[StBernard] Former La Senate president Sammy Nunez dies at 81

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Mon Jan 16 08:42:19 EST 2012

Former La Senate president Sammy Nunez dies at 81
Updated: 10:47 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012
Published: 7:21 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012
Former Louisiana Senate president Sammy Nunez, a champion of various causes
and an ally of Edwin Edwards who served in the Legislature from 1964 until
he was swept out of office in an anti-incumbent wave three decades later,
has died. He was 81.

His wife, Cynthia Nunez, said Nunez had Parkinson's disease and was
hospitalized more than a month ago with pneumonia. He died Sunday of
complications, she said.

"Sammy Nunez was well-liked and respected even by those on the opposite side
of a political issue," U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said in a statement Sunday
night. "He was easygoing, yet a very able and effective legislative leader
who served the people of St. Bernard and our entire state with great
distinction for more than three decades."

Cynthia Nunez said former president Bill Clinton called during her husband's
final weeks to speak with him and praised him as "the most devoted true
gentlemen as a public servant that I have ever known in my entire life."

His accomplishments went beyond state lines, she said, and the National
Conference of State Legislatures that he once headed. His wife said Nunez
was appointed to a U.S. government delegation to help East Berlin set up a
new government after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. After the Soviet Union
broke up two years later, he went to Russia as part of a delegation to
explain how to deal with the oil industry on an international basis.

A Chalmette Democrat, Nunez served in the state House from 1964 until 1969,
when he was elected to the Louisiana Senate. He became its president in
1982, after the federal conviction of Michael O'Keefe. He lost the position
in 1988, when then-Gov. Buddy Roemer insisted on his ouster, but won it back
two years later with the help of Senate friends with ties to Edwards, the
former four-term governor who was released from prison last year after
serving eight years for a racketeering conviction.

"Sammy was a real leader," said Senate President John Alario, who was House
speaker when Nunez was Senate president.

"I remember him championing lots of causes for commercial fishermen" when
such advocacy was unpopular, Alario said. "He stayed true to his roots."

Nunez' tenure was not without controversy. He was roundly criticized in
spring 1994 - a session when the Legislature passed tax breaks for the New
Orleans Fair Grounds race track - for handing out campaign contributions
from racehorse owner and gambling entrepreneur Louis Roussel III on the
Senate floor.

Nunez said he was given the envelopes by a lobbyist whose name was on them.
"I knew they were contributions but I didn't know who they were from," he

Amid public dissatisfaction with Edwards and his allies, Nunez lost a 1995
runoff to St. Bernard Parish President Lynn Dean.

Nunez' legacy includes work to set up Louisiana's state Revenue Estimating
Conference, to limit the state's bond debt, and to modernize and streamline
Senate operations, Alario said,

Personally, he said, Nunez was "just fun to be around. He was a real
sportsman - loved fishing and hunting. A man amongst men."

Until a few years ago, he was board president for the Port of New Orleans.
He also worked for the Port of St. Bernard, which named its new building for
him about six months ago.

At that ceremony, Cynthia Nunez said, he talked about the legislative
wrangling over the port.

"He was on stage for an hour," she recalled. "He kept everybody

Visitation for Nunez will be at St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square from
10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday CST. A Mass will be said at 1:30 p.m.,
with Archbishop Gregory Aymond officiating. Edwards will deliver the eulogy,
with burial to follow at St. Bernard Memorial Gardens.


January 15, 2012 11:47 PM EST

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