A southeast Louisiana powerbroker at the heart of a ProPublica investigation into "spillionaires," or people profiting from the BP oil spill clean-up, has lost his bid for reelection.
Craig Taffaro Jr., the president of St. Bernard parish, was accused of handing out clean-up jobs based on favoritism and of handing out no-bid contracts to allies after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, 2010, sending 200 million gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
Taffaro was defeated in a runoff Saturday by Dave Peralta, 58, a former chief administrative officer in St. Bernard who was fired by Taffaro in 2008. Peralta, a grant administrative officer for the St. Bernard Sheriff's Office, had campaigned mainly as a reformer, accusing Taffaro of over-spending and of his role in creating "spillionaires." It was a close race: Peralta received 6,527 votes, while Taffaro got 5,943.
Taffaro, 46, a therapist and former marathon runner, did not respond to a phone call and an email from ProPublica for this story. He has said that he worked up to 20 hours a day during the clean-up and didn't make a single dollar more than his salary. He also has said the spill jobs were handed out fairly.
After the spill, Taffaro declared a state of emergency, allowing him to award contracts without competitive bidding. He picked the main parish cleanup contractor, choosing a company that had no experience running projects of that scale. Friends and supporters were also given major construction and catering jobs.
Some local fishermen complained that some of the most lucrative cleanup jobs went to political allies of Taffaro, and not to those who were most deserving. Particularly on Delacroix Island, a narrow spit of land about 30 miles southeast of New Orleans, fishermen were upset.
Taffaro's political opponents suggested that those who worked on the spill were later asked for donations, although parish officials denied pressuring anyone for campaign money.
At an election fundraiser on Sept. 29, 2010, Taffaro raised $207,400, the most ever collected by a St. Bernard politician in one night, according to records available online. The fundraiser's host committee members—many of whom got spill-related work—and their family members, business partners and companies donated $47,500 of that. Other companies and people tied to the spill cleanup gave an additional $59,300, reporting by ProPublica showed.
Much of Peralta's support came from precincts in the southeastern part of the parish, where many fishermen live.
"I just think they realized they didn't get a fair shake during the BP crisis," Peralta said Monday. "They were hoping for change and they voted for change."