If the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, the people of New Orleans need to pay up. Many of us, myself included, have paid a great deal of attention to the "insider" aspects of the citywide elections, less so to the issues and policy points that will define the direction our city takes in the next four years.
With less than three weeks to go before the Feb. 6 primary, it's time to take a close look at where candidates stand on the issues and ascertain what their policies might be.
Thanks to the Internet, vigilance is a lot easier to achieve (and sustain) today than it was when Thomas Jefferson reportedly uttered his famous admonition more than 200 years ago.
In this election, several citizen-led initiatives have framed issues and suggested policies important to their constituencies and asked candidates to say "yes" or "no" to them. The results are available online.
Two that come to mind will be in the news this week: Forward New Orleans (FNO) and the Creative Alliance of New Orleans (CANO). Forward New Orleans is a bi-racial coalition of more than 30 business, civic and professional groups that came together to put forth a platform of seven "principles of reform." Its Web site is www.forwardneworleans.com.
Forward New Orleans' reform principles concentrate on issues that affect everyone: crime, blight, city finances, economic development, city services and infrastructure, city contracting and education. The coalition's platform was given to all candidates for mayor and City Council, and council candidates already have responded. There's a "scorecard" for council candidates online at www.forwardneworleans.com/files/candidate_scorecard.pdf.
Now here's the hard part: Don't go right to the scorecard. First, go to the FNO home page and read the details of the coalition's platform — some of which you might not agree with — and then go see how the candidates responded. A spokesperson for FNO says the mayoral candidates' responses should be ready for posting on line by the end of this week (Jan. 22).
On a similar track but on a different front, the Creative Alliance brought together cultural organizations and individuals who are anchors of the local "cultural economy" to focus candidates' attention on that aspect of economic development — which, by the way, was noticeably absent from FNO's economic development platform. I say that not to knock FNO's effort, but rather to underscore the value of many voices being part of this citizen-led choir for reform and accountability.
CANO will formally announce its joint platform at noon Wednesday (Jan. 20) at the Contemporary Arts Center. Mayoral and council candidates are invited to attend — and all should read and respond to CANO's platform and questionnaire. The results will be posted on two Web sites, www.artscouncilofneworleans.org and www.cano-la.org.
I've seen an advance copy of the CANO joint platform, and it's impressive that a coalition of creative people could agree on so many "political" points. Everyone who appreciates our city's unique culture should read and embrace it.
Equally important, CANO recognizes that City Hall is strapped for cash. This is not another plea for more money in the name of "culture." It's a real-world appeal for a smarter approach to capitalizing economically on our culture.
"We are asking all council candidates and mayoral candidates to tell us which 10 elements of the platform they will prioritize for implementation when they take office," the platform states. "Realistically we know that in these difficult times, not all elements can be implemented immediately. That is why we leave it up to the candidates not to sign on to all elements, but to choose those they realistically feel they can achieve in the near term.
"We further encourage all supporters of the city's culture and cultural economy to become involved in the election, in the transition after the election, and in the first hundred days, year and ultimately terms of office of the new administration and council. Promises are important. Accountability going forward is equally important."
That's where CANO and FNO share common ground: the need for accountability after the election. That's why vigilance must be eternal — not just at election time.