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Symposium Tackles Public Corruption

October 23, 2003

Mark Miester
Phone: (504) 865-5714

mark@tulane.edu

Tyler Bridges calls it "the Louisiana way." "It's when a politician uses his public office to line his pockets and the pockets of his friends," says the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter. "I like to say that Louisiana was settled by pirates and there's been a pirate mentality ever since."

Bridges spent three years covering former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards for the Times-Picayune, an assignment that resulted in Bad Bet on the Bayou: The Rise of Gambling in Louisiana and the Fall of Governor Edwin Edwards, Bridges' exhaustive account of the bribes and payoffs that ultimately landed Edwards behind bars.

This month, Bridges joins Noel Lawrence Hillman, chief of the public integrity section of the U.S. Department of Justice, criminal division, and Daniel Kaufmann, director of the World Bank Institute's governance team, in a discussion of "Public Corruption and Private Enterprise," the topic of the 12th annual Burkenroad Symposium on Business and Society. The symposium, a presentation of the Freeman School's Burkenroad Institute for the Study of Ethics and Leadership in Management, will take place in Dixon Hall on Friday, Oct. 24, at 9 a.m. and is free and open to the public.

This year's symposium is a rescheduling of last year's program, which was canceled due to Hurricane Lili. According to Arthur Brief, Lawrence Martin Chair of Business and director of the institute, statistics back up Bridges' characterization of Louisiana: The New Orleans field office of the FBI ranks 38th nationally in terms of size, but it leads the nation in the number of indictments and convictions for public corruption.

"When I was in Louisiana, all of us loved to laugh at times at the latest antics of some corrupt politician, but it also, I think, is what keeps the state behind," Bridges says. Bridges, who currently serves as Lima, Peru, bureau chief for the Miami Herald, regards Edwards as the tragic figure of that tragedy. "It was fun to be with him," Bridges recalls. "He's so funny, so charming. His mind is so quick. But ultimately he's a tragedy. He was so gifted and he used only a portion of his gifts to help the people of Louisiana."

In May 2000, a Baton Rouge jury convicted Edwards on 17 counts of racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy stemming from the awarding of riverboat casino licenses. In October 2002, Edwards began a 10-year sentence at a federal penitentiary in Fort Worth, Texas. "My last visit to Louisiana was for my book," Bridges recalls. "As I gave talks around the state, I would ask people whether they wanted to see Edwin Edwards go to prison. I was always struck by the number of people who did not want to see him go to prison.

"I think Edwin Edwards represents all the best of Louisiana and all of the worst," Bridges says. "The best is his charm, his love of the culture--the food, the music--his ability to directly connect with the citizens. The worst part of it is the Louisiana way, the corruption, not doing the things necessary to keep the state from being last in the things you don't want to be last in and first in the things you don't want to be first in."

For this year's symposium, Bridges will kick things off with a discussion of corruption in Louisiana, Hillman will expand the discussion to the national level, and Kaufman, a leading scholar on governance and corruption issues, will talk about the impact of corruption on democracy and government in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, Eastern and Central Europe, and Asia.

Mark Miester can be reached at mark@tulane.edu.

Citation information:

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