Filed Under:  Local, News, Politics

City Council candidates tackle issues at public forum

13th January 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Fritz Esker
Contributing Writer

On January 8, candidates for the New Orleans City Council gathered at Dillard University’s Professional Schools Building for a public forum on community issues.

The Candidates

The candidates for District A present were labor lawyer David Capasso, Jason Coleman of Coleman Cab Company, incumbent Susan Guidry, and community activist Drew Ward. Stephen Foster, an independent, was not at the event.

The candidates for District C in attendance were current City Council President Jackie Clarkson, Judge Nadine Ramsey, and 35-year hospitality industry veteran Carlos Williams.

The District D candidates in attendance were State Rep. Jared Brossett, former SUNO chancellor Joseph Bouie, and teacher/public health administrator Dalton Savwoir.

The District E candidates present were Andre Kelly, a veteran of the tourism and construction industries, and former councilwoman and state senator Cynthia Willard-Lewis.

Blight

Blight was one of the major issues addressed by the candidates. Savwoir argued that more city dollars should be spent on code enforcement.

Williams emphasized that the blighted houses diminished property values for residents and made it harder for businesses to thrive.

“It’s hard to sell a house when you have houses on both sides falling apart,” Williams said.

Willard-Lewis said the city should begin initiatives like an adopt-a-lot program, where people would grow gardens in abandoned lots to beautify the neighborhoods. She added that programs should be put in place to fix homes and allow displaced families to use them.

Brossett said it’s time to hold people accountable if they took Road Home money and did not fix their properties.

“It’s not fair to the other homeowners,” Brossett said.

Ramsey added that blight does more than adversely affect property value; it’s also tied to other problems, like crime.

“We can’t approach these problems (blight, crime, and economic development) in isolation,” Ramsey said. “Blight increases criminal activity.”

Crime and Policing

Clarkson, who had to leave the forum early after receiving a phone call, said that great strides have been made by the city in fighting crime. She cited stats that show murders are down 20 percent and shootings are down 15 percent.

However, the candidates were all in agreement that there is much work to be done in reducing crime. Guidry said that police resources could be better used if officers were allowed to only issue summonses for “small” crimes like marijuana possession and prostitution. If they have to actually arrest these offenders, it’s a time consuming process and it removes the officer from patrolling the streets and potentially preventing violent crimes.

Many candidates called for new leadership at the top of the New Orleans Police Department.

“We’ve lost so many officers due to bad leadership,” Coleman said. “Cops want to follow someone they believe in.”

Coleman’s district A opponent Ward argued that the police department, fire department, and EMS should all be placed under the umbrella of the sheriff’s office, not the mayor’s office. Ward also emphasized that there should be a zero-tolerance policy for any officer caught breaking the law.

Bouie said entry requirements should be reformed. A high school diploma used to be good enough to apply to the N.O.P.D., but now 60 credits of college courses are required. Bouie’s stance was that if young people can go to war straight out of high school, then they should also be allowed to become police officers straight out of high school.

Capasso suggested that cameras be placed on police officer’s vehicles. He said such a practice would benefit both police officers and citizens in that cops would be less likely to behave badly if they knew they were being filmed and citizens would be less likely to file false grievances if they knew the incident in question was filmed.

Mental Health and Bobby Jindal

Several candidates expressed harsh criticism for Governor Bobby Jindal during the evening, especially for his financial gutting of the state’s public health care system, particularly regarding mental health care. Capasso referred to him as “Governor Swindle” and Ward said, “The worst thing on Bobby Jindal’s record is how he has dismantled our public health care system.”

There were a variety of opinions on how to resolve the city’s scarcity of options for mental health patients. Some (Coleman and Williams) said funding for such treatments comes primarily from the state and that voters should pressure representatives and state government officials to make health care a priority. But Bouie bristled at this suggestion, saying the city needs to re-implement its social services department.

“We have totally shirked our responsibility,” Bouie said. “We have totally dismantled the social services department of New Orleans.”

Other Issues

Civil service reform was another issue discussed at the forum. Many agreed that reforms needed to be done, but few were specific on the nature of those reforms, aside from the need for a system that is fair to all employees. Ward specifically mentioned the pay scale.

“Throw the existing system out the window and into the trash can,” Ward said. “Your occupation doesn’t matter; everyone should be paid off the same pay scale.”

Candidates also discussed economic development. Kelly argued that New Orleans East should receive more attention from developers since it’s the largest landmass in the city. Williams and Ramsey said that Federal City should be a bigger source of jobs for locals. Savwoir called for a relaxation of zoning ordinances to allow more businesses to open. All agreed that economic improvements were vital to keeping people in New Orleans.

“Young people will leave without good jobs and a living wage,” Capasso said.

There were two “speed rounds” where moderator Camille Whit?worth of WDSU posed a question and insisted upon only a “yes” or “no” answer from the candidates. When asked if they supported an increase in the minimum wage, every candidate answered yes. When asked if they would support an ordinance banning smoking in all bars and gaming establishments, every candidate answered yes except for Coleman, who replied with “pass.”

This article originally published in the January 13, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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