Edwin Edwards, Louisiana’s only four-term governor, passed away on July 12th. Edwards was a colorful and controversial figure in Louisiana politics, gaining national attention when he ran against former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke in the 1991 gubernatorial campaign in Louisiana. Here are some personal memories from my time working at a TV station in New Orleans during this campaign.
Edwin Edwards, Louisiana’s only four-term governor, died on July 12. He was a colorful and controversial figure in the state’s politics, gaining national attention when he ran against former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke in the 1991 gubernatorial campaign.
At the time, I was a senior writer/producer in the promotion department at WDSU, the NBC affiliate in New Orleans. WDSU was my first job at a local TV station. Having moved to New Orleans from Pennsylvania, I was a neophyte to the outlandish world of Louisiana politics.
No candidate for the governor’s office in Pennsylvania ever had bumper stickers like Edwards did: “Vote for the Crook: It’s important.” The inference was it’s better to have a crook in the governor’s office than the avowed racist, David Duke. Over the years, Edwards was the subject of numerous investigations before going to prison in 2002 for racketeering.
One of the stories I heard about Edwards in the WDSU newsroom was about a trip Edwards took to Las Vegas with a suitcase full of cash to pay off gambling debts. WDSU’s political reporter at the time, Clancy DuBois, says the trip came to light during the 1984-85 investigation that led to Edward’s first indictment and later trial, where he was acquitted of selling hospital permits.
DuBois says he interviewed Edwards at the Governor’s Mansion before the indictment came down and questioned him about the trip.
“He took offense at the question,” says DuBois.
“That’s how the press always distorts things.” says Edwards. “It was not a suitcase, it was a briefcase.”
Dubois is the owner and political columnist for Gambit Weekly, a free alternative weekly newspaper in Louisiana. Du Bois also does the occasional political reports for WWL, the CBS affiliate in New Orleans. Click here to read DuBois’ recent column about the death of Edwards.
In the column, DuBois recounts seeing Edwards at a fish fry in 2016. Although their relationship was turbulent, he asked Edwards if he’d mind getting his picture taken “with a reporter who hadn’t always treated him kindly.”
As ever, Edwards didn’t miss a beat. “Sure,” he said. “Just don’t tell anybody we’re friends.”
One day at WDSU, during the election campaign between Edwards and Duke, I happened to walk past the studio while the noon news was on. Ironically, at WDSU, the noon news was broadcast at 11:30. The late Alec Gifford was the anchor of the noon news and Edwin Edwards was his invited guest. In the middle of the show, a surprise guest made his appearance, David Duke. Gifford welcomed him to the show. I knew there might be fireworks so I hung around to see what might happen.
Edwards and Duke sparred back and forth. Duke then made a reference to Edward’s reputation for womanizing, by saying ‘everybody knows Edwards does his best work under the sheets’.
Edwards smiled and quick as ever with a retort, said: “Look who’s talking, you were a wizard under sheets,” an obvious reference to Duke’s Ku Klux Klan days.
Later that day, I was walking through the cavernous parking garage WDSU has for its satellite trucks and news vans, and noticed a civilian car trying to back out and maneuver its way around all the news vans. No one ever was allowed to park their car in the WDSU garage. I helped signal the driver to back up neatly out of the garage, and when the car came abreast of me, the window rolled down and it was David Duke.
“I don’t like your politics, but you sure can drive,” I said. He waved and drove away.
During the campaign, WDSU scheduled a live debate between Edwards and Duke in the WDSU studios hosted by anchors Norman Robinson and Lynn Gansar. Linda Levy, founder of No Whining Talent (NWT), was the WDSU news director at the time and she had a plan where people could go to either one of two locations around New Orleans and ask the candidates a question. The idea was somewhat revolutionary and technically difficult to pull off.
I was the field producer at one of the locations, a super market parking lot off Tchoupitoulas Street. The parking lot was a mad house with people, who gathered like moths to the bright lights of the WDSU live truck.
My job was to screen the questions of people before hand to make sure none were repeated and to make sure none were softball questions by plants from either candidate. I lined up the people in order who were going to ask questions, and prepared them for the camera.
Just as the live program began, a woman walked up to me and asked if she could ask a question. She rolled up her sleeve and showed me a tattoo on her arm.
“I’m an Auschwitz survivor,” she said, “and I want to ask David Duke why he denies the Holocaust ever happened.” For years Duke’s mail-order business had been selling such tracts as The Myth of Six Million, along with an audio recording of himself discussing the “so-called holocaust.”
I moved her to the front of the line and said, “You’re going to ask the first question.”
It was a chaotic scene, but I told the lady I would let her know when it was her turn. When the light came on the camera, she showed the tattoo, and asked her question to Duke.
I didn’t pay attention to Duke’s response, there was so much activity going on. Besides, her question was quite enough to get the point across. And although I have sought to find a recording of that debate from WDSU, none exists apparently.
Edwards went on to win the election for Louisiana governor, receiving 61.2% of the votes.
If you’d like us to deliver the best of Market Share to your in-box, sign up for Marketing Monday, a free new weekly newsletter from TVNewsCheck.
Nexstar Inc. is searching for a Vice President/General Manager to lead its broadcasting, digital, and mobile operations at WREG in Memphis, Tennessee (DMA #51) and Jackson, Tennessee (DMA #175) following the upcoming retirement of the current Vice President and General Manager, Ron Walter on August 31, 2021. The successful candidate will be following in the footsteps of a 34-year broadcast veteran, who has served as GM for 17 years. Significant sales management experience in leading and driving revenue growth in broadcast and digital. Special emphasis on New Local Direct revenue growth, including self-created non-traditional revenue success and sports and community sponsorships. Click here for more specifics and how to apply.