By Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
January 10, 2010, 8:00AM
warren_riley.JPGMatthew Hinton / The Times-PicayuneNew Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley made the allegation against City Councilwoman Stacy Head in an interview on WBOK-AM.With just months left in his tenure as police chief, Warren Riley went on the offensive in a radio interview this week, alleging that City Councilwoman Stacy Head used a racial slur to describe him in a recent e-mail message and that his success as a crime fighter has been systematically downplayed for political reasons. Without offering evidence, Riley alleged Wednesday on an interview on WBOK-AM that the message from Head referred to him as a "n-----." The allegations are the latest in a long-simmering feud between the police chief and the councilwoman. Head called Riley's assertion, for which he has yet to offer any proof, "absolutely, wholeheartedly, unequivocally not true. It's against my grain; it's against my core." "I don't know the genesis of this, but it's a shame he has stooped to that level," said Head, who is running for re-election to her District B seat. "It's below the belt and personal. But I don't see any need to try and disprove an untruth. I don't see at this point any need to engage, since our professional relationship is shortly coming to an end." Riley's office did not respond to e-mail messages and telephone requests for comment Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, police spokesman Bob Young said Riley suggested that reporters look through Head's e-mail messages themselves. Young would not confirm whether Riley actually saw the alleged message or when it was sent. Young declined further comment. With a closely contested mayoral primary on tap Feb. 6, race - always a hot-button issue in New Orleans politics - has become a dominant theme on the airwaves and on the campaign trail. One mayoral candidate cited it as a reason for dropping out, while another held a news conference to blast the media for focusing on race. Just months ago, recently departed recovery czar Ed Blakely declared that "everyone's a racist" in New Orleans. stacy_head.JPGChris Granger/The Times-Picayune archive'It's below the belt and personal,' City Councilwoman Stacy Head said. Riley's recent comments came in a wide-ranging interview in which the chief, who has said he will leave office in May when Mayor Ray Nagin's term ends, blasted his critics. He decried the local media, some politicians, business leaders and a "shadow government" -- all of whom, he said, have joined forces to make him and Nagin appear incompetent. "There are certainly people in city government and leadership positions who are incompetent, who are blatantly racists, who have done everything they could to make this administration fail," Riley said. Riley said that unnamed "powerful" people have launched a campaign to downplay his and Nagin's successes as city leaders. The allegations about Head's e-mail came up when a radio station caller, who went by the name Malcolm, mentioned the alleged message. The caller said: "I hear some of our council members are sending e-mails out -- one in particular, Ms. Head, sent an e-mail saying she hopes you fail and let's not approve your budget. But anyway, she's the failure in all of this anyway. Riley responded: "You forgot the N-word that was in that e-mail, from what I understand." "Well, yeah, you heard about it," the caller responded. "She said 'Let's make this Negro, not Negro, but she used that other one." The caller then lambasted the media for ignoring the message. "The news (media) did not, nobody else put that out, nobody else interviewed, nobody made a big story about that. And if it was somebody of color that sat on the City Council who had that kind of behavior, would have been asked to step down." Head's e-mail messages, including some about Riley, have come under intense public scrutiny since a trove of her city electronic messages were released last year. While many were intemperate or embarrassing, none used racial slurs. In one message, Head wrote of Riley that she was "twisting his balls." In others, she called colleague Jackie Clarkson "an ASSS" and "a disaster" and ridiculed the purchases of a woman using food stamps in line ahead of her. Head responded by saying the messages were released by critics using "tired, old political antics" to gain power. In the radio interview Wednesday, Riley said there is a "takeover" in the city. "We have talked about a shadow government. You can decide in your own mind who the shadow government is, and so can your listeners. Has there been an organized effort to make certain leaders in this city look incompetent? Absolutely. With an attempt to ensure that even African-Americans were fed up with African-American leadership," he said. Riley said the recent release of a poll - showing that only 33 percent of citizens are satisfied with the NOPD - was timed to dissuade him from entering politics. The poll was unveiled by business leaders shortly before the political qualifying period. Riley also alleged The Times-Picayune chose that week to release several negative stories about him. "There's a revolution going on, and we are missing it," he said. Riley also criticized the slate of mayoral candidates and promoted his tenure as police chief. "You know, I listen to the mayoral candidates," he said. "I run a bigger organization, and have had bigger budgets than any of these individuals. And I'm not knocking any of them. I'm just saying, I have had the ultimate challenge. The only person ... there are two people who have bigger challenges than I. And that's Mayor Nagin and President Obama." Riley added that, although several agencies have expressed interest hiring him, he is not going to be a police chief elsewhere. "I'm looking at a public venture ... with a couple people here in the city that I think would be profound and lucrative," he said. "I also am looking at another position that I will absolutely not talk about. Regardless, I am going to do well no matter what. As I stated, my future is bright. If I don't work another day in my life I'll be OK. I'm not just a police chief." Brendan McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3301.