James Gray seeks full term on Council for District E
21st January 2014 · 0 Comments
By Christopher Tidmore
James Gray won special election to the Council District E seat one year ago. Now he seeks a full term against the former incumbent, Cynthia Willard-Lewis, who had actually endorsed his bid for office.
Willard-Lewis had thought to run herself last year, but was denied standing for the office after a judge ruled that term limits apply for a full four years. The fact that her immediate successor Jon Johnson was carted off to jail in the interim, made little difference, so she backed long-time political titan James Gray for the seat.
What a difference a year makes. Of course, when asked about the racial dynamics of this election season, and the impact the White-Black divide was having on the other contests, the current District E incumbent mused, “I dream of the day when our only concern is whether or not the councilperson lives in the district he or she represents, as required by law,” a less than subtle dig at Cynthia Willard-Lewis. “The most important thing is that we elect people who can and will provide the best service for the people they are elected to serve.”
And James Gray believes he is such a person. “I initially ran because I was unhappy with the progress that was made. In the 12 months that I’ve served as councilmember, we’ve seen enormous progress in District E. As a result of our efforts to get things out of the pipeline and up-and running, we have a new LA Office of Motor Vehicles at Lakewood Plaza Shopping Center, a new Big Lots store in the Bullard Avenue corridor and the strongest DBE ordinance in New Orleans’ history—to name a few examples. The District is booming. Look what we’ve accomplished in a year, give me four more to continue the effort to revitalize District E. I’m currently having conversations with numerous potential developers talking about projects that I believe will eventually come to fruition if I’m given an opportunity to work on it.”
He may be incumbent in District E for only a year, but Gray contended that he brings a lifetime of public service qualifications to the job. “I’m committed to helping my neighbors and my city and I have the training and background to make a difference. As an attorney with a 40-year career, I’ve settled a lot of cases. I know how to bring people together and negotiate agreements. I’ve run a small business and made a payroll for four decades. My children went to public schools in New Orleans. I’ve coached track for 30 years, working with great kids, many of them living in perilous circumstances. I understand their problems and their parents problems. … I understand the challenges families face — in the workplace and at home — and I’m committed to finding solutions.”
Gray predicated his re-election bid on three campaign planks, “Economic Development and Public Safety, Blight, and Greater Opportunities for Our Youth”.
Most importantly he observed, “I connect economic development and public safety because the best way to prevent crime is to have strong job opportunities for both parents and kids.” In the case of District E, that means, “We need to bring more businesses to the area and produce housing for the new workers those businesses would hire. For example, NASA is currently hiring 1,000 workers whose average salary would exceed $80,000. We need quality housing in New Orleans East for those people.”
As for prominent retail corridors, Gray explained, “There are government incentives available and we should use them where necessary. We have currently accelerated development in my district by convincing retailers and small businessmen that they can make money in a safe and stable environment. We believe that trend will continue because of our continuing efforts.”
Still, along one of those corridors, I-10, the former Jazzland property remains such a black hole that movie companies have rented the property to stand in for societal collapse or post-apocalyptic horror. Now, that the potential for a outlet mall has fallen through on the New Orleans East property, Gray suggested, “We should request proposals and choose the most promising one that we receive, measuring promise not only by the likelihood of success, but by the extent to which it fills a void in the needs of the people of the district. I would put rigid milestones in any agreement with the next potential developer.”
District E, more than any other seat, feels the impact of endless abandoned properties that are 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. When asked what was his answer to fixing the vacant housing problem, Gray returned to the same theme of economic development. “The answer to blight is to create business and jobs. The businesses will clean-up commercial blight because they will be using the property for productive purposes. Jobs are necessary to attract and enable people to purchase or rent properties.”
This article originally published in the January 20, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.