With one candidate dropping out of the race shortly after qualifying ended, incumbent Susan Guidry still faces four challengers in her bid to hold her on to her District A seat on the New Orleans City Council. They include defense lawyer David A. Capasso, businessman Jason G. Coleman, business owner Stephen Gordon, and community activist Drew Ward, the lone Republican in the race.
Businessman Jason Coleman says it’s time for new growth in District A, and he believes that his business-like approach coupled with his understanding of the community make him the best person for the job.
“I want to make sure that all of the district is represented and understood. Right now, it’s a tale of two cities,” says Coleman, who adds that the top issues of his campaign are quality of life, public works and public safety.
If elected, Coleman says he will immediately work with City Council colleagues to get higher wages in the city, beginning with raising the salaries of city employees and requiring companies that do business with the city to pay their employees higher wages as well. Coleman says he espouses what he calls the 10-10 rule, which would raise the minimum hourly salary of all city workers to at least $10.10 and higher for those already making above $10.10. For example, if the lowest wage would have to be raised by $2 an hour to get all employees to at least $10.10, every employee would receive an equivalent raise in wages. According to one study, raising minimum wage to $10.10 would lift 4.6 million Americans out of poverty.
“I think the government should lead,” he says.
Also related to economic development, Coleman says he will support strong enforcement of city’s ordinances governing disadvantage business enterprises (DBEs) and local businesses. Ensuring the minority businesses and local businesses are involved in city projects is both an economic development and a public safety issue, he says, adding that some of the crime taking place in New Orleans, where 52 percent of working age Black men are unemployed, could be curtailed with more jobs.
“If you look at crime, they’re not out here doing it for fun,” he says. “They are doing it to survive.” Coleman says if a prime contractor is not adhering to the DBE requirement, he will have no problem pulling the company’s permit (to perform the work).”
As for quality of life, Coleman says the city’s recreation offerings continue to fall short.
“I want to see fully-funded recreational opportunities for children, young adults and the elderly,” he says.
In the area of public works, more street repairs and continued development are also needed in District A. Coleman says many of the projects completed in the district in recent years were underway before the current administration. It’s time for new development and expansion, he says.
“I am not saying I was a fan of (former Mayor Ray) Nagin, but I hate to see (current elected officials) at a ribbon cutting bashing him while they take credit for a project started under his tenure.
There are a lot of street repairs that are still needed.”
When it comes to crime, Coleman says he is not so convinced that violent crime is down despite the word coming from City Hall and NOPD. The data cannot be trusted, he says.
“I hear the sirens. I heard the gunshot that killed the Massenburg boy with Green Light New Orleans, the candidate says, referring to the 18-year-old AmeriCorp volunteer Joseph Massenburg killed last April in what authorities say was likely a case of mistaken identity. “The data is misconstrued because we don’t have enough police on the streets (to know what is going on) and because the coroner is not classifying murder as murder.”
Coleman says he does not favor a complete suspension of removal of police or city employee residency requirements, but would consider relaxing the rules to allow new police recruits one year to move into the city limits. Better pay and treatment of police and other first responders would also go a long way to building moral and increasing recruitment and retention.
“There is still $20 million owed to the firemen’s pension; but you want them to run into a burning building to save you.”
Current District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry says she wants to “continue on the path we started together” since being elected to her first term on the council in 2010.
A life-long Democrat and neighborhood advocate, Guidry says she initially ran because she “saw a great need in our community and I wanted to help make life better for all New Orleanians” and she believes she has since been a part of significant improvements in economic development in District A.
Guidry sites Mid-City Market, a retail center that is home to 14 new businesses, and the recent opening of Costco and over 16 new businesses across the district as a sign that she will “remain a champion for my district’s economic growth” if re-elected to her seat.
On the matter of crime and blight, Guidry says she has made it a “top priority” to reform the city’s criminal justice system and making sure that tax dollars are spent effectively.
She also wants to improve the process of tearing down blighted homes and businesses and that owners know the condition of their property in a timely manner. Guidry says that removing blight is key to continuing the drive to keep violent crime numbers down because it removes some of the areas where crime takes place.
“We have reduced blight by 10,000 properties citywide through aggressive enforcement, including nearly 600 properties in District A alone,” Guidry says.
The “inequity” of post-Katrina recovery is another important issue that Guidry says she will address if reelected. Guidry believes that making the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program stronger will help ensure that “African American and other minority-owned businesses are able to compete for businesses and grow.”
“New Orleans will not recover until all of our people have the opportunity to come home, work at good-paying jobs, educate their children and live safe and happy lives,” Guidry says. “I will continue working to ensure that everyone gets their fair share and that we care for those most in need in our community.”
The lone Republican candidate in the District A race, Drew Ward says he plans to put New Orleanians back in charge of their city if elected.
“Most locals feel they’ve been relegated to the role of ‘spectator’ while someone else from somewhere else ‘rebuilds’ their city into a “new New Orleans” that is custom-designed for tourists and newcomers,” Ward says.
In fact, Ward says he troubled by administration boasts of thousands of new jobs when many of them have been filled by newcomers brought in by companies as opposed to long-time residents.
Ward says he will bring an “I will” attitude to the table, adding that he has personally led efforts to rebuild sidewalks, pull weeds out of streets and parks, clean up cemeteries, clean out drainage and catch basins, cut limbs out of power lines, scrub off graffiti, repair buildings, put up signs, plant gardens and help poor and elderly residents repair their homes.
“The one petroleum product New Orleans needs more than any other is good old fashioned elbow grease,” he says.
Ward also sees blighted property as a citywide problem that needs to be addressed. He cites a little used government entity called a Community Development District as a solution to the problem. According to Ward, CDDs only require a city council vote and approval of property owners within the district and, once created, will “provide a mechanism through which not only blight can be handled, but also permit localized control over such issues as crime and safety, infrastructure improvement and various other community and local economic development needs.”
On the issue of crime and public safety, Ward feels that the major problem comes from how tax dollars are allocated through the government itself.
“Money that should be going to police cars, hiring officers, running the jail, etc., is instead redirected towards programs like NOLA for Life that get labeled as preventing crime or increasing public safety but in fact are not,” Ward says.
If elected, he plans to propose a change to city charter that would place budget authority directly under the city council, expand the ProjectNOLA camera system to provide full coverage over the district and create a system of secure neighborhood parking facilities that would move cars off the street and improve the crime prevention capacity and visual appeal of the district.