Filed Under:  Local, News, Politics

Willard-Lewis attempts come back to Council

13th January 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Term-limited from her Council District E seat, Cynthia Willard-Lewis made several attempts to win an at-Large Council seat, losing each time by the smallest of margins. It’s a measure of the veteran councilperson’s popularity that she won an open, special election for the State Senate — in a district that was drawn out of existence less than a year later.

Yet, in a career of political comebacks, Cynthia Willard-Lewis is trying the ultimate one, to reclaim the District Council seat out of which she was term-limited four years ago, after unsuccessfully running elsewhere. Willard-Lewis, though, thinks well of her chances to beat the odds—and incumbent James Grey.

As she explained in an interview with The Louisiana Weekly, “I have been a public servant for well over 40 years. Although I originally supported my opponent in a previous election, I listened to the people. The people like my leadership style, which is open and inclusive. I would like to continue the work I started with District E then with Senate District 2. I was the catalyst for things now reaching completion in District E from Methodist Hospital and WalMart to fast-tracking Fannie C. Williams school and the 7th District Police Station.”

“I have fought for District E for many years: I stood with the citizens and defeated efforts to shrink the footprint of New Orleans; I stood with the citizens and fought to close a landfill in New Orleans east; I stood with the citizens and fought to reopen Martin Luther King school in the Historic Lower 9th Ward. I will continue to stand with the people and fight for the needs of District E.”

In her view, the former Councilperson carries a breath of experience that qualifies her for the office, even over Councilman Gray. “I have extensive legislative experience, having served as a Louisiana State Representative for District 100, former Council Member for District E, and former State Senator for Senate District 2. Prior to becoming an elected official, I was a public servant serving in the administrations of multiple mayors. I have an urban planning background, having been a Chief Planner. Additionally, I served as a Housing Bureau Chief under Mayors Moon Landrieu and Dutch Morial.”

“My extensive experience has greatly enhanced my skills as a consensus builder. My years in public service have afforded me many opportunities to bring parties to the table to consolidate their concerns and walk away with everyone contributing to the end result they were seeking. I am a leader that is not only results oriented working to get things done, but I am also a leader that keeps an ear to the needs of the people I represent to ensure that my efforts align with what the citizens desire.”

Willard-Lewis’ campaign is predicated on meeting those public desires by addressing three areas: crime, economic dev?elop?ment and blight. “While District E is not as heavily burdened with the violent crime spikes seen in other parts of the city, we do experience a high level of property crimes including robberies and car thefts. Given the size of the district, particularly in New Orleans east where the 7th District covers all of the area east of the industrial canal, adequate officer presence is a problem. I would like to stress equity in the distribution of officers throughout all the police districts. Also, to counteract the property crimes, we need increased lighting in the district. This includes the lighting along the interstate and lighting at commercial properties. We also need more crime cameras in the district (as funds allow) and partner with commercial properties to have cameras at commercial properties as well.”

In dealing with economic development, Willard-Lewis sees District E “as a retail desert, lacking depth and variety in commercial developments.”

“I would like to transform the district into a commercial oasis,” she explained. “I want to focus on a more equitable distribution of retail dollars throughout the city for capital improvements, small business development and disadvantaged business enterprise enforcement. Many commercial developments are hesitant to locate within District E because of concerns related to public safety, shrinkage, and available customer base. New Orleans east has been seen as one of the safest parts of the city as it relates to violent crime. More specifically, the Bullard Corridor is seen as the safest in the city. Those two concepts should be marketed to potential commercial partners, along with the fact that District E has the most available land mass than any other part of the city. Businesses like Wal-Mart and Big Lots have already benefitted from this by locating their businesses in the district. We need to build on these successes by using public funds to create financial incentives to bring businesses to the district. CDBG dollars can be used to address roadwork, street lighting and sidewalk repairs. Economic development dollars can be used to reduce the financial burden on small businesses and DBEs desiring to locate within the district. Another point to address is the fact that there is an oversaturation of dollar stores throughout the district and this must be corrected. I would like to see a moratorium on dollar stores in the district. I think at a minimum the issue needs to be looked into to determine what we can do as a city to curtail the oversaturation of the city with dollar stores. I am not against dollar stores and do not want to be seen as discouraging commercial development, but I am against diluting the market with only one shopping option. District E deserves variety in commercial developments and I will fight to see that happen. Lastly, I would like to promote tourism in District E with a focus on cultural and environmental tourism. Areas like Bayou Sau-vage, Alcee Fortier and parts of the Historic Lower 9th Ward should be showcased to visitors and residents of other parts of the city.”

“Blight,” the former Council-woman continued, “has been an ongoing nuisance for neighborhoods throughout District E. There are overgrown lots, abandoned houses and large scale vacant commercial spaces. To combat the problem, blight must be addressed at each of those levels. I would address the overgrown lots by proposing an adopt-a-lot program so that neighbors can actively participate in beautifying their neighborhoods. Neighbors can take the responsibility of clearing and caring for a lot, and ultimately acquire the lot after fulfilling certain prerequisites.”

“Additionally, I think the urban garden concept can be expanded which can beautify a neighborhood with a useful alternative to a vacant lot. I would address blighted buildings by looking at the adjudication process.”

“Citizens have continued to be frustrated with the process of reporting blighted properties but not seeing follow through. I will propose legislation that will restructure the hearing process. Currently, lawyers serve as “judges” but often do not have a clear understanding of the various parts of the city. I would like to convene a steering committee that would look into the selection process of hearing officers and propose having district specific hearing officers so that each district has a representative hearing officer. If an officer is permanently assigned to a specific district, follow through should be better because you will have the same person to stay in touch with. Lastly, I would also consider expanding the Lot Next Door legislation to see if there is a way to make properties available to even more qualified neighbors who want to beautify their neighborhoods by removing blight.”

The election is February 1.

This article originally published in the January 13, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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