Filed Under:  Local, News, Politics

Eric Strachan seeks to succeed Head in District “B” seat

5th September 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

District B Council Candidate Eric Strachan credits the reason for his involvement in politics to his parents, and their unwillingness to accept the status quo of a bridge off-ramp in their neighborhood.

“There was a moment from my youth that really shaped who I’ve become,” Strachan told The Louisiana Weekly. “It starts when the city installed a ramp to the Mississippi River Bridge that ran down Camp St. from Melpomene to Calliope in the Lower Garden District (where I grew up). My parents fought the construction, taking protests down to City Hall, but they were overruled and the ramp, as well as a number of changes to the traffic rules, were put into place.”

“But my parents, set back but not defeated, persevered. They weren’t disheartened because they understood that a city is a living thing and it can change for the good as well as the bad. They continued their fight for 20 years with help from neighbors and the Coliseum Square Association.”

“Finally, when I was thirteen years old, the bridge ramp was slated for demolition. It had been there since before I was born, and I had grown up with it, so it seemed like a natural piece of the landscape. I took it for granted that an ill-planned part of a highway ran through my neighborhood. My parents saw past that. They didn’t accept the way things were and wanted a change for the better, which, after many years, they got.”

“Today that strip of Camp Street is a well-lit, well-landscaped green space where I walk my mom’s dogs every evening. It hosts a number of pieces of public sculpture. It’s a place to walk in the shade on a hot day. It’s everything a concrete ramp to the I-10 is not. On the day the ramp came down, though, it’s impact wasn’t huge, or even district-wide, it made a huge difference to the quality of life in one neighborhood, and it showed me that people can change their environment. I don’t take the city for granted anymore. Instead I look to see what changes would benefit the surrounding areas, and, like my parents before me, will work tirelessly to see these goals achieved.”

When asked why he runs now for the District B seat, left open by Stacy Head’s promotion to the At-Large post, Strachan replied, “Although so much progress has been made in District B, there is also so much work to do – that’s why I’m running. It is an exciting time to be in New Orleans, particularly in District B, which has so many of the elements of the City’s future within its boundaries. The role of the City Council is essential to the future of New Orleans and, simply put, I’m the candidate with the experience and commitment to get the job done.”

Specifically, he noted his qualifications, “I am the only candidate that is a lifelong resident of District B with extensive hands-on experience in the council office. I ran the District B office during transition to Interim Councilmember Diana Bajoie. I served District B as Chief of Staff. [And,]

I served as Legislative Director and Constituent Affairs Director for the Council President.”

By standing for the Council on the second Tuesday in November, Strachan pledged to “build on what I have learned from five years of hard work at the City Council.” In particular, he seeks three top campaign planks. As he explained, he seeks to fight “crime by funding the criminal justice system based on best practices, and holding all accountable for results and integrity,” institute “an Environmental Court system that rids our city of blight, which breeds crime and puts our citizens, particularly children and elderly, in danger”, and provide “Economic Development opportunities for all that will expand job opportunities and financing through initiatives like Idea Village and Launch Pad.”

District B, running from the Lower Garden District to Central City and Downtown, suffers from some of the worst vacant and abandoned properties in the city. To fight this plague of blight, Strachan suggested the solution lay in “putting blighted property back in the hands of taxpaying owners.”

“[That] is the goal,” he continued. “To encourage the market, I would be open to investigating urban homesteading and homeowner incentives that have worked in other cities, as well as working with the Sheriff to be sure the public sale process is carried out efficiently and thoroughly, to gain clear title and return the buildings to commerce.”

Also on the ballot when Strachan runs is a proposal to change how New Orleanians elect their At-Large council persons. He supports the idea. “The current system is confusing – I believe that a Council-at-Large Representative should receive a majority vote to win.”

One element of the new master plan is to eliminate the overpass over N. Claiborne cutting the Treme and St. Roch neighborhoods in half. “The imposition of this elevated expressway was one of the most destructive construction projects to happen to a New Orleans neighborhood in the 20th Century. As demonstrated by the removal of the Camp Street Bridge Ramp in the Lower Garden District, the return to a grade-level alternative could spur revitalization and knit the neighborhood back together.”

The former Council Chief of Staff is a strong supporter of the BGR’s proposals for Contracting Reform. “I support all contracting reforms that result in money spent efficiently and contracting opportunities based on what you know – not on who you know.”

When asked, What are some concrete areas where regional inter-parish cooperation is politically possible, and would you support joint efforts in what areas, Strachan replied, “A great example is the military presence (Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard in particular), across the metropolitan area. The port, city and statewide transportation, tourism and youth recreational opportunities also provide platforms to open a dialogue. On all issues I would work with adjoining parishes to keep economic engines in place and functioning.”

When it comes to property taxes, he opposes rolling forward millages after they are rolled back, but does not think a state law banning the practice is the way to go – as some has suggested. “I promise to vote to keep property tax millages from being rolled forward after a roll back – to do otherwise is the old bait and switch. If millage rates are driven by the budgets of inefficient agencies, it’s the Council’s duty to solve the problem, NOT feed it. A state law should not be necessary because the electorate chooses a City Council as its representatives in these matters. If the voters are dissatisfied with the Council’s decisions, they should vote members out of office.”

Considering the $20 million dollar cost of repairing the current City Hall, the former Council aide sees potential instead in turning Big Charity into the New City Hall. “The reuse of the Avery C. Alexander Memorial Hospital (Charity) to house City Hall and the court system makes sense for practical and economic reasons. It’s an iconic building, centrally located and easy to access, not to mention the site of the first integrated nursing staff in the US.”

“From a financial standpoint, the cost of building a new Civil Court far outstrips the costs of relocating it to renovated space in Avery C. Alexander Memorial Hospital. The current City Hall is too small and too far gone (its only value is in its location), and to many stands as a physical reminder of the bad business and government crossovers in our past—the Reverend Avery C. Alexander himself was once arrested at the current city hall in 1963 and dragged out feet-first by the NOPD.”

District B remains one of the poorer regions of the city, historically, but Strachan sees that the future is bright. “District B is on a roll as a result of reinvestment encouraged during Councilmember Stacy Head’s tenure in office. Because economic and residential revitalization go hand in hand, I will focus on the commercial corridors and the neighborhood surrounding them throughout the district.”

The subtext of this race, more than any other election in 2012, is race. When asked if we should care if the Councilman is Black or White, he replied, “As we approach the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we can look back on lessons learned: floodwaters don’t care about race. The devastation to our City was the consequence of ineffective leadership at all levels. Every citizen deserves honest, effective representation on the City Council regardless of district, race, economic standing, neighborhood, religion—we are all equal when it comes to our need for good government.”

Concluding, he noted, “I have worked very hard to prepare myself for public service. I am committed to the hard work ahead and have the experience and temperament to build the bridges and help people solve both the everyday and the overarching, seemingly impossible problems that we constantly face in life in our community. I know what the job requires and I am willing to be a voice of reason, who will fight for all our citizens and listen to all voices.”

This article originally published in the September 3, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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