Leander Perez : biography
Leander Henry Perez, Sr. (July 16, 1891 – March 19, 1969), was the Democratic political boss of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes in southeastern Louisiana during the middle third of the 20th century. Officially, he served as a district judge, later as district attorney, and as president of the Plaquemines Parish Commission Council. He was known for his staunch support of segregation.
Other political activities
Perez had once chaired the powerful Louisiana Democratic State Central Committee, in which capacity in 1948 he threatened to deprive senatorial candidate Russell B. Long of the official title of Democratic nominee, thus denying him a place on the Democratic column, the ticket headed with the traditional rooster emblem. Perez toyed with passing the official Democratic mantle to the Republican Senate candidate Clem S. Clarke, a Shreveport oilman. Only a deal with Governor Earl Kemp Long kept Long's nephew, Russell Long, on the regular Democratic ticket in Louisiana. The result was that Russell Long began a 38-year tenure in the U.S. Senate.
In the spring of 1964, with help from McKeithen aide C. H. "Sammy" Downs, a former state senator from Rapides Parish, Perez supported a "free elector" movement to oppose the election of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, then seeking a full term in office. Perez at first pushed for Democratic electors pledged to George Wallace, the governor of Alabama, but he later abandoned that approach and endorsed Republican Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona, who had been one of only six Republican senators to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In the Goldwater campaign, Perez headed "Louisiana Democrats for Goldwater", which carried the backing of an old Perez foe, former Governor Sam Jones. Goldwater also won the backing of W. L. "Jack" Howard, the Democratic mayor of Monroe in north Louisiana. In 1966, Howard, with Perez's support, ran unsuccessfully for the party chairmanship vacated by Sammy Downs, who left the post to support Wallace in 1968."Wallace Backers Lose in Louisiana", Gadsden Times, Gadsden, Alabama, December 17, 1966, p. 1; Biloxi Daily Herald, Biloxi, Mississippi, December 24, 1966, p. 14
In 1968, Perez was key organizer of the campaign to place George Wallace as the nominee of the short-lived American Independent Party on the Louisiana general election ballot. He submitted some 150,000 signatures, 50,000 of them from East Baton Rouge Parish, to the office of secretary of state Wade O. Martin, Jr., another Louisiana Democrat who had defected to Goldwater in 1964. A confident Perez declared, "The people of Louisiana have had an acute case of indigestion about what's going on in this country. You've heard it said Wallace is a thorn in the side of the major candidates (Richard Nixon and Hubert H. Humphrey). Well, he's a whole cactus.""La. Ballot Will List Wallace," Minden Press-Herald, August 9, 1968, p. 1
In the summer of 1968, Perez was questioned about what he and a group of associates had been discussing; he replied: "Richard M. Nixon and other traitors." Though he had supported Goldwater, Perez grew disillusioned with the Republican presidential nominees and flatly drew the line against backing Nixon in 1968. Perez's former ally, David Treen, however, supported Nixon's successful presidential campaign.
On March 19, 1969, Perez died of a heart attack at the age of seventy-seven.Associated Press, , reprinted in the Fredericksburg, Virginia Free Lance-Star, page 5 (March 20, 1969). Retrieved on September 3, 2012. His tomb (shown) is in Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.
Judge Perez Drive, a major thoroughfare in St. Bernard Parish, was named after him until 1999, when officials of that parish decided to distance themselves from Leander Perez's legacy. Judge Perez Drive is now named in honor of the late Melvyn Perez, a long-time judge in St. Bernard Parish.
It should also be noted that in the 1970s, several years after Leander Perez's death, St. Bernard Parish was placed in its own judicial district by the Louisiana legislature.
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