written extensively about what I call The Spirit Of ’05. There’s a special camaraderie among those of us who went through Katrina, the Federal Flood and its aftermath together. Lamar has written about the special ties among the post-K New Orleans blogging community. I formed many friendships then: some ephemeral, others enduring. Something terrible has happened to the family of one of them: Michael Homan.

I captured the essence of our odd but strong friendship in a Tweet so why not repeat it?

Over the years, my wife Grace and I also became friends with Michael’s charming and brilliant wife, Therese Fitzpatrick who teaches at Lusher. They’re both educators: Michael is a theology professor at Xavier. I’ve known them and their beautiful family for 13 years. Something horrible happened to them this week.

I’ve known Gilgamesh Homan since he was 5 or 6 years old. He was in a fatal skateboard accident in Baton Rouge where he was attending LSU. He was 18 years old. It’s been a long goodbye for the Homans since Gil was an organ donor and on life support until his organs could be harvested. But it’s the only good that can come of this tragic accident.

Gil’s sudden passing has devastated the Homan-Fitzpatrick family and stunned their many friends. There’s something extra awful about the death of someone you saw grow up.

Gil was a sweet and smart young man who was liked by everyone he met. I can’t say that I knew the teenage Gil all that well: like most kids that age he wanted to be with his peers, not his mom and dad’s friends. I’m just sorry that none of us will get to know the adult Gil who was bound to be as interesting a person as his parents and older sister, Kalypso.

My heartfelt condolences to Mike, Therese, and Kalypso. All your friends can do is to tell you that we care and are here for you. Always.

We return to our regularly scheduled programming with a look at the Sheriff’s race next door in Jefferson Parish.

Jefferson Parish Grudge Rematch: 

NOLA transplants are often baffled by the local media’s focus on the ins and outs of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office; hereinafter JPSO. It’s a very important job both in law enforcement terms and politically: the Sheriff is often a bigger deal than the parish president. Besides, the office was held for nearly four decades by two larger than life figures: Harry Lee, and his protege, Newell Normand. Lee was notorious for his strident racially charged comments and Normand was such a colorful character that he retired as Sheriff in 2017 to become a talk radio big mouth at WWL-AM.

The special election in 2017 between Joe Lopinto and John Fortunato was a barn burner; not that there are many barns in Metry or elsewhere in largely suburban JP. Fortunato was better known because he had been the department’s spokesman for many years but Lopinto was appointed by Normand to succeed him, so he had the advantage of semi-incumbency.

Fortunato made a mistake during a candidate’s forum that doomed his bid. He said that he’d support pariah parish President Mike Yenni for re-election. Yenni is best known for sexting a 17-year-old boy and a recall effort by voters He remained so unpopular in JP that he isn’t running for re-election. Bad move, Johnny.

Fortunato was not expected to run again but then something big happened. I’ll let Clancy DuBos do the heavy lifting since he broke the story:

“Fortunato, meanwhile, had given no public hints of another run for the sheriff’s job. Then, only minutes before qualifying ended, he joined the race. Up to that point, Lopinto appeared poised to coast back into office — his only other opponent being Anthony Bloise, a retired shipbuilder who ran for sheriff twice before.

Then Lopinto dropped a bombshell. He called me 20 minutes after qualifying closed and said he had called the FBI and the state Attorney General’s office several hours before Fortunato qualified to report that “several people” had reached out to him, allegedly on Fortunato’s behalf, to say his former adversary would not run against him if the sheriff would help Fortunato land a job as chief of the Causeway Police, an appointed position which is currently vacant. Lopinto, an attorney, said he was concerned the offers, if coming from Fortunato, violated bribery and other laws.”

I, for one, am dubious of Lopinto’s story. Fortunato has repeatedly denied it. Additionally,nobody from the Causeway Commission seems to know anything about his supposed desire to be its police chief. Besides, if something like this call happened, it sounds like political deal making to me: clumsy but unlikely to be a bribe. It’s pretty tame stuff by Gret Stet standards but it set the stage for an entertaining campaign.

There was an interesting piece by Christopher Tidmore at Louisiana Weekly wherein he takes a close look at the impact of Fortunato’s candidacy on the parish president’s race:

“That is not to say that John Fortunato’s choice to seek a second bid against the incumbent Jefferson Sheriff will not drive the Caucasian electorate to the voting booths as well. If recent history proves any guide, their rematch may trigger an exciting and closely matched contest. One in which it hardly takes a leap of logic to conclude that many of Fortunato’s supporters will tend to lean more towards supporting Young than casting a ballot in favor of Lopinto’s close ally Lee-Sheng. They often share the same anti-establishment vote. As one campaign insider put it to this newspaper, “There’s no doubt that Johnny getting into the Sheriff’s race helps John.”

Moreover, Lee-Sheng and Lopinto do run on a defacto ticket, making it rather easy for their opponents to make their anti-establishment case in a way that would usually be denied to a former parish president and retired JPSO Colonel. It is far from uncommon to see Lopinto’s sign crews putting up placards for both the current sheriff and the daughter of the past sheriff. While the councilwoman and the JPSO chief each runs his or her own race, the strong coordination by the campaigns of the two candidates links them in the public consciousness. Lopinto is the hand-picked successor of Newell Normand, after all, who also first encouraged the daughter of his mentor to run for the parish council and served as her campaign manager whilst still sheriff himself.

I realize that was inside Jefferson Parish baseball but it’s pretty darn interesting. Tidmore believes that black voters will decide the race and that those with long memories are not bloody likely to cast a nostalgic vote for Harry Lee’s daughter. Lee was NOT popular in the African American community because he often made inflammatory statements about black folks. In short, many believe that the Chinese American sheriff/folk hero was a racist. I think the truth is more complicated than that BUT Harry loved the limelight, lived to be on teevee, and was prone to shoot from the lip.

John Fortunato is a decided underdog in the grudge rematch. The incumbent has most of the resources and endorsements. It’s unclear if John Young’s coattails are strong enough to benefit Fortunato’s candidacy. His surname increasingly appears to be a misnomer.

Back to John Fortunato’s days as JPSO spokesman. He was instrumental in the decision to allow action star Steven Seagal to film his reality show, Lawman, in Jefferson Parish. Fortunato was a recurring character in that A&E potboiler and can be seen at the wheel in this trailer as Seagal drags his ponytail about JP:

The bonds between Segal and the JPSO were severed permanently after the second season of Lawman over allegations of sexual misconduct. Seagal filmed one more season in Phoenix, Arizona under the auspices of notorious wingnut Sheriff Joe Arpaio. There’s no ambiguity about the former Maricopa County sheriff, he’s a flat-out racist.

Seagal has joined the lunatic fringe and become an apologist for Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. Perhaps Fortunato should throw the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass and run an ad featuring his old pal, Seagal. Probably not: sexual misconduct is frowned upon even in conservative Jefferson Parish. Just ask lame duck parish president Mike Yenni.

Let’s lighten things up in our final segment. It was inspired by this tweet:

An excellent question, which brings us to our final segment. It’s a feature that’s stolen from my weekly Saturday Odds & Sods post at First Draft, which in turn was stolen from Spy Magazine. That’s a whole lot of thieving but it’s in a good cause. I guess that makes me the Robin Hood of pundits with one exception: I’d look shitty in green tights.

Gret Stet Separated At Birth: 

The 2019 Louisiana Governor’s race is a rather dull affair, especially compared to 2015, which resulted in the political death of David Vitter. The two “major” Republicans candidates seem to be running on the notion that, since this is a red state, GOPers are entitled to the Governorship. It doesn’t work that way, y’all.

Our esteemed publisher has done a helluva job taking on Ralph Abraham so I’ll turn my attention to Eddie Rispone. Gumbopac calls him Phony Rispone and I call him Major Donor Rispone who before his teevee ad blitz was best known for giving money to Republican candidates. His pockets are deeper than his thoughts.

That was a lot of exposition for a sight gag, wasn’t it? Here’s Rispone and cranky fictional old man, Cotton Hill of King of the Hill fame:

Note the defiant glare, the shock of white hair. Plus, Cotton is every bit as right wing as Eddie. It’s a helluva good name for a Gret Stet politico as well: Cotton Hill sounds like a State Senator from Bunkie circa 1955. It’s easy to imagine him swilling Hadacol and swapping dirty jokes with Dudley LeBlanc

For those of you unfamiliar with King of the Hill, it was a long-running cartoon comedy series on Fox. It was set in Arlen, Texas. The main character was Cotton’s propane selling, hyper-conventional son, Hank Hill. Hank was surrounded by zany characters among them his asshole father, Cotton Hill who was wont to brag that he killed “FITTY MEN” in World War II.

Rispone instead brags about being a Trump supporter. I’m sure Cotton would like the Insult Comedian too, but he’d run on his war record instead of stale attacks on trial lawyers. Gret Stet GOPers need some new material: I recall Mike Foster and Bobby Jindal going on about “billboard lawyers” as well.

That concludes this edition of 13th Ward Rambler. If anyone was offended by my comparing Eddie Rispone to a Toon, too bad. I could have added Doc Abraham: he resembles Cotton Hill too. No wonder Clancy called them, “Tweedledee and Tweedledum.”

The last word goes to the late Dr. John with a medley of the unofficial theme song of this columnand a venerable funeral dirge in honor of Gilgamesh Homan: