James Gray wants to fill Council District ‘E’ post
22nd October 2012 · 0 Comments
By Christopher Tidmore
District E Council candidate James Gray has been a long familiar figure in Democratic politics in New Orleans. What is less known, as he explained in an interview with The Louisiana Weekly, were the forces that shaped this former Chairman of Orleans Democratic Party.
“My father was a contractor,” he remembered, “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.”
That willingness to enter the breech at a critical time proved the reason that Gray entered the race to succeed the resigned Jon Johnson on the New Orleans City Council. He has already earned endorsements from Mayor Landrieu to the former incumbent Cynthia Willard-Lewis to the official Democratic Party nod.
This widespread support came due to the same reason he ran, Gray elaborated, “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.”
Gray sees himself as qualified to meet the challenges of representing District E, and all of its rebuilding challenges, because of his breath of experience. As he explained, “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.”
Gray lists his top three campaign planks as “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; [and] 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. When asked, “What is your answer to fixing the vacant housing problem,” Gray replied, “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.”
On November 6, along with the Council races in B and E, voters will have to decide whether to amend the City Charter to elect the At-Large posts independently. Gray said, “I am for the change. In theory, under the current system, a person can be elected to the City Council with 25 percent of the vote plus 1. The Charter would ensure that in order to be elected a person would have to get more than 50 percent of the votes cast.”
One element of the new master plan is to eliminate the overpass over N. Claiborne which currently cuts the Treme and St. Roch neighborhoods in Half. Gray, though, is not in favor of ending the I-10 route behind the French Quarter.
“I am against this aspect of the plan,” he declared. “I believe it would be detrimental to both neighborhoods.”
When asked if he supported the Bureau of Governmental Research’s proposals for Contracting Reform, he replied negatively, the only Councilmanic candidate to do so this election year. (The proposals recently made in Jefferson were based on those made for Orleans 10 years ago.) As Gray stated, “While I believe that Contracting Reform is a good thing, in its present form, the report did not obtain adequate input from all interested parties.
With property taxes having been rolled forward as housing council candidates have backed a state law requiring a public vote before milliages could be rolled forward after being rolled back. Not 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.” He refused to make a blanket pledge to support keeping milliages rolled back on city property taxes in all cases.
Considering the $20 million dollar cost of repairing the current City Hall, some have called for a new City Hall and some have advocated turning Big Charity into that New City Hall. Gray generally agreed, but refused to endorse a specific solution. “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 dilligently analyze any proposals designed to obtain a City Hall that adequately serves the citizens of New Orleans.”
To accelerate recovery in District E , Gray said that if elected to the Council, “I will insist on increasing police presence in the District and I would focus on ensuring that the Hospital and Wal-Mart are built.”
When it comes to retail development in the East, he does not worry that the effort to put an Outlet Mall at the Riverwalk could endanger the redevelopment of the Jazzland site. “No. The Jazzland site will be a more attractive destination for people from surrounding areas and throughout the city.”
Moreover, on the economic front, Gray noted that shipping was a concrete areas where the illusive goal of regional interparish cooperation is politically possible. “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.”
Concluding, the Council E Candidate added, “It is time that we elect well-trained, well-prepared, and proven leaders. I know that I best exemplify those qualities.”
This article was originally published in the October 22, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper