For the first time, the voters of Orleans Parish will go to the polls to elect at-large city council members in two separate races. City charter changes dividing the two positions were approved by voters in November 2012. Before then, candidates for the two at-large seats entered the same race, and voters were allowed to select two, with the two candidates who earned the most votes (so long as each candidate earned more than 25 percent of the votes) elected. Under the new system, the winner in each division must get more than 50 percent of the votes.
Elected city-wide, the at-large members of the council possess power vested in them by the entire voting public. The at-large positions on the council are arguably the board’s most influential seats, with the individuals that fill them alternately serving as council president with the ability to set the tone for the entire legislative body.
If elected to the Division 1 at-large council seat, Eugene Green, president of Nationwide Real Estate Corporation, a property management and real estate company, plans to focus on jobs, opportunities and progress, especially for the city’s most marginalized communities, he says.
“I want to focus on ignored neighborhoods and people who are living on the margin,” he says. “In doing so, we can build a stronger middle class and address other issues.”
A former CEO of the city’s economic development office from 1996 until 2000 under former mayor Marc Morial’s administration, Green calls the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program the “most important program the city has to create wealth and opportunity” and promises that any contract that comes before the Council must have a DBE component in order to get his vote.
“Any proposal that comes before the city that doesn’t abide by the DBE ordinance is (dead on arrival) by my vote,” he says. Still, Green says having the DBE goals are not enough. He plans to advocate for other steps to make increased participation by minority-owned businesses more achievable.
Green calls continued post-Katrina recovery “the main plank in his platform,” declaring that the post-storm revitalization of the city must be extended to neighborhoods that are still distressed more than eight years after the storm. He specifically references areas throughout the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East, as well as commercial corridors in Algiers that need attention.
“We have focused a great amount of resources in the CBD to please a limited number of residents and tourists,” he says. “Not to take away from those efforts, but we have recovered in those areas. It’s time to continue in our communities.”
Green points to the revitalization of the Oretha Castle Haley corridor—a project he helped guide as the city’s head of economic development—as an example of what he would help make happen across the city if elected to the at-large position.
“The city took $1.4 million in education and housing funds to supplement private-sector initiatives. That revitalization helped spur the creation of the Ashé Cultural Center, apartments, office space, the Franz building renovation, Café Reconcile,” Green says. “That can take place throughout our city.”
Green adds that he is staunchly in favor of residency requirements for police and first responders.
“Anyone that has the ability to search and arrest or use deadly force against our residents should have a true stake in the future of our city, and part of that means residing in the city.”
He believes the focus on residency is misplaced and that the department’s recruitment processes and activities should be evaluated and improved to get more New Orleanians interested in joining NOPD.
Pushing for higher wages in the city’s tourism-driven economy is another crusade Green says he will tackle if elected. He says he will introduce an ordinance that would lead to an increase in the minimum wage.
“My goal is to do my part to begin a new era of focusing on the economic development, blight and inactivity in low-income communities, especially African-American neighborhoods,” he says. “America Street is just as important as St. Charles Avenue.
Councilwoman-at-Large Stacy Head says she wants “to finish some things I started” since serving the city in the at-large position after winning a special election by a slim margin (281 votes) in 2012.
Head describes herself as a hard-working, focused and detailed-oriented, and she adds that she has not been afraid to “respectfully question the executive branch” of city government on issues.
“I have built a culture of responsiveness within my office as council-at-Large,” says Head. If re-elected to the position, Head promises to focus on improving quality of life issues such as roads and other infrastructure issues.
To be sure, Head has made quite a name for herself since bursting on the local political scene in 2006 as the representative for the largely African-American District B. Over the years, some of her positions and antics have disappointed, if not upset, many New Orleanians, especially those in the Black community, such as her indifference to the plight of public housing residents indicated when she unsympathetically blew kisses at those who filled the Council chambers at a December 2007 meeting where the legislative body voted to demolish four public housing developments. Head also developed what some critics believed was a racially-charged crusade against the two Black-owned sanitation companies that hold contracts for the city’s service as well as former sanitation director Veronica White, once calling White a “liar” during a Council meeting.
Since her election to the at-large seat, Head has taken an arguably less abrasive approach to governing.
As for economic development, Head says she wants to continue to develop “business corridors” throughout the city, such as the one she “help get off the ground” along Freret and Oretha Castle Haley, she says.
The former District B representative, cites the reconfiguration of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board as one of her accomplishments as an at-large member of the Council.
On the matter of residency requirements for police and first responders, a perennial issue for the New Orleans City Council, Head says the focus on residency requirements, particularly for police detracts from the real issues that have made recruiting officers difficult for the New Orleans Police Department.
Head also says now more attention must be paid to compliance and enforcement of the city’s DBE ordinances.
“I hope to use the Council’s audit and oversight role to ensure that goals are met.”
Attorney Freddie Charbonnet has some experience on the City Council, serving as interim councilman for District E for several months until a special election was held for the seat. It is that experience, along with his professional and civic involvement that Charbonnet says prepares him to serve the entire city as an at-large member.
“As an assistant city attorney, I played a major role in the city’s lobbying team. As an interim city council member, I learned how to get things done for the citizens of my district. As the owner of my law practice, I understand the needs of the small business owner,” Charbonnet says.
As the interim District E council member, Charbonnet says he got to see first-hand how New Orleans East and other areas of the city have been ignored.
“I am very happy about the development on Freret and Magazine. But what about the I-10 corridor, Newton Street in Algiers and Caffin Avenue.
On public safety and police, Charbonnet says he doesn’t think residency requirement for police officers is as important as increasing the department’s staffing numbers.
“We need to address crime, and we should consider all options available to address the root causes of crime, but first we have to fix the police department. We need more officers and better equipment to attract and retain them. We cannot afford the luxury of having a residency requirement right now.”
Charbonnet says if elected he will push for stronger psychological evaluations and improved training of police officers.
As for increasing the city revenue, Charbonnet says he supports adding properties currently receiving non-profit exemptions to the tax rolls. Growing businesses across the city would also aid in increasing revenue, he says.
“By growing businesses in every neighborhood, we expand our tax base and increase the city’s budget to address other important issues. Rejuvenating forgotten commercial corridors will be a win for our neighborhoods and a win for the city.”
With two terms as the District D council representative under her belt, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell says she is the only person in the Division 2 race with the knowledge and experience needed to continue guiding New Orleans through a period of great change and growth. And she is running for the at-large seat, she says, because there is still work to do.
“I don’t like to walk away when the job is not finished,” she says. “The city is moving in the right direction, but there is a lot more to do.”
Hedge-Morrell says she is driven by a life marked by service.
“My life has been dedicated to service, first as a teacher in our public school system where I rose through the ranks to become principal of McDonogh 15,” she says. “I again heard the call of service when the City Council seat for my district was vacant. Since being elected in 2005, we have achieved unprecedented success to reduce crime, create jobs, fix streets and improve education. But it is not enough.”
Although the council has no direct jurisdiction over the public school system, Hedge-Morrell says she happy to use her position to affect change in this area by going to the city’s legislative delegation regarding governance issues over local public education and by bringing the community together to determine what “governance is going to look like.”
“It was supposed to be over in five years,” Hedge Morrell says, regarding the state’s control of local public schools.
As for issues that Hedge-Morrell would have control over as a council member, criminal justice is on the top her list of critical matters. She says she not opposed to relaxing police residency for a limited period of time.
“I would like to say we need to have a force that is from our own communities, but I also know we need a force large enough to protect our community.”
Still, she believes the city and NOPD must look at other reasons for its shrinking ranks and sluggish recruitment. Hedge-Morrell, who has two sons on the city’s police force, says one of them is pay. And she wants to work to increase the salaries of officers.
“One of the worst things we did was start the detail system. We told officers ‘we’re not going to pay you a lot, but you can work a detail so you can afford house and raise family.’
We need to raise salaries. That way we will have (police officers’) full, undivided attention.”
And she says she believes the money needed to raise the salaries of police officers is already in the city’s budget.
“About a third of the city’s budget is NOPD,” she says. “We need to prioritize. A 10 percent raise the first year would cost about $8 million. Maybe we need to spend money on (salaries) instead of buying gadgets.”
Another area Hedge-Morrell says she hopes to bring intense focus to if elected to the at-large position is economic and workforce development with special attention emerging areas of economic growth.
A successful attorney, Jason Williams says he does not have “an overwhelming desire” to become a career politician. He just wants a better city for children across the city, including his own two young children.
“They are inheriting a mess,” Williams says, citing public safety and a lack of opportunity among other issues. “And it’s turning into a bigger mess because of our short-sighted thinking. Some elected officials have five-year plans and 10-year plans. I believe I can correct (some of the challenges New Orleans faces) in short order.”
Williams describes his 100-Day plan as “not sexy.” But they are things he believes he can accomplish right-away of elected, including working to establish a city department devoted to services for senior citizens as well ensuring that recreational opportunities through the city are available throughout the city.”
“Every park we have should be open. Every pool we have should be filled and staffed with a lifeguard,” he says. “It’s low-hanging fruit, and we need to get it done.”
As for efforts that will take a little longer than 100 days, crime and economic development top his list.
Crime is not the problem, says Williams, whose firm specializes in personal injury and criminal defense. Rather, the city’s approach to addressing crime is “completely wrong.”
More money in the city’s budget needs to be directed to youth and family services,” he says.
“Those are the programs that address the needs of folk in high-risk situations. We used to plan for that, we used to be proactive. Now, we’re spending about five percent of the city’s budget (on such programs). Meanwhile, the average age of offenders is going down and we have the highest incarceration rate in the world right here in our city. We need to refocus the budget to make sure we are doing things that prevent crime.”
Williams says more money should also go to NOPD recruitment and salaries, adding that residency is not a critical issue as far as he is concerned, only that New Orleans needs a “well-trained, racially-sensitive, socially sensitive and right-sized police force.”
“And we need to pay the good ones well,” he says.
Economic development is another area Williams says he will tackle if elected.
“And not just retail,” Williams says. We need major development. People are getting excited because we got a Wal-Mart…Bogalusa has a Wal-Mart. New Orleans is a major city.”
The attorney says he will work with leaders of the local school districts to help ensure that educational offerings are lining up with jobs that are in demand outside of the service economy—such as the biomedical field, coastal restoration, and construction.
“These areas are slated. They are going to break ground; and when they do, we need to have a workforce available.”
A strong and strictly enforced DBE program is also critical to those plans, says Williams, who adds that he will work to ensure that the office that oversees its implementation is adequately funded, that there are generous goals, clear benchmarks and penalties for not meeting them.”
“It concerns me that we are playing around with the minimums,” Williams says, adding that in the early 1970s the city of Atlanta had its DBE goal set at 39 percent. “We are so far behind. Other cities have realized the benefit is that you grow whole pie.”