Former Judge Michael Bagneris and local attorney and civil rights leader Danatus King are challenging Mitch Landrieu, hoping to replace him as the city’s next mayor. To be sure, the city’s next CEO has a monumental task before him—guiding continued recovery from Hurricane Katrina in a way that substantively impacts every corner of the city, particularly those that remain on the decline despite the fact that they suffered the most as a result of the storm.
And many New Orleanians, including the three candidates, seem to agree on what the city needs as it moves forward—less crime, increased public safety, more jobs and economic development.
No doubt, there will be immense opportunity in the city with the building of a new airport terminal that is expected to create thousands of construction jobs, a restructured Sewerage and Water Board that will oversee more a multi-billion investment in upgrading water, drainage and sewerage infrastructure throughout the city, again creating thousands of construction jobs as well as dozens of permanent jobs in the water management industry. A new hospital complex is slated for completion as the city appears to move forward with expanding opportunities and growth in the biomedical industry.
With New Orleans pregnant with so much possibility and opportunity, who actually benefits and just how the “new” New Orleans continues to grow and change will largely be shaped by the hands of its next leader, making the decisions that voters will make on Feb. 1, perhaps the most important one of decade.
Former Judge Michael Bagneris, who resigned from the bench to run for mayor says that while he liked being a judge, he loves the city more.
“Our city is in peril,” he says. “Our citizens are suffering from soaring crime rates, spiraling poverty rates, joblessness and economic inequality. I could not sit idly by and watch the city I love fall into the trash bin of metropolitan has-beens.”
Bagneris was born in Tremé, raised in the Desire Housing Development and graduated from St. Augustine High School, Yale University and Tulane Law School. He says those varied experiences will serve him well as mayor, providing him with both an understanding of the challenges everyday citizens face as well as skills and experience that qualify him to lead City Hall.
“I know what it is like to live in a neighborhood that lacks basic city services,” he says. “In my private practice as an attorney, I learned how laws help to shape our society. As a judge, I have learned that it is important to get all of the facts from the interested parties before making a decision. I believe the skills and experiences I have had uniquely qualify me to be mayor because I can relate to all of our people.
If elected, Bagneris says crime, economic development, and quality of life issues will top the list of issues he believes the city’s leadership must tackle.
Despite current administration boasts that crime is down, Bagneris says it isn’t so.
“The current administration’s claim for credit in reduction in the number of murders in 2013 is misleading,” he says. “First, the coroner’s officer reported 164 homicides, but NOPD only counted 155 murders. We are not given any information on the other nine so we can determine whether they should have been counted as murders. Even with the numbers used by NOPD, New Orleans has one of the highest murder rates in the country, more than eight times the national average. Also in 2013, we had nearly the same number of shooting victims (over 700) as in 2012. The fact that fewer shooting victims died is in no way indicative of a reduction in crime.”
To address crime, Bagneris promises a change in leadership at NOPD as well as a review of policies and issues he believes are driving away the most experienced officers.
In addition to police department rebuilding and recruiting efforts, Bagneris says his administration would invest in programs that focus on youth, education and job training and creation as ways to fight crime at its root sources.
As for economic recovery and development, Bagneris says right now “two cities” are being built in New Orleans—one that is improving and another that continues to struggle. His efforts as mayor would aim to address main areas of inequality.
“Too many of our citizens suffer from soaring poverty rates, high rents, underemployment, joblessness and economic inequality.”
His administration would advocate for an increase in minimum wage and job creation in emergent industries as well as focus on not only adhering to the city’s requirements with regard DBE participation, but on programs and policies that help increase both the growth and participation of DBEs.
“Increasing the flow of capital for minority-owned businesses must be a local priority to re-energize the New Orleans economy and increase our competitiveness in the global market place,” Bagneris says, adding that his administration will work to provide resources for local small businesses with assistance in getting capital lines of credits and bonding along with the enforcement of ordinances.
Local attorney and president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Danatus King says he is running for mayor to “save our city.”
“I have a genuine concern for the future of our city, particularly those areas of city that have been neglected during the recovery process, including the 9th, 8th and 7th Wards, New Orleans East and Central City.”
King has been an outspoken advocate, especially post-Hurricane Katrina, speaking out on behalf marginalized and disenfranchised New Orleanians on issues ranging from racial profiling and police brutality to the RSD and public education, from the privatization of NORD to the role and management of the Inspector General’s Office.
King says he has the leadership skills needed to help guide New Orleans. In addition to his role with the NAACP, he has served as a member of the Orleans Parish School Board, taken part in various leadership training programs, and served as an ad hoc judge in Juvenile Court.
“All of these positions prepare me to hold the office and provide me with training,” he says, adding that he plans to use those skills to address public safety issues, post-Katrina recovery and economic development issues in the city.
King, whose contention with the current administration over the operation of NOPD under Chief Ronal Serpas has been no secret, also says that one of his first moves in addressing public safety in New Orleans will be to hire a new police superintendent. King says he also wants to see “real” neighborhood policing take place throughout the city as his administration also addresses NOPD recruitment and retention issues if elected.
Post Katrina recovery must focus on neglected areas of the city, he says.
As for economic development, King says he will ensure strict enforcement of existing ordinances that govern DBE and local business participation as well as the proper staffing and funding of the office.
Despite some criticism that his style of governing is abrasive and heavy-handed approach, incumbent Mayor Mitch Landrieu says he has a record of getting things done.
“I’ve worked hard to unify our city in an effort to rebuild New Orleans,” he says.
“Together, we’ve been able to put New Orleans on the right track. But there is more work to be done.”
And Landrieu says he has the experience to do it.
Landrieu says his second term would be marked by focus on public safety, jobs and recovery.
He will continue NOLA for Life’s focus on targeting violent gangs in prevention and enforcement efforts, adding that his administration is committed to hiring 150 new police officers in 2014 and having 1600 officers on the force by 2018.
While some detractors say the administration’s numbers do not tell the whole story, Landrieu points to a what he calls a “trending down in overall and violent crime” as the murder rate that is at a 30-year low as evidence of his commitment to public safety.
As for jobs, economic development and recovery, Landrieu says he will work to ensure that the people of New Orleans rebuild New Orleans through job training initiatives and a strong DBE programs, adding that his administration will continue the “$1 billion building blitz across the city with more investments in streets, streetlights, parks and playgrounds, and police and fire stations.”
The Mayor says he has a track record in this area as well.
“We’ve increased the number of DBEs eligible for city work by 70 percent; and in three years, over $100 million in city contracts went to DBEs.”
And while many residents in areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina have bemoaned the lack of progress in their areas, Landrieu says they have not been forgotten.
“Our neighborhoods are coming back, but we need to ensure the recovery reaches every part of the city.”
He promises to bring “transformational economic development projects to New Orleans East” with new jobs at Michoud, along with the rebuilding of Methodist Hospital, plans to redevelop the Lake Forest Plaza and the Six Flags site, which some residents are concerned have languished in the more than eight years since Katrina.