U.S. REP. William Jefferson, a Democrat from New Orleans, should perform one last service for his constituents and resign from Congress. His district remains mostly a vast wasteland since it was struck by hurricanes Katrina and Rita almost two years ago.
The indicted congressman's legal problems are bound to make it harder for him to do anything for his crippled city, and residents there desperately need an effective, full-time representative.
The federal charges returned against Mr. Jefferson Monday are a dark cloud over the congressman. The indictment claims he received more than $500,000 in bribes and sought far more in schemes to pad his own pockets by using his office to broker business deals.
Of course he is innocent until proven guilty. However, this is the same man who investigators discovered had stuffed $90,000 in cash in his freezer. Court records say the authorities claim Mr. Jefferson was videotaped accepting a $100,000 bribe in cash from an FBI informant.
You don't have to be a high-priced lawyer to realize that things don't look good. If he should be vindicated by the legal system, he could always come back and run again. But this isn't about him; it's about the needs of those he was elected to represent. And they don't need to be represented by a congressman preoccupied with staying out of jail.
Mr. Jefferson has his work cut out for him. A federal grand jury returned a 16-count indictment that included racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering, and obstruction of justice.
As Ohioan and House ethics committee chairman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D., Cleveland) said, "allegations such as these are extremely serious." Her committee is conducting an investigation, but others in Congress aren't waiting for the result; they want him out now.
In fact, House Democrats eager to see him go had planned to strip him of the last committee position he held. But that became moot when Mr. Jefferson resigned on his own on Tuesday from the Small Business Committee, "in light of recent developments in a legal matter," as he stated in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
A congressman since 1991, Mr. Jefferson's political career is stained. His legal problems are an unfortunate mark against the first black congressman from Louisiana since the end of Reconstruction, an achievement that brought with it high expectations and standards of conduct.
Now, for the sake of his constituents, and for the sake of a congressional district with enough problems dealing with the federal government, he should voluntarily step down.
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