Danae Columbus: Coroner Jeff Rouse is notably absent from political forums

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Candidates for elected office – especially after qualifying – are usually out kissing babies, shaking hands, and attending numerous events seven days a week. But not the highly popular New Orleans Coroner Jeffrey Rouse, first elected in 2014 after having served as deputy chief coroner and head of the office’s mental health division for twelve years. Rouse is being challenged by Dr. Dwight McKenna in the October 14, 2017 election.

Rouse oversees the new $15 million three-story, 23,000 foot facility on Earhart Boulevard where more than 1000 autopsies are conducted each year. He has called the coroner’s office “the final destination for the ills of humanity.

Rouse has already skipped three forums held by endorsing organizations including the Independent Women’s Organization, the Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee, and the New Orleans Coalition. He is not expected to address the Greater New Orleans Republicans at this evening’s forum, according to organizers, and even his supporters have no explanation for his absence. Time will tell if he chooses to appear before the Alliance for Good Government, another upcoming endorsing forum.

Voters who want to learn more about Rouse can only turn to the Coroner’s office website which tells the story of Rouse as a valedictorian at Jesuit, a Duke University Phi Beta Kappa, and a graduate of Georgetown University Medical School. Rouse received his board certificate in psychiatry at Tulane University Medical School where he still teaches and practices.

It should not be surprising that Rouse has obviously chosen to run a quiet campaign. In a February 2016 interview in Gambit Rouse said, “I’m not necessarily the guy who’s going to be at every ribbon cutting and fundraiser and bouncing around town to shake hands. That’s some of the stuff you have to do to get elected.” Rouse further stated that putting the policies in place that make people believe in the office, as well as connecting with families and bringing personal integrity to the office should go a long way.

Rouse has been highly praised for running a first-class modern operation including five autopsy stations, a mental health suite and toxicology and histology labs. He has the support of many elected officials and leaders in the community. But that does not erase Rouse’s obligation to give the voters the opportunity to hear him speak at forums and ask questions.

Rouse’s challenger — local surgeon, art collector and philanthropist Dr. Dwight McKenna — is making his fourth run for the office. McKenna graduated from St. Augustine High School and Meherry Medical College. McKenna completed his residency at Howard University and believes that a surgeon, not a psychiatrist, is better trained to be the coroner.

A former member of the Orleans Parish School, McKenna is well-respected in the African-American community and has been practicing medicine for more than 50 years. McKenna and his wife Beverly publish The Tribune and operate the house museum La Muse de f.p.c. which celebrates free people of color. The George and Leah McKenna Museum of African-American Art on Carondelet Street is named for his parents who were well-known educators.

More than 20 years ago, McKenna was convicted of income tax evasion and served nine months in prison. McKenna has enjoyed a clean slate since then and believes he deserves a second chance. McKenna has stated that if elected he will donate his salary toward scholarships for underserved youth.

Even though Rouse has not been attending forums, some organizations have chosen to endorse him anyway. Others have issued no endorsements. Hopefully after Labor Day, Rouse will be more available to voters.


With the high unemployment in Orleans Parish, especially among African-American males, it is shameful to hear that the Sewerage & Water Board cannot fill many skilled positions. A specialized training program should be created through Delgado and Sidney Collier to train the workers needed to repair and maintain the pipes or equipment. The City could outsource catch basin cleaning to local DBE firms who could hire and train local employees. Let’s put New Orleanians to work rather than privatize the agency.

Citizens will have another chance to speak out about problems at the Sewerage & Water Board. The Unnamed Steering Committee is planning a Rally for Storm Flooding Saturday at 11 a.m. on the steps of City Hall. Unnamed Steering Committee members include Adrian Bruneau, Malcolm Suber, Kim Ford, Pat Bryant, Beth Butler, David Alvarez and Brian Trascher. The Committee is seeking organizations and individuals who want to join in. For more information call 905-4137.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. Her current clients include District B City Council candidate Seth Bloom and At-Large City Council candidate Helena Moreno.

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