Last week, we announced our recommendations in the Orleans Parish School Board races and for the nine proposed constitutional amendments. Following are our recommendations for Congress and the New Orleans City Council, as well as local referenda. A full ballot of recommendations will appear in Gambit's Nov. 6 issue.
CONGRESS: CEDRIC RICHMOND & STEVE SCALISE
No, they’re not running as a team, but they often serve as one for the benefit of southeast Louisiana. Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat, and Scalise, a Jefferson Republican, rarely vote alike on issues of national significance. However, the two men — whose friendship dates to their days in the Louisiana House of Representatives — could teach their colleagues a lot about building bipartisan coalitions.
On at least three recent occasions, Richmond, who represents solidly Democratic District 2, and Scalise, who represents thoroughly Republican District 1, put aside party differences to forge consensus on issues of vital importance to the region. In July 2011, they joined forces to direct $6.8 million to increase dredging in the Mississippi River to keep shipping lanes open. The very next day they added $1 million for coastal restoration, which took it out of the “non-starter” category of federal projects and put it in the pipeline for future allocations.
Perhaps their biggest success was helping pass the RESTORE Act, which they coordinated with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in the Senate. The act ultimately will send billions to Louisiana for coastal restoration. “We built a very big coalition,” Scalise says. “It was very important to the five Gulf Coast states, but we were all on very different pages. It took lots of juggling, but at the end of the day, it all worked out for Louisiana. We will get the most money by anybody’s estimate.”
There was a time when such cross-party coordination was routine in the Louisiana delegation — and at the highest levels of Congress. Sadly, such bipartisanship is rare these days. In fact, both parties seem to punish members who reach across the aisle. Fortunately, Louisiana has two members of Congress who get the notion that bipartisanship moves the region — and the country — forward. We recommend both men be re-elected.
Below the cut: Recommendations in City Council races and local referenda.
NEW ORLEANS CITY COUNCIL, DISTRICT B: DANA KAPLAN
Voters in District B are blessed to have three very strong candidates seeking to succeed Stacy Head as their council member. We found lots to like about LaToya Cantrell, Dana Kaplan and Eric Strachan. In the end, we give the nod to Kaplan. Her experience as head of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana put her on the front lines of the fight against crime, in terms of both intervention and policymaking. A leader in the Safe Streets movement, Kaplan played a key role in establishing the city’s Independent Police Monitor. No other candidate we interviewed articulated as deep an understanding of the complex causes and potential solutions to our city’s endemic crime problem as did Kaplan. She has a knack for consensus building and grassroots organizing (she qualified to run by getting more than 1,000 voters to sign a petition supporting her candidacy, rather than just plopping down cash to qualify), and she displays a rare combination of energy, independence, maturity and temperament that will serve her diverse district — and the city — very well.
NEW ORLEANS CITY COUNCIL, DISTRICT E: JAMES GRAY
This is another race that has attracted a strong field of candidates. That’s especially important in this district, which has been underserved on the council for too long. District E faces the same problems as the rest of the city, only more so — crime, blight, infrastructure, economic development and more. In our view, no candidate is better prepared to lead the effort to bring back eastern New Orleans and the Lower Ninth Ward than James Gray. An attorney and Vietnam veteran, Gray has the maturity and training to lead as well as the humility to serve. He currently serves as chair of the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, teaches trial practice at Tulane Law School, chairs the prestigious Louisiana Law Institute (whose members are the state’s most respected legal scholars), and serves on the boards of the National Urban League, the Boy Scouts of America and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Gray promises to focus on crime, economic development, youth programs and parks and playgrounds. We think he will serve District E well.
School Board Term Limits: Yes — Voters in most Louisiana parishes, including Orleans, will decide whether to impose term limits on local school board members. The proposition will be decided on a parish-by-parish basis, not statewide. If approved, board members would be limited to three consecutive four-year terms beginning in January 2014. Jefferson Parish already imposes term limits on school board members, so the issue will not be on the ballot there. While we don’t think term limits are a cure-all for what ails government, we think the arguments in favor of term limits — especially as applied to school boards — outweigh those against. One valid criticism of term limits is that they diminish the institutional memory of public bodies. However, we think a limit of 12 years offers ample opportunity for school boards to overcome that problem. On balance, we think school board term limits will be good for public education.
Bridge Tolls Extension: Yes — This issue is on the ballot in Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes. A majority of the total votes cast in those parishes is needed to extend the tolls on the Crescent City Connection (CCC) for another 20 years. State Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, has waged a valiant campaign to clean up past abuses by the commission that oversees the CCC. We support Connick’s reform efforts, but we respectfully disagree with his proposed solution of letting tolls expire at the end of this year. If the tolls expire, bridge traffic will likely be more congested (as it was before tolls were reimposed years ago) and less safe. Louisiana State Police, which has seen severe budget cuts in recent years, would be stretched to cover the bridge, one of America’s busiest. In addition, the loss of toll revenue would adversely affect important construction projects along the bridge and expressway. Extending the tolls will provide for safety, traffic flow, maintenance, construction and landscaping — and tighter controls over where the money goes in the future.
City Charter Amendment, Separate At-Large Council Elections: Yes — The City Charter currently makes candidates for the council’s two at-large seats all run against each other in a political free-for-all. To win, a candidate must get more than 25 percent of the vote. This makes for some strange math — and even stranger politics. In other parishes, and in each council district, candidates run for separate, specific seats. This amendment would make that the rule for New Orleans’ two at-large seats as well, establishing them as At-Large Division 1 and At-Large Division 2. It makes sense — and it’s fair.
Regional Business Park, Millage Renewal: Yes — If renewed, the 20-mill property tax would continue to be levied only on commercial properties within the 7,000-acre New Orleans Regional Business Park in eastern New Orleans, but voters citywide will decide its fate. The tax would generate slightly less than $220,000 a year for the business park’s management. The park offers New Orleans its best hope for significant light or heavy industrial activity.
Orleans Levee District, Millage Renewal: Yes — Voters on the East Bank of Orleans Parish will consider whether to renew for 30 years a 6.07-mill property tax for flood protection. A small portion of the millage (0.61 mill) would be dedicated to the so-called non-flood assets of the Orleans Levee District. The massive flooding caused by Hurricane Isaac and the memory of Hurricane Katrina should make this an easy sell. Unfortunately, a small group of well-intentioned but misguided “reformers” opposes the renewal because they want the Levee District to sell off its non-flood assets. Those non-flood assets include Lakeshore Drive and five miles of parkway (which doubles as a buttress for the lakefront levee), two marinas (which will generate money for flood protection when fully restored), and the Lakefront Airport (which is an important economic engine). We think the better option is to renew the millage for flood protection and dedicate a small portion — less than 40 cents a month for a home assessed at $150,000 in fair market value — to the non-flood assets, which provide recreation to thousands of New Orleanians and bolster flood protection to all of the East Bank. Meanwhile, the non-flood asset management board should continue its work to restore those assets — then recommend how best to manage them in the future.
Neighborhood Improvement/Crime Prevention Districts: Yes — Voters in three New Orleans neighborhoods will decide whether to impose flat fees on parcels of land to support security and improvement efforts. Those neighborhoods include Lake Vista, North Kenilworth and Gentilly Terrace and Gardens. Neighborhood leaders in all three areas have worked with local lawmakers to draft legislation authorizing the fees, subject to voter approval in those neighborhoods. We support their efforts.