By Tribune Staff

A coalition of local religious and community leaders held a press conference Thursday (April 13) morning to solidify their support for Civil District Court, Div. B candidate, attorney Rachel Johnson and to prevail on voters—specifically Black voters—to turn out for the runoff election.

Organizers of the conference noted that voter turnout in the March 25 primary election, which resulted in Johnson coming in second to attorney Suzy Montero by about 600 votes, was woefully low, especially in largely African-American precincts. In some instances, the turnout was as miniscule as roughly two percent.

Overall voter turnout out in the March 25 election in Orleans Parish was 10.6 percent and about 9.1 percent among Black voters. And in some areas of the city with the largest concentration of Black voters, the numbers were much lower—2.2 percent in parts of Algiers, 4.4 percent in Gentilly, 4.5 percent in New Orleans East and less than 5 percent in the Ninth Ward.

“This particular election is important to us,” said local civil rights leader and business owner Don Hubbard. “And elections and voting is important to me. I am one of those that had my taste of fire hoses and tear gas for trying to vote.”

Johnson and Montero will face off on in the April 29 runoff. Early voting takes place daily Saturday, April 15 through Saturday, April 22 (except Sundays). The winner of the election will preside over a domestic docket where family court issues ranging from child support and custody cases to domestic violence, divorces, restraining and protective orders as well as the division of community property will be heard.”

“The kinds of issues that are decided in (domestic/family court) are the very issues our community faces on a daily basis,” said Pastor Frederick L. Henderson of The Rock Full Gospel Baptist Church. “How can we not come out? How can the numbers be as low as two percent?  I need you to vote. I need you to vote for the person who is going to stand up for this community.”

Brandon Boutin of the Greater New Orleans Louis Martinet Legal Society, an organization of local Black attorneys, was quite direct, saying “We’re here because we need the Black vote. We need the African-American vote. There is no other way around it.”

Johnson, who is the daughter of Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson, was on hand as well, thanking the local leaders for their support and plugging her qualifications for the job.

“I am hearing all sorts of things about what I haven’t done,” Johnson said before the start of the press conference. “But I have been practicing since 2005. I am in court. I am trying cases.”

Johnson also spoke to the low turnout, saying “there should never be an election where the turnout is two percent. If dog catcher is on the ballot, we need to go out and vote for dog catcher.

In addition to Pastor Henderson, Hubbard and Boutin, participants at the Thursday morning press conference, included Greater St. Stephens Full Gospel Baptist Church Pastors Paul and Debra Morton, and community activist Ronald Coleman. They have vowed to push the effort to get more Black New Orleanians to the polls over the next couple of weeks by urging their congregants and engaging New Orleanians throughout the community.

“I’m going to be at barbershops and beauty salons this Saturday,” said Coleman, intimating that he expects the establishments to be rife with folk who will get his message about voting as they get primped for the Easter Holiday.

The Mortons took a more personal approach in their comments—attesting not only to the need for Black New Orleanians to get out and vote, but also pointing to their personal relationship with Johnson, who is an active member of Greater St. Stephens and declaring that her integrity and character make her the right person for the seat.

“I’ve watched this young lady grow up,” said Pastor Paul Morton. “I know her heart. I know that she is qualified. We’ve got to do this. We need somebody that is going to represent us and represent us well. Let’s make it work. Don’t let it just be talk.”