Badon in second bid for Council District ‘E’ seat
22nd October 2012 · 0 Comments
By Christopher Tidmore
When State Representative Austin Badon ran for the District E Council seat over two years ago, he warned that the election of his opponent could be a rerun of the politics of corruption. With the resignation of Jon Johnson amidst a slew of federal charges, Badon seemed vindicated, and threw his hat in the ring once more.
He gained a seeming advantage when his best-known potential opponent, former District E Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis was disqualified, by court ruling, from standing for election as “one full term” had not expired, as required under the city charter’s term limits provisions.
But, the legislator still faces a highly competitive race for the New Orleans East focused seat, facing veteran politicos James Gray and Jerrelda Drummer Sanders.
Moreover, having run for several other offices unsuccessfully in recent years, his opponents look fresh in comparison but still enjoy strong establishment support. Yet, Badon is undaunted. He’s gone against the establishment before, and won, as he explained in an interview with The Louisiana Weekly.
“My tenure in public office has always been about doing what’s best for eastern New Orleans. I’m not part of any political organization or families; I don’t owe the old guard anything and I don’t practice their ‘what’s in it for me’ style politics. The only people I expect to be held accountable to ARE the citizens of New Orleans. I have the courage to stand up for what I believe in and, when disagreements arise, I have proven my ability to build coalitions and find workable solutions. That’s why I’m running, and that’s why the City needs me: we must stand together to move forward.”
Unlike many outsiders, Badon credits himself with “the ability to maintain a productive relationship with my colleagues no matter how passionately we may disagree on an issue.”
As he elucidated, “I will always make a whole-hearted effort to find a workable solution, and if one can’t be reached, agree to disagree and move on. The clearest example of this was in 2008 when I authored a bill to provide our disadvantaged youth educational opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have.”
The issue [private and parochial school vouchers] was hotly debated in the legislature and my friend and colleague Karen Carter Peterson — who was Speaker Pro Tem at the time — was so vocal in her opposition to the bill that Governor Jindal started running vicious attack ads against her. I promptly called a press conference on the steps of the capitol demanding the governor have the ads pulled, which he did.”
“Working to make our government operate effectively is far more important than the politics of a single issue. I think I’m unique in my recognition of that fact.”
Badon predicates his run for Council on doing “whatever it takes to get our murder rate under control.” He also seeks to “Improve budgeting operations in City Hall by improving information-sharing between departments and optimizing coordination between local, state and federal agencies to make sure we have the resources we need to deliver the services our people deserve”; and “Follow through with former Councilmember Fielkow’s commitment to fully restore our recreation department to the acclaimed status it once had.”
To Badon, a coach and youth mentor, athletics is not just a diversion, but a key way to keep kids from becoming criminals. He used a personal example of a young man he worked with on the playgrounds and off, who might have turned to a life of crime without the care of a coach. “We talk a lot about preventing crime. Sometimes, it requires more than just sitting on the sidelines. I’ve been a mentor with Each One, Save One for years. Ronald Triggs is a young man I’ve worked with for nearly 13 years. So when you feel hopeless, I’m here to tell you to get up…mentor someone or seek a mentor.”
“Reach out. People comment all the time about who I’m running to help, am I with that political faction or that, and the truth is I’ve never been part of a political organization. I’m running because it is the only way I know to make a difference and I just want to be part of the solution.”
With nearly a third of the homes in New Orleans being abandoned properties or in extreme dilapidated condition, Current constitutional changes in the state constitution post-New London make using eminent domain as a method to force landowners to fix their property difficult. Or at least critics say. Badon sees it as a collapse of will as to why District E, in particular, is plagued with a vacant and abandoned housing problem.
“Rep. [Walt] Leger authored a during the 2010 session allowing expropriation of properties deemed a safety hazard or health risk, which I supported. It was later approved by the citizens of Louisiana and is now in effect. I think the mayor has done an excellent job remediating blight by bolstering code enforcement, though as a councilmember I will make a concerted effort to make sure a similar effort is made to address commercial blight.”
As for the contentious issue of changing the City Charter to elect the At-Large Council posts independently — that will be on the ballot on the second Tuesday in November when he is also running–Badon backed the idea. “I support one man, one vote; not two votes for one seat. I believe that independent elections for Council At-Large seats are the right thing for our city, and I am confident the people of New Orleans will make the right decision and support the charter amendment.”
One element of the new master plan is to eliminate the overpass over N. Claiborne cutting the Treme and St. Roch neighborhoods in Half. As for ending the I-10 route behind the French Quarter, Badon said, “I’m certainly open to having the issue studied further, but as a resident of New Orleans East, I’m keenly aware of how bad traffic can get on I-10 headed inbound from the East. As much as residents along Claiborne dislike the overpass, I highly doubt they’d want that traffic inundating their neighborhood. If a plan to teardown the Claiborne overpass that accommodated the traffic flow on I-10 were presented, it would certainly merit consideration. But until a better option is offered, I don’t see how we could possibly tear it down.”
As for some concrete areas where regional interparish cooperation is politically possible, Badon turned back to the issue of crime. “I believe that we must have regional inter-parish cooperation in our crime fighting efforts. Criminals don’t recognize parish boundaries and our law enforcement departments, including the district attorney offices, must work in a collaborative manner to address this continuing problem.”
As for supporting a state law requiring a public vote before milliages could be rolled forward after being rolled back, Badon demurred. “I would certainly seek public input before deciding to roll millages forward and will ultimately do what I believe will be in their best interest, but I do not think the law needs to be changed.”
Considering the $20 million cost of repairing the current City Hall, Badon spoke favorably of turning Big Charity into the New City Hall—if the price is right. “I am really fond of the idea of moving the seat of our city government into the vacant Charity Hospital. But as much as I like the idea, I would never support going forward with it without seeing a study addressing issues of accessibility, cost and feasibility.”
When asked if he worried if the effort to put an Outlet Mall at the Riverwalk could endanger the redevelopment of the Jazzland site, the State Rep’s response was an unequivacable, “Absolutely not. Our city desperately needs more commercial development and I sincerely believe there is more than enough demand to suit the Riverwalk and the former Jazzland site. Aside from the Riverwalk being relatively inaccessible, it’s nowhere near Jazzland.”
“ I am confident that New Orleans East is on the verge of being a hot spot for commercial development because there is demand to accommodate it and the affordability of real estate in the area. Beyond the local consumer demand, such a large scale commercial development would undoubtedly draw in shoppers from Slidell, Chalmette, and any New Orleanians that don’t want to have to deal with downtown traffic and parking just to go to the mall.”
In the fight to accelerate recovery in District E, Badon noted that “the city has done a good job cracking down on residential blight with aggressive code enforcement, but,” he added, “as your councilmember, I will bring the fight to commercial blight.”
“There are so many good things happening in the East: the new football stadium coming to Joe Brown Park, the new school being built at Lake Forest and Wright, and Methodist Hospital is providing primary and urgent care and will again become the full service hospital the East has lacked since Katrina.”
“But that’s not enough. We can’t expect the East to fully repopulate without providing access to retailers and grocery stores. And we can’t expect businesses to lease a location covered in blight and squalor. Remediating the commercial blight and invigorating commerce is the last piece to bringing back the East.”
This article was originally published in the October 22, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper