New Orleans restaurateur hopes Scalise’s shooting will bring unity

| October 5, 2017 | 0 Comments

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., is applauded as he arrives on the floor of the U.S. House chamber in Washington Sept. 28 after returning to Congress for the first time since being shot and seriously wounded. Scalise was shot June 14, when a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during baseball practice in Alexandria, Va. Two U.S. Capitol Police officers who were part of the Catholic congressman’s protective detail also were shot. CNS photo/TV handout via Reuters

When Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, addressed the House floor Sept. 28 for the first time since he had been shot during a summer baseball practice, a New Orleans restaurateur was watching from the House’s packed upper gallery.

“This was right at the top of the cool factor,” said Tommy Cvitanovich, whose family runs Drago’s Seafood Restaurant in Metairie. “Paul Ryan steps up and starts banging the gavel. Everyone starts looking around, and they’re like, ‘What’s going on here?’ He asked everybody to take their seats, and then he banged the gavel real hard. I mean, you could hear a pin drop.”

Then the doors opened, and Scalise, smiling broadly, walked in, carefully coordinating the movement of his two crutches, as the entire House erupted in applause.

“I’m definitely a living example that miracles really do happen,” Scalise told his colleagues after acknowledging: “You have no idea how good it feels to be back here at work at the people’s house.”

He spoke at length about the power of prayer in his recovery and his gratitude for all who had been a source of help and support.

Scalise, a 1983 graduate of Archbishop Rummel High School and a parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie, was practicing baseball June 14 with fellow Republican House members, staffers and others for the annual Congressional Baseball Game when James Hodgkinson from Illinois, who targeted the group, opened fire. He wounded Scalise and four others, including Capitol police officers on Scalise’s protective detail, a congressional staffer and a lobbyist. The gunman died at a local hospital from gunshot wounds.

Part of Scalise’s recovery involved getting traditional New Orleans food courtesy of Cvitanovich, a 1977 Rummel graduate and a good friend of Scalise, who prayed for weeks with the Congressman’s family and organized daily overnight shipments of comfort food to Scalise via FedEx from a brigade of New Orleans-area chefs.

“We’ve been doing food for the last six weeks,” Cvitanovich told the Clarion Herald, New Orleans’ archdiocesan newspaper.

“About half the time it was my food. The other half of the time it was from a wide array of restaurants,” he said, adding that when the Saints played the Vikings on Monday Night Football he sent him nachos from the Superdome and one weekend when his kids were there, he sent hot dogs from Lucky Dogs along with Lucky Dog hats. “We sent Galatoire’s, Emeril’s, Brennan’s, Arnaud’s, Zea’s ribs, P.J.’s (coffee), even restaurants in Lafayette and Baton Rouge.

“You name it, we sent it up to him. Everybody, everybody, including employees at restaurants, when they knew what we were doing, was 100 percent in. Nobody rolled their eyes.”

Cvitanovich said a meaningful gesture during Scalise’s address to Congress came from Louisiana Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond, who often disagrees politically with Scalise, but moved over to the Republican side of the House to sit right behind Scalise.

“You talk about the power of unity,” Cvitanovich said. “That was strong. That’s why the applause was so massive. The attack on Steve was an attack on the American people.”

Cvitanovich said he hopes a blessing from the tragedy will be better cooperation among polarized political parties.

“We need to express our differences, but then we need to get together and break bread, no two ways about it,” Cvitanovich said. “That’s what everybody in that room got from him. It was, ‘Hey guys, I got shot, but this was an attack on the American people. This was an attack on our institutions.'”

He thinks Congress got the message that “we can’t viciously attack each other. You can be different and stand your ground, but treat everybody as humans and treat everybody with respect.”

“I just hope this horrible tragedy does turn the needle a little bit in the other direction,” he added.

Finney is executive editor/general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

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