By Russell McCulley
NEW ORLEANS, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee, the "Chinese Cowboy" whose colorful style and controversial policies made him one of Louisiana’s best known politicians, died on Monday of leukemia.
Lee, 75, had been sheriff of the suburban New Orleans parish since 1980 and was running for re-election this month.
Born to Chinese immigrants in the backroom of the family’s New Orleans laundry in 1932, Lee was widely popular with voters despite charges his policies unfairly targeted blacks.
Early in his tenure as sheriff, Lee drew controversy for his decision to erect a barrier on a street connecting a largely white section of Jefferson Parish with a predominantly black New Orleans neighborhood, and for implementing a policy of randomly stopping black men driving through white neighborhoods.
More recently, he vigorously defended sheriff’s deputies who prevented Hurricane Katrina flood victims in New Orleans, most of them black, from crossing a Mississippi River bridge into Jefferson Parish shortly after the August 2005 storm.
The deputies, he said, had to protect the homes of people who had evacuated.
Nevertheless, Lee was one of the most recognizable and powerful figures in Louisiana Democratic Party politics, a protege of the late U.S. Rep. Hale Boggs and a friend to former President Bill Clinton.
Lee became known as the "Chinese Cowboy" for his fondness for big cowboy hats and his shoot-from-the-hip oratory style.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said in a statement that "even when people disagreed with his techniques, few doubted his dedication.
"He was an original, and he will be missed," Nagin said.