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Capitelli for DA 

New Orleans voters can be assured that the city's next district attorney will be a veteran of Criminal District Court. Lack of familiarity with Tulane and Broad was one of former DA Eddie Jordan's most glaring deficiencies — in addition to being generally incompetent. Thankfully, all four candidates running for Jordan's old job — attorneys Linda Bizzarro, Leon Cannizzaro, Ralph Capitelli and Jason Williams — appear to be highly competent and experienced. After interviewing all four, we confess that it was not easy picking just one to endorse.

Williams, though the youngest at age 35, is a successful criminal defense lawyer with an innovative proposal for modernizing the office. Bizzarro has served as a prosecutor for more than 22 years, starting as an assistant DA before moving to the U.S. Justice Department. Cannizzaro served 16 years as a judge, during which time he presided over more than 1,800 felony jury trials. Capitelli knows both the prosecutorial side of the law — serving eight years in the Orleans DA's office, three of them as first assistant DA — and the defense side as head of a private firm for the past 28 years.

In the end, we found that one candidate stood out in this talented field: Ralph Capitelli.

First and foremost, only Capitelli knows what it's like to actually run the DA's office. As former DA Harry Connick Sr.'s first assistant, he managed all of the office's divisions, support staff and lawyers — and he earned high marks in the process as an efficient and effective administrator and mentor. He knows that leading an office of more than 90 attorneys demands a special kind of professionalism and leadership. On his watch, Connick's office functioned at its peak. He founded the Career Criminal Bureau, the predecessor to today's Violent Offender Unit, and he promises to use that model to get violent crime under control.

He will implement a concept called "vertical prosecution" — letting experienced prosecutors handle cases from screening to conviction, or, as Capitelli puts it, "soup to nuts." He also has the political skills the office needs to repair its fractured relationship with NOPD. He pledges to work directly with Police Chief Warren Riley to facilitate joint training classes to get cops and assistant DAs working as a team and not as adversaries. He also will assign "on-call" prosecutors to individual NOPD districts, which will help police present stronger cases to the DA's office. And, in the critical area of retention, he will insist that every new prosecutor remain with his office for a minimum of three years. When he was Connick's first assistant, he successfully implemented that policy — and it made a huge difference.

The DA's office has a long way to go to reclaim its position as the leading edge of New Orleans' crime-fighting efforts. Any one of the candidates seeking the job would significantly improve the office that Jordan almost single-handedly dismantled. After looking closely at all the candidates' records and promises, we are convinced that Ralph Capitelli would do the best job of all.

YES to New Orleans Propositions

Voters in New Orleans will be asked this Saturday to consider two ballot propositions. One would authorize the Orleans Parish Law Enforcement District — a special entity led by the Orleans Parish criminal sheriff — to issue $63.2 million in bonds to build and improve criminal justice facilities, equipment and furnishings at or near Tulane and Broad. A second proposition would protect the city's newly created Office of Inspector General (OIG) by putting it in the City Charter. We urge our readers in New Orleans to vote YES on both propositions.

If approved by voters, the bond proposition would raise almost $41 million for the criminal sheriff's office, plus $7.5 million for Municipal and Traffic Court (which are badly in need of repair), $5 million for the coroner's office, $3.7 million for Juvenile Court, $3.3 million for the district attorney's office, and $2.8 million for the clerk of Criminal District Court. Although the bond issue would cost taxpayers roughly $5 million a year, Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman says it would not raise taxes. The current millage for the law enforcement district is 2.9 mills, which would be extended for another 20 years.

The proposed City Charter amendment would specify the duties of the inspector general, allow the OIG to hire special counsel separate from the city attorney's office, establish a civilian monitor for NOPD, and provide a permanent revenue source for the OIG and the city's new Ethics Review Board. All of these elements represent significant post-Katrina reforms adopted by the City Council. Putting them into the charter makes them permanent — and that makes good sense.

Both propositions warrant voters' support. School Board Endorsements Voters in most parts of New Orleans and one part of Jefferson Parish will elect school board members this Saturday (Oct. 4). One Orleans Parish School Board candidate has already won election — District 7 candidate Thomas Robichaux — because his lone opponent was disqualified. Gambit Weekly makes no recommendations in the Jefferson Parish School Board race and in Orleans Parish School Board Districts 2 and 5.

District 1 — Christopher Smith

Smith has 12 years of experience as an educator, most recently as an administrator at Milestone Charter School. His main goal for his district is to open more schools in hard-hit eastern New Orleans and the Lower Ninth Ward, but he notes that systemwide, the school board needs to get its finances and its facilities in order. Like most candidates for the board, he has grave reservations about many of the particulars of the proposed facilities master plan. "Instead of a top-down mandated proposition, I'd like to find out more about what the community wants and needs," he says. We agree.

District 3 — Brett Bonin

This district, in our view, attracted the largest field of qualified candidates. We give the nod to attorney Brett Bonin, a lifelong resident of the district who spent nine years as a volunteer with the NOPD Crisis Unit. He supports charter schools but says there must be a balance between charters and system-operated schools. He also has done his homework on school finances. "The last seven years of audits are almost a criminal indictment" of the system, he says, adding that his priority will be making sure the money reaches classrooms.

District 4 — Dr. Camacia Ross

We endorsed her four years ago for this seat, and we do so again this year. She has 15 years of experience as a teacher, Title 1 coordinator and educational administrator at Dillard University. She views charter schools as an opportunity to create nontraditional educational models, yet she recognizes that their boards must work closely with the elected school board that chartered them. She feels the current school board has "dropped the ball" on the proposed facilities master plan by delegating too much decision-making power to consultants, and we agree.

District 6 — Woody Koppel Jr.

This contest also attracted a highly qualified field. We give the nod to Woody Koppel Jr. As a real estate developer, Koppel will bring to the board a skill set that it desperately needs in this post-Katrina era of proposed "land-banking" of many school facilities. He taught early elementary grades in Orleans Parish public schools for seven years, so he knows the problems — and the potential — of public education firsthand.

Gambit Weekly Endorsements You can take this ballot with you when you vote. Congress — Democratic Primaries

District 1 — Jim Harlan

District 2 — Cedric Richmond

Public Service Commission — District 1

John F. Schwegmann

Orleans Parish District Attorney

Ralph Capitelli

New Orleans Propositions

Criminal Justice Bond Issue — Yes

City Charter Amendment — Yes

State Senate, District 9 (Metairie)

Conrad Appel

Orleans School Board

District 1 — Christopher Smith

District 2 — No Recommendation

District 3 — Brett Bonin

District 4 — Dr. Camacia Ross

District 5 — No Recommendation

District 6 — Woody Koppel Jr.

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