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About Town…

3rd March 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Royal Pains of Carnival… Jason Williams sailed by as the King of the newly reborn Krewe of Freret on Saturday, February 22nd—with his float adorned by a giant “Jason Williams” sign on its side. The placard may not have read “for city council” after his name, but even considering a slightly lighter shade on the font of “Jason,” the overall color scheme and the layout were identical to the political signs for the At-Large candidate scattered throughout the city.

Did a political candidate violate the taboo against sponsorships—and campaigning—during Carnival parades? If he had, the risk may be worth it. Without Uptown, the former Tulane football player and defense attorney cannot win…by his own admission to the newspaper. And, lately, most of the good political news has been going the way of his opponent Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

Floating down St. Charles Ave. in front of thousands of voters with a sign advertising his identity sent a stark message to Morrell that despite the endorsements the incumbent Council­woman has won of late, “the campaign’s not over.”

Williams didn’t stop at just highlighting his identity on the King’s float. The doubloons that he and his surrogates threw left little doubt to the king’s identity, for they featured the name of Freret’s Royal Majesty. None were labeled “For Council,” but they might as well have.

It did not even take two hours for his opponent’s campaign to strike back. In a press release, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell spokes-man Todd Ragusa wrote, “Jason Williams again shows disregard the law by publicizing his candidacy for City Council by riding on a ‘Jason Williams’ float in the Krewe of Freret parade this past weekend, which is organized by Williams’ campaign manager.

“New Orleans City Ordinance, Sec. 34-7 ‘Commercial nature prohibited’ clearly states ‘No participants in any parade shall display in any manner in such parade any endorsement of candidates for elective public office, nor any endorsement of any issues to be voted on in an election. However, nothing contained in this provision shall be construed to prohibit the humorous caricature of current social events and issues.’

“Williams’ campaign manager resurrected the parade to roll during William’s runoff election after years of it not rolling. Williams rode on a float as ‘King of Freret’ with giant posters attached to the sides of the float, signs that duplicated his political campaign signs in lettering and appearance but in Mardi Gras colors.

“The official communication from the Krewe of Freret’s Twitter profile clearly promotes Williams’ campaign.

“For decades, City leaders have taken great care to preserve the authenticity of Mardi Gras and protect it from sponsorships, advertising, and promotion. A political candidate in the heat of an election promoting themselves with a self-named float in a Mardi Gras parade creates a slippery slope that could forever change carnival for the worse.”

Campaigning by parade is actually an old New Orleans tradition, still employed by candidates in the Irish Channel and other St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Day Parades. And, historically, Mardi Gras was no exception, especially in the 19th century.

Williams defended himself noting, accurately, that no sign on the floats, nor any doubloon, highlighted his candidacy for Council. And, none did. Save the candidate, his not yet Frettin’ Royal majesty.

Heights of Concern… Emotions flamed at the Thursday, Feb 13, 2014 meeting of the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission meeting on the possibility to create a 270 unit apartment complex in the footprint of the former Holy Cross School in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Sarah DeBacher, vice president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, called the redevelopment of 75 foot, 11-floor highrise apartment complex, over looking the skyline, “inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood, in height density and usage”.

However, DeBacher admitted under questioning by NOHDLC board members in the course of the meeting that the neighborhood group had asked that the Tulane City Center study of Holy Cross specifically exclude Perez Architects from any community planning efforts, hampering the firm’s ability to answer local concerns.

Perez Architects bought the former 13.4 acre Catholic School Campus in August 2012. The firm originally proposed to put a 13 story apartment complex on the property and rehabilitate the historic admin building into their corporate new offices. After public objections, Steven Massicot, a representative of Perez Architects said, “We listened to the concerns of the community, we had an application for zoning, and we pulled that.” He explained that his firm redrew the specifications for an 11-story building, noting that the Bell Tower on the former Administration building was 60 feet tall at its eves and roofline. Massicot observed that the original bell tower was 85 feet tall prior to Hurricane Betsy, and they sought a building that was only 75 feet tall, shorter than the historic structure, prior to the storm fifty years ago, and not much higher than the current one.

“We revised our scheme,” noting that his firm had spent the last two years “listening to community concerns,” and had again pulled their application for a zoning variance when Tulane University City Center was employed by the neighborhood to provide a planning proposal. “We wanted to be part of that,” he maintained, “so we waited.”

Then, Massicot charged that Perez Architects was deliberately locked out of the planning process by Tulane at the neighborhood association’s behest. DeBacher disagreed with his description of the events, pointing that the Tulane study was commissioned on behalf of the residents of Historic Holy Cross and the Ninth Ward, not on behalf of the developer.. “This was the first time that a plan was drawn for the neighborhood…and its needs.” Perez was not locked out, she stated, as much as irrelevant to the purpose of the study.

Massicot replied that his firm has attempted to adjust their plans to be sensitive to local concerns. “There have been changes,” said, noting that Perez had reduced the residential towers by two stories, and changed access on the Tennessee street side to account for traffic patterns. More importantly, he added, “In addressing the height, there is only one section of our proposal that is at 7 stories, or 75 feet.”

Of course, C1A zoning rules note that the maximum eave line should be only 50 feet. Massicot rejects that interpretation, pointing out, “The City’s master plan designates this site for mixed use, density…and allows 60 feet. We tried to gear our plans towards that study and towards the master plan.”

To NOHDLC Board members, Massicot said that Perez wishes to keep the historic character of the property alive. “Our plan is to rehab [the existing historic] building for our use.” Moreover, those who charge that the small apartment nature of the development on the riverfront, over looking the city skyline is of too small a design to house families, thus changing the residential/homeowner nature of Holly Cross, he responded that his firm’s design is a 60/40 ratio of multibedroom structures to single bedroom structures.

Still, DeBacher when asked what her neighborhood assoc­iation desired, she said, “We’re not against development…What we want is development that fits the neighborhood. This is a great place to raise a family. I am raising my family here.”

Amidst the dispute, NOHDLC commissioners deferred action for 30 days, or until March 14.

Landrieu Refuses To Back Minimum Wage Hike… Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid delayed action on legislation raising the minimum wage, the centerpiece of the Democrats’ 2014 agenda, and he has Mary Landrieu to thank—in part—for the delay. And, perhaps, the measure’s eventual defeat.

Reid has not yet unified his caucus on the Barack Obama’s plan to boost the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Of the 55 senators who caucus with the Democrats, only 32 have signed on as official co-sponsors of Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) bill. One of them who refused was Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu.

Fifty-seven percent of Louisianans support raising the federal minimum wage to the $10.10 per hour that President Obama proposed in his State of the Union Address. Over 320,000 residents of the Pelican State would directly benefit, 62 percent of them women, however, Landrieu like many of her moderate colleagues grew nervous after a Congressional Budget office report that this measure would cost the economy over half a million jobs.

Landrieu has often been known to say she supports a higher minimum wage, yet has demurred from a $10.10 hike this year. She did not go as far as Democratic Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, the chamber’s most vulnerable incumbent, though, who declared that he opposes the legislation altogether. However, Pryor is quick to add that he does back a pending plan in his home state to increase the minimum wage to $8.50.

Based on the number of holdouts, like Landrieu and Virginia’s Mark Warner, and Delaware’s Tom Carper, there is a chance the bill could fall short of a simple majority of Senate Democrats were the vote were held today—even discounting opposition from the Republican Senatorial minority.

Reid and the White House can take comfort in the fact that some red-state Democrats, Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota have officially embraced the $10.10 figure. Begich, like Landrieu, seeks re-election this fall, yet seems undaunted by supporting the increase.

This article originally published in the March 3, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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