John Bagneris says his experience as a former state representative makes all the difference in his quest to become District E Councilman.
He says critical economic development can happen if leadership will take a proactive approach to draw businesses.
“When I’m elected I will go to the corporations and CEOs directly and ask them to come to New Orleans East,” says Bagneris. “You have to court people. But first, you have to clean up the area to entice those businesses.”
According to Bagneris, part of the issue has been the perception of the East and Lower Ninth Ward. After a meeting with the Restaurant Board, he said he was told that people in the district could not sustain fine dining establishments because they don’t have enough “disposable” income.
“Many of the people in New Orleans east own their own homes after Katrina and about one-third of the people make over $60,000 a year, so that’s not true,” he adds.
As part of the blight cleanup, Bagneris also mentioned crime prevention as a major obstacle for the district.
“We need a nationwide search for police officers. I would say we need a force of 2000 officers to properly police New Orleans,” said Bagneris.
In order to remedy the affordable housing problem, Bagneris states that Short Term Rentals (STRs) are partly to blame for the crunch.
“Air B&B is taking over,” says Bagneris. “We need to get rid of it. We’ll do better with affordable housing and first time home buyers. If you can pay $1500 for rent, you can pay $1500 for a house note. You will then have pride of your homeownership.”
He also touts increasing the minimum wage to $20 per hour and being available to all constituents.
“I’m hard working and you can call me directly. My telephone number is my push card. I’ve never shied away from the people.”
Michon Copelin says she was raised on two things — politics and District E.
“I was born and raised in the District. I was born in a household where politics was talked about at the dinner table,” says Copelin. “I love the city but have a passion for District E. I had opportunities to go elsewhere but I chose to come back.”
Copelin says that her focus would be in controlling crime, rebuilding infrastructure, and pursuing economic development.
“The answer to crime is not to put the kids in jail,” says Copelin. “We have to have something for the kids to do. After Katrina our kids have been pushed to the wayside. But District E has the land mass to give the kids something to do. We can build programs and engage with small businesses and colleges to figure this situation out.”
Copelin says, if elected, she will tackle the issue of blight by working with code enforcement during the first 120 days in office.
She admits that the city should be doing more in affordable housing and DBE participation. When asked about her being a political newcomer, Copelin says her newness and dedication to the district are her biggest strengths.
“We can’t use old keys to open new doors,” said Copelin.
Vanessa Gueringer-Johnson says 16 years of activism is what makes her the ideal candidate to represent the largest District in New Orleans. She would like to be a major catalyst for change.
“I am very disheartened that all of the communities around us are thriving,” said Gueringer-Johnson. “It is time for someone to speak up to make people in the state and federal legislature know that we are suffering taxation without representation. I want to be that person who will ignite the entire district.”
Through her advocacy work, Gueringer-Johnson says she helped to bring back key infrastructure projects and was instrumental in retaining the New Orleans East Hospital.
While she says crime, blight and lack of economic development are the biggest factors in District E, she admits crime is by far the biggest issue.
“I would push for a (Memorandum of Understanding) to utilize the harbor police and levee police to immediately put law enforcement in our neighborhoods,” says Gueringer-Johnson.
She also says the blight issue has a direct correlation to the lack of economic development in New Orleans East.
“New Orleans was a high blight city before Katrina, but Hurricane Katrina exacerbated it,” says Gueringer-Johnson. “We have to track down owners and find out what they are doing with the property. If they are not doing anything, those properties need to be put up for sale. We need to rework the Lot Next Door program. If we don’t clean up our district, people will not want to move their business there.”
She says the previous council was very short-sighted when it came to creating the mixed-income model. Gueringer-Johnson believes it is partially responsible for the affordable housing crisis in New Orleans.
“It is unfortunate that housing developments were torn down,” said Gueringer-Johnson. “That was our housing stock. Unfortunately, people came in and convinced the council on mixed-income, but they did not produce enough units.”
The redevelopment of Jazzland and the possible revitalization of Lincoln Beach are big accomplishments. But District E incumbent Cyndi Nguyen says she can deliver even more in another term.
“I’m running again because there are things that I want to finish,” says Nguyen. “I delivered on several promises, but there are others that I want to finish. We’ve been in office for 3 and a half years, but our term was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida.”
Nguyen says she would like more time to fix many mistakes in the past.
“We were looking at a lack of investment for decades,” says Nguyen. “I can’t undo what happened but we can start fixing the problems. We found out that land use and zoning is really critical in economic development. If the land is not zoned properly, you can forget about building community-focused business. Remember when the Family Dollars and Dollar Trees were saturating the East. We immediately passed ordinances to make sure that this stopped.”
Nguyen lists affordable housing as an imminent crisis and says her administration is swiftly correcting the problem in her district.
“We have 100 affordable homes being built in the Lower Ninth Ward slated to be available next year,” says Nguyen. “We recognize that everyone may not want to own their own home. Not everyone can afford to own their home. A lot of people cringe when they hear affordable homes. But people in lower income brackets deserve quality housing too.”
Among her list of accomplishments, Nguyen says she also worked to help create a midyear review to monitor the retention of DBE’s in government contracts.
“It would be an honor to represent the district one more time,” says Nguyen.
Former-at-Large Councilman Oliver Thomas looks to history as a poignant reminder of District E’s potential.
“I looked at a 1979 New Orleans States-Item newspaper article that read ‘The East, Blacks on the way up,” says Thomas. “Then fast forward to a recent newspaper article in The Times Picayune, and it reads, ‘The East Still Toils.’
The lack of progress in New Orleans East in the more than 40 years between those two headlines is what drives his decision to run for the District E seat, says Thomas.
“I want to help save our community,” says Thomas “The East would be the largest Black municipality in Louisiana. If it were subdivided as its own city, it would be the seventh largest city in Louisiana. What would you say if I told you the East has one of the biggest bird sanctuaries in the region with more than 150 different species of birds, nine miles of coastlines and 7,000 acres next to those waterways.”
He says the vacant space at Lake Forest and Read Boulevard would make an ideal place for a major municipal government hub.
“The town center concept is development 101,” says Thomas. “We could have one of the biggest town centers in the country with Lake Forest and Read. We have New Orleans East hospital and Joe Brown Park right there.”
According to Thomas, affordable housing can be solved by reducing the stigma and creating a living wage for the city’s hospitality workers.
“With affordable housing we have that ‘not in my backyard mentality,’ says Thomas. “You have to have leadership to take people where they need to be and let them know that communities thrive when there is some component of affordable housing built in throughout the city. We broke records with tourism of some 19 million people. The money that went to the hotels needs to be shared with the people who roll back the beds and play the music.”