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March 24 election recommendations

19th March 2012   ·   0 Comments

National attention has focused on the GOP candidates descending upon Louisiana for next Saturday’s Republican Presidential Preference poll here in the Pelican State. To many, perhaps even most of our readers, the proverbial oxygen removed by that nominating contest precluded discussions — or even thought — of any other elections. The soap opera of a fight between Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich may seem reason enough for many Democrats and Independents not to go to the polls at all.

That would be a mistake. Far more is at stake than the drama of whom the next Republican challenger to Barack Obama may be.

African-American voters in Orleans Parish will have the chance to chime in on whether the white/Black balance should be restored in the at-large seats on the New Orleans City Council. Meanwhile in the East Bank of Jefferson, issues of nepotism and fiscal management of legacy assets will decide critical council races in Harahan and Kenner.

This newspaper has long held the policy of not endorsing in Party elections, so we can offer little guidance on the Democratic or Republican elections for State Central Committee or PEC. Merely vote for those that have made an effort to ask for your vote. Moreover, we are far too committed editorially to the re-election of President Obama (who himself is on Saturday’s Ballot) to make any recommendations for whom to cast a ballot in the GOP Presidential fray.

Nevertheless, the Councilmatic elections alone are reason enough to go the polls, and perhaps our editors can provide some information on those critical elections the local media has mostly ignored.

New Orleans City Council At-Large: Cynthia Willard Lewis

This newspaper has always held the needs of the city above the race of the candidate, and in our view Cynthia Willard Lewis ranks as the best candidate regardless of the color of her skin.

However, our editorial board would be remiss in not pointing out that the traditional balance of the At-Large seats of one Caucasian and one African-American has been broken since Hurricane Katrina. To electorally restore that balance, with the Council reflecting the population’s own racial balance, has long been overdue.

Willard Lewis, a veteran of both the Legislature and the Council, is available to return to Duncan Plaza forthwith. Freed from the State Senate last year, nothing is stopping her from applying her near decade of experience on the City Council to the tough decisions on spending and public safety which will carry the debate beyond 2012.

Moreover, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina proved to our editors what an advocate for the people Willard Lewis can be. The then-District E Councilwoman fought relentlessly to get people back into their homes–and screamed until the resources were made available for their repair and revitalization. She is a bureaucratic warrior for her constituents, a public servant in the truest sense.

This ability to stand up in political battles, though, has not impaired Willard Lewis’ skill at retaining close relationships with mayoral administrations in past years, and with Mitch Landrieu right now. She can work with the mayor, and at the same time, serve as a counterweight. Such a balance of ardent advocacy and friendly conciliation is a rare gift, worthy of promotion to the At-Large post.

Kenner City Council: Keith Reynard

Keith Reynard was against the sale of the Rivertown Mardi Gras Museum.

The gross profit from the sale of a collection — that many estimated of having a value of over a half a million dollars — ended up netting the city less than $44,000. Reynard had warned this newspaper over a week before the sale of the impending financial and public relations disaster that was about to occur. “We’re going to get much at this auction,” he maintained, “What kind of economic development message does it send when we are closing museums?”

Reynard’s principal opponent in the Kenner City Council race not only supported the Mardi Gras Museum’s closure, but Mayor Yenni’s decision to sell off a collection carefully constructed over the past two decades, at public auction two Thursdays ago.

But, the lack of profit was far from the most galling element of the closure. Our editors recognize that in bad economic times, when confronted with choices of playgrounds or museums, history or police protection, exhibits to culture often do not win. Yenni, charmed by a study that Rivertown’s museum spaces would make more profitable retail outlets, has pushed to close the museums. Only the Freeport Planetarium and Science Museum remains, when once the historic end of Williams Blvd’s Cannes Brullé historic district was dotted by exhibit halls.

However, the American Museum Association guidelines are quite specific in cases of museum closure. Once the lent collections are returned to their original owners, the remaining exhibits must be offered to a museum of similar type nearby. The Cabildo and the Louisiana State Museum’s Carnival Collections, offered to take the Rivertown Mardi Gras collection in full and archive it in a fully outfitted, climate controlled permanent facility in the French Quarter. Yenni refused to consider the request, instead putting the collection up for sale. Reynard argued for it.

The negative public relations for Kenner, and the profit which amounted after paying the auctioneers to less than half the mayor’s annual salary, makes the rush to sale even more baffling. Moreover, the fact that the Mardi Gras Museum existed in the same building as the Science Museum, meant that there was little overhead besides an electric bill. No curator had been employed by the City of Kenner for several years. The Museum could have continued with little cost to the suburban city, but if it had to be closed, why could not the Louisiana State Museum received the two decades of work it took to construct the excellent collection?

Keith Reynard was willing to ask those questions, and Mary-Sharon Howland, Mayor Yenni’s chosen candidate, was not. This proves which contender is better qualified to join the Kenner City Council. Please vote for Mr. Reynard on Saturday.

Harahan City Council: Eric Chatelain

The fact that Eric Chatelain has knocked doors, and actively campaigned to gain the support of Harahan voters, in the best sense of the term, is not the sole reason our editors chose to support his candidacy.

Nor is his ardent support of preserving the former Colonial Country Club as a green space along the Mississippi, either as park or a golf course, the major reason. Even though, Harahan Mayor Vinny Mosca has praised Chatelain’s ardent support for the preservation of its oak trees and natural drainage space.

This newspaper’s backing of Mr. Chatelain comes for the fact that he stands in opposition to the Johnson family’s attempt at blatant nepotism.

When Harahan Councilman and former Mayor Paul Johnson won promotion to the Jefferson Parish Council, he told no one that he intended to replace himself with his son on the Harahan Council. That the children of elected officials follow their parents into office is not unheard of in Louisiana, and by itself, is hardly disqualifying.

However, Craig Johnson was unknown in political circles until his announcement to succeed his father on the Harahan Council. He had no real background of civic accomplishment, and since he threw his hat in the proverbial ring, has by most accounts campaigned little, and refused invitations for endorsement sessions or most public meetings. Craig Johnson has taken it for granted that his name alone would insure his election.

By all accounts, Craig Johnson’s campaign appears to be an effort by his father to provide a job for his son. That is taking family loyalty a bit too far — on the public purse. Please send a message by voting for Eric Chatelain on March 24.

This article was originally published in the March 19, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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