Filed Under:  Local, Politics

Badon versus Gray in District E

19th November 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

On December 8, 2012, veteran politicos Austin Badon and James Gray will meet in a runoff to decide who will succeed the resigned Jon Johnson. In order for the voters of New Orleans East and the Ninth Ward, and their environs, should better represent them until 2014, this newspaper sent the same questionnaire to both candidates, so that the electorate could compare their answers side by side.

Why do you seek election to the New Orleans City Council?

Austin Badon: 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.

James Gray: Because I have a strong desire to serve the community. I think there are real opportunities in the area of crime reduction and economic development that can be taken advantage of with good, hard-working leadership.

What uniquely qualifies you for the job?

Austin Badon: I have the ability to maintain a productive relationship with my colleagues no matter how passionately we may disagree on an issue. 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 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.

James Gray: I am a graduate of Morehouse College and Harvard University School of Law. I served in the Marine Corp where I was an Infantry Platoon Com­mander during the Vietnam War. I was the first African Ameri­can to teach at LSU’s law school and I am currently an adjunct professor at Tulane Law School. Additionally, I am President of the Louisiana Law Institute. Part of my job as a member of the city council requires me to be able to interpret and draft legislation. Additionally, my skills and experiences as an attorney have required to speak and negotiate with many groups in a way that is very similar to what is required of members of the City Council.

What are your top three campaign planks?

Austin Badon: 1) Do whatever it takes to get our murder rate under control; 2) 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 3) Follow through with former Councilmember Fielkow’s commitment to fully restore our recreation department to the acclaimed status it once had.

James Gray: 1) Crime Reduction through greater police presence and programs to divert youth from participating in criminal activities. 2) Economic development so that mothers and fathers can adequately provide for their families and create an environment that is conducive to attracting young professionals to the city. 3) Ensuring that the hospital is built so that people in District E have adequate access to health care which is vital to making the district a more complete community.

Nearly a third of the homes in New Orleans are 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. This is particularly true in District E .

What is your answer to fixing the vacant housing problem?

Austin Badon: Rep. Leger authored a Constitu-tional amendment 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.

James Gray: I plan to be as helpful as possible to those homeowners who plan to return to the city utilizing existing programs. While the case law makes eminent domain more difficult to use, it is still a option that will be used when necessary. Additionally, it is important to strengthen the guidelines that address blight on commercial properties.

One element of the new master plan is to eliminate the overpass over N. Claiborne cutting the Treme and St. Roch neighborhoods in Half. What are your thoughts on ending the I-10 route behind the French Quarter?

Austin Badon: 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.

James Gray: I am against this aspect of the plan. I believe it would be detrimental to both neighborhoods.

Do you support the BGR’s proposals for Contracting Reform? If so or if not, why?

Austin Badon: This report deals with Jefferson Parish, not Orleans. {Nearly the same reforms suggested for Jefferson were similarly proposed for New Orleans in 2002.}

James Gray: While I believe that Contract-ing Re-form is a good thing, in its present form, the report did not obtain adequate input from all interested parties.

What are some concrete areas where regional interparish cooperation is politically possible, and would you support joint efforts in what areas?

Austin Badon: 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.

James Gray: It would be sensible to make efforts to expand the Port of New Orleans and the Port of South Louisiana. Any expansion of the Port of South Louisiana would require cooperation between St. Bernard Parish and the City of New Orleans to service the port and move traffic from the Port of South Louisiana. This would benefit both parishes.

Would you support a state law requiring a public vote before milliages could be rolled forward after being rolled back? If not, why? Do you promise to support keeping milliages rolled back on city property taxes?

Austin Badon: 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.

James Gray: I would not support the state law because it removes power from local government. Based on current conditions and information, I would oppose any rolling forward of property taxes. However, effective government must make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Considering the $20 million cost of repairing the current City Hall, would you support a new city hall, or is the current location sufficient. What are your thoughts on turning Big Charity into the New City Hall?

Austin Badon: 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.

James Gray: If we are going to continue to grow and improve as a city, we need an adequate City Hall. As a member of the City Council, I will diligently analyze any proposals designed to obtain a City Hall that adequately serves the citizens of New Orleans.

What would you do differently to accelerate recovery in District E, from the perspective of a Councilman?

Austin Badon: The city has done a good job cracking down on residential blight with aggressive code enforcement, but 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.

James Gray: I will insist on increasing police presence in the District and I would focus on ensuring that the Hospital and Wal Mart are built.

Do you worry that the effort to put an Outlet Mall at the Riverwalk could endanger the redevelopment of the Jazzland site? What other retail/business development as a Councilman can you bring to District E?

Austin Badon: 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.

James Gray: No. The Jazzland site will be a more attractive destination for people from surrounding areas and throughout the city.

Add any other thoughts or comments that you would like to make on your candidacy?

AUSTIN BADON: I’m running because I believe that leaders must do what is best for their constituents, not a political organization, or my friends and family, but what’s best for the people who have entrusted me with the honor to serve them. I’ve a proven record of working to do what is best for our people, and I will continue to do so as a councilmember.

JAMES GRAY: It is time that we elect well-trained, well-prepared, and proven leaders. I know that I best those qualities.

Tell us a personal story about yourself that explains who you are.

AUSTIN BADON: 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.

JAMES GRAY: My father was a contractor. I began working for him when I was eight years old. By 13, I was doing the work of a grown man. My daddy, who was the owner of the company, worked beside us. He always said, “The guy in charge must work harder than anyone else on the job.” Years later, I was a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. The first thing the Marine Corps taught me was, “The Lieutenant was always the first one out of the fox hole and the first one up the hill,” repeating for me the lessons of my father that the leader bleeds for his people not the other way around.

This article originally published in the November 19, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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