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Endorsement recommendations for February 1 election

27th January 2014   ·   0 Comments

Bagneris for Mayor

After sitting down with the three mayoral candidates and reflecting on the skill set and intangibles of each candidate, The Louisiana Weekly’s Editorial Board has decided to endorse former Civil Court Judge Michael Bagneris.

In all honesty, all three candidates offered compelling visions for the future of the City of New Orleans, but Michael Bagneris, appears to be best suited to expand opportunities for all of the city’s residents and to make certain that the needs and concerns of all segments of the population are weighed before the city moves forward with a unified plan to promote growth and expansion.

Incumbent Mayor Mitch Landrieu should be commended for picking up the ball and running with it in 2010, five years after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.

But while progress has been made in the city’s overall recovery, entire segments of the city and its populace have been left behind. A notable discord has been heard with regard to a lack of input from residents in the rebuilding of their communities, schools and homes. While sections of the city are thriving and pristine, other neighborhoods have barely been touched since Katrina.

The Lower 9th Ward and Eastern New Orleans, in addition to parts of Carrollton and Gentilly, remain far from recovered with major blight issues and a paucity of retail outlets.

While water service fees, energy bills and property taxes have risen, many of the city’s low-income and working-class residents argue that they have gotten very little in the way of improved city services.

NORD is still in need of a major revival and the city’s schools have routinely disregarded the needs and concerns of students, parents, residents and communities.

The city’s police department is still in dire need of major reforms and residents have complained openly about the lack of commitment on the part of local elected officials to protecting their constitutional rights. The entire criminal justice system, as well as the coroner’s office also need to be overhauled to ensure that all residents enjoy equal protection under the law.

Mr. Bagneris has benefited from the time he spent serving as executive counsel to former New Orleans Mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial, and the two decades he served as a Civil Court judge have greatly enhanced his ability to listen and utilize fairness, compassion, integrity, wisdom and sound judgement in making decisions.

While the current mayor has demonstrated an ability to move post-Katrina recovery forward, his administration has not always made policy decisions that reflect the needs and concerns of the city’s communities of color and low-income and working-class families.

New Orleans needs a leader that can bring people together to reach common goals while allowing all segments of the population to have a voice in determining the future of the city.

We firmly believe that Michael Bagneris is uniquely qualified to be mayor.

Sheriff of Orleans Parish: Marlin Gusman

Some of the ads in this race between two veritable incumbents have been over the top. Charles Foti has raised honest issues about the operation of the jail and its failures, and the former Attorney General and Sheriff deserves credit for putting these issues in public discussion.

However, what has not been mentioned was that Sheriff Gusman was already fixing those 2009 breakdowns, and had closed the House of Detention where they occurred PRIOR to the videos going public. Gusman has fought a pitched battle to construct a state of the art jail that pre-empts the mandates of the federal consent decree, with plans to fix the problems before the Feds even urge the requirements. That’s a far cry for the condition of reform within NOPD prior to the police consent decrees.

The current Sheriff has also championed keeping non-violent offenders out of jail and in jobs. That pragmatism deserves another term to complete construction of his new incarceration facilities.

Clerk of Criminal District Court: Arthur Morrell

The current clerk’s opponent accuses Morrell of not doing enough to fix the evidence room. It’s a curious charge since Morrell first hired her for specifically this purpose, and followed her recommendations to restructure the evidence room to the letter, according to most sources.

Morrell has drastically improved a highly underfunded Clerk’s office with limited resources, and countless criminal cases to track. The very fact that he wanted a full review and reform of evidence procedures, and enacted the very elements of his current opponent’s platform already, shows that the current Clerk is hardly uninterested in enacting reforms. Morrell deserves another term.

Coroner: Dwight McKenna or Vincent A. Culotta Jr.

For years Dr. Dwight McKenna has levied diligent criticism at Minyard’s operation, at a time when the media only wanted to speak about the “Jazz-playing coroner.” Mc­Kenna highlighted NOPD coverups, allegedly aided and abetted by the Coroner’s staff, and raised questions of the integrity of the cadavers’ organs, that still warrant investigation. Such a record of being willing to stand as a lonely voice of reform cannot be ignored.

Dr. Vincent Culotta, an OB-GYN by profession, looked askance at the crisis at Frank Minyard’s Coroner’s office from his perch as President of the Louisiana State Medical Society. The disorder and outright apathy in the office’s main mission of Forensic Pathology had his peers cringing. Culotta, having first worked in the New Orleans Coroner’s office early in his career, before going on to deliver 10,000 babies in Orleans Parish, knew that the office need not have national embarrassments like the Glover case, and we agree. His reform proposals for technical updates and for asking other parishes who commission autopsies to pay their fair share of the overhead have drawn the approval of our editors.

Council At-Large Division 1: Stacy Head or Eugene Green

Stacy Head has stood as the only outspoken constructive opposition to the Mayor on the Council, the reason a Caucasian candidate did not earn a white mayor’s endorsement. And, her ability to fight for forgotten causes in a creative manner has reaped dividends.

For example, Head pointed out the myriad of streets, many of them in poor neighborhoods from the East and Ninth Ward to Hollygrove, that still lack street signs eight years after Hurricane Katrina. The Administration did nothing, so she began to hold press conferences with children holding hand made signs at each of these empty corners to highlight the disparity. The kids were cute and poignant with their crayon renditions of Orleans street signs, and Mayor Landrieu relented.

Eugene Green has focused his campaign on economic development of major corridors, particularly in the “forgotten” parts of New Orleans, from New Orleans East to Central City. His plans to re-invigorate I-10, in particular, are detailed and based on his background heading NOBID, and could return major retail to New Orleans East.

Green is also one of the only candidates to talk about the rising cost of affordable housing, urging the use of Federal CDBG money for the construction of both new dwellings and economic stimulus to provide jobs around these new residential developments. He also seeks to identify and allocate some of these funds to assist homeowners with maintenance of their properties, especially elderly and middle- and low-income residents, who lack the resources to keep their properties in good shape.

Council At-Large Division 2: Cynthia Hedge-Morrell

There has not been a single major reform initiative in the post-Katrina era that Cynthia Hedge-Morrell has not either championed or openly supported. Not surprising for the one-time principal of what was labeled under her tenure as one of the best public schools in America, McDonogh #15, nor for one of the founders of NOCCA Prep and the modern NOCCA Campus.

During the redistricting fight, in particular, Cynthia Morrell championed the creation of a single lakefront district, bringing together Republican Lakeview and Democratic Gentilly in common, biracial cause. The side effect would have also created a unified Uptown seat, ending the bifurcated representation of District A, and allowed a greater cohesive neighborhood focus by the Councilperson. Cynthia Morrell was outvoted narrowly, but she vows another chance to make her case. Our editors agree. Please promote the District D Councilwoman to the At-Large post.

Council District A: Drew Ward

Drew Ward, a small business owner in Pigeon Town, had been trying to convince City Hall to construct sidewalks for his predominantly elderly, African-American neighbors. He had no success, but as a student of history, Ward learned that below layers of dirt, the original brick sidewalks were still there.

Garnering volunteers and using his limited personal funds, he excavated eight inches and 80 years of dirt, and uncovered two blocks of beautiful brick walkways. In the process, he learned that restoring these historic sidewalks could be done for just $1200 per block, as opposed to the $50,000 cost of building new ones. Excitedly, Ward shared his findings with City Hall personnel.

And, they ignored him, just as the current Councilwoman for District A did. Of course, it wasn’t the first time. Ward, who volunteers in Hollygrove as well as Pigeon Town, had been fighting for a single Carrollton area district, which would have been created in tandem with a Lakefront Council seat. District B’s LaToya Cantrell was in support, but Councilwoman Guidry worried that would draw a seat that would not be sure to elect a White Democratic woman like herself.

Ward grew frustrated, as he had when he pointed out that taxes had gone up in New Orleans by 70% and no one was talking about it.

Council District C: Nadine Ramsey or Jackie Clarkson

Mayor Landrieu joked upon her announcement that Jackie Clark­son had so focused on District C that sometimes her colleagues had to remind her that she represented the whole city. In the humor, the truth that the At-Large Councilwoman never lost her focus on this Algiers to Tremé/St. Roch district was hard to deny. Rare is the Councilperson who can balance preservationist needs downtown with suburban desires, and remain popular with both groups. Perhaps it is due to quality of life issues that so obsess Clarkson.

Nadine Ramsey who has been running for this seat for the better part of a year, has designed a good economic development strategy to attract young, innovative entrepreneurs to the district she says is “one of the most culturally vibrant and diverse places in the world.” In particular, Ramsey demonstrated a singular willingness to work across parish lines. She is the only candidate who was open to the concept of coordinating Mardi Gras resources with Jefferson Parish — so as to not have parade schedules conflict during Metai­rie’s Family Gras — in ex­change for the suburban parish aiding Orleans with its huge policing obligations during parades.

Of the five candidates running in this contest, we recommend both Clarkson and Ramsey.

Council District D: Jared Brossett

State Representative Jared Brossett has only been in the legislature a comparative short time, but he has quickly become one of the most active House members, responsive to his district, always open to his constituents, and willing to fight on community issues. That description encapsulates the ideal City Councilman.
As a former Chief of Staff for District D, prior to his election to the State House, Brossett would enter the office with nearly the experience of an incumbent, instantly able to serve the needs of the residents of District D with little learning curve. Considering the remaining recovery issues facing the predominantly Lakefront seat, from a Pontchartrain Park still under construction, to a Gentilly still dealing with Blight, to a recovering Lake Vista with potholes that could house a family of five, that experience is needed immediately.

Council District E: James Gray

The current District E Councilman has been in office for barely a year. This newspaper endorsed him then, and endorses him now. The decision of Editorial Board recognizes that in his short time in office, Gray has drastically improved constituent services since his late, unlamented predecessor Jon Johnson resigned. People in both the Ninth Ward and New Orleans East see their Councilman regularly as well, an accomplishment of commitment to attending events, considering the geographical limitations.

Particularly, our Editorial Board has been impressed by the probity and balance with which Gray has handled the high-end apartment complex proposed at the old Holy Cross School site. It’s a valuable investment whose panoramic views of the city skyline would attract upscale residents to a neighborhood that has lost over 12,000 residents since Hurricane Katrina. But, residents of the historic neighborhood worry that such a development might be out of step with the character of the area.

Gray has balanced both viewpoints, neither rejecting the project, nor fronting for the developers. He has been an active mediator, the role of a Councilman encompassed when it comes to economic development fighting constituent concerns.

Propositions: VOTE YES

• Hurstville Sec. & Neigh. Improvement District Lake Bullard Neighbor. Improvement District.

• McKendall Estates Security District.

• Mid-City Security District

• Tamaron Subdivision Improve­ment District

• Upper Audubon Security District.

Each of these propositions either bolster policing in a given neighborhood, or levy a small fee for beautification of a major public space, or do both. While our editors always remain skeptical of tax measures in an effort to keep housing affordable, improving the safety and appearance of one’s streetscape, for what amounts to a few dollars per month, should not be controversial.

This article originally published in the January 27, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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