The District E City Council race has attracted three candidates, including the incumbent James Gray, who won a special election in December 2012; Cynthia Willard-Lewis, a former state legislator as well a former two-term District E councilwoman; and Andre Kelly, a one-time aid in the District E office. Covering parts of New Orleans East along with the lower Ninth Ward and the Desire area, District E was one of the areas hardest hit by Katrina.
James Gray, who describes himself as a “calm, deliberate leader”, has represented District E on the city Council for about one year now and believes he is still the best person to lead growth and change in the expansive area.
When he reflects on his past year of service, Gray says he has played an important part in helping to expedite change and improvement in the district.
“We got an Office of Motor Vehicles in District E a year early because I was able to find a solution for all parties involved,” Gray says. “I have pressured the city to clean up blighted lots in my district. I have worked with NORDC to refurbish parks and playgrounds in my district.”
If re-elected, Gray says he will continue to focus on underemployment and economic development, crime, infrastructure and blight issues. For Gray, who says he believes first-responders and all city workers ought to live and spend their money in the jurisdiction in which they work, the issues are related.
As a member of the City Council, Gray co-authored what city officials heralded as one of the toughest DBE ordinances. And he says he will work hard to bring more retail and industrial development to the District E, insisting that minority-owned and locally owned businesses get contracting opportunities that translate to more local jobs.
“We will never have an end to crime unless we have jobs for everyone who is willing to work,” Gray says.
Economic development is also key to fighting blight.
“Businesses settling in the district need land, potential employees need housing. Every building and every home clears one more plot of land.”
At 28, Andre Kelly is not only the youngest candidate in the race for District E, but the youngest in any of the races in the upcoming election. And he says the two years spent working as a staffer in the District E office under former Councilman Jon Johnson and later under Interim Councilman Ernest Charbonnet have provided him with the “familiarity with the district’s issues and know-how to navigate City Hall” effectively.
“I know the issues. I know who to work with in City Hall to get things done,” Kelly says.
If elected, Hall says community engagement will be a top priority for him.
“I think it is essential that voters have a relationship with me and my office,” he says. “There are programs and initiatives I would like to see implemented that foster economic development and improve the quality of life in the district.”
The three main issues facing District E, Halls says, are blight, economic development and crime.
“I would strengthen the entrepreneurial opportunities in District E by connecting ideas with funding and training,” Hall says.
Cynthia Willard-Lewis, who previously served in the mayoral administrations of Moon Landrieu and Dutch Morial, on the City Council representing District E and in the state Senate and House, says her more than 40 years as a public servant renders a number of examples of her work on the behalf of her constituents.
And she reminds voters she played a major role in bringing several projects to the area–from securing funding for the rebuilding of Methodist Hospital to ensuring that more that $200 million was dedicated to capital improvement projects in the district, including the 7th District police station, the lower 9th Ward Fire Station and the refurbishment of Joe Brown Park.
“I have fought for District E for many years,” she says. “I stood with the citizens and defeated efforts to shrink the footprint of the city. I stood with citizens and fought to close a landfill in New Orleans East. I stood with citizens and fought to reopen Martin Luther King School in the historic Lower Ninth Ward.”
And Willard Lewis says she wants to put her leadership skills to good use by once again standing with the people if District E.
As with others in the race, top issues for Willard Lewis as she looks at the needs of District E are crime, blight and economic development.
Willard Lewis says the District experiences a high level of property crime and that she would work to ensure that adequate officers were spread throughout the district and that lighting and the use of security cameras also increased. She has historically been a proponent of residency requirements for police, she says.
“While I recognize the needs of the police department may exceed available resources in the city, I think we should look at strategies that offer incentives for local residents.”
As for blight, Willard Lewis says her track record on the issue speaks to her ability to be creative and proactive in addressing neglected, dilapidated properties in District E and throughout the city.
“I drafted the Lot Next Door legislation which sought to decrease neighborhood blight and encouraged citizens to return by making housing options available and affordable,” she says.
The Lot Next Door Program allows property owners that share a common boundary with an abandoned property that has been that belongs to the Road Home program to purchase the property to renovate or use it expand their yard.