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What to know in New Orleans this week (May 8 - 14, 2018) 

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Photo by Cheryl Gerber

CAFFIN AVENUE GETS HONORARY 'FATS DOMINO DRIVE' DESIGNATION

In one of its last proclamations as a body, the outgoing New Orleans City Council last week approved an honorary renaming of Caffin Avenue in the Lower 9th Ward as a tribute to Antoine "Fats" Domino, the New Orleans rock 'n' roll and R&B legend who died in 2017 at age 89.

  The Domino family's yellow home on Caffin Avenue was covered in flowers, records, handwritten notes and other tributes following his death. It also was the final stop on a massive second line and memorial parade.

  The street's honorary title is Antoine "Fats" Domino Drive "in honor of Antoine 'Fats' Domino and his family, and in appreciation of his sharing of his immense musical talents with the New Orleans community and the world," the City Council's resolution stated.


Quote of the week

"I'm not here to just give you information. I'm here to recruit you. We need your help to win this struggle. We need your help to solve the climate crisis." — Former Vice President Al Gore, speaking to a packed house last week at the Collision Conference in New Orleans. Gore called on attendees of the conference to both turn out to vote and address climate change with the same rigor and passion they apply to their entrepreneurial projects.


Schedler resigns as Secretary of State

Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler, who faced calls to step down after a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against him in February by a longtime employee, submitted his resignation last week, saying, "I have been incredibly frustrated with the tabloid approach to an incredibly serious allegation." He will leave office May 8.

  Schedler previously had vowed to stay in office but not seek re-election. He claimed the relationship with his accuser was mutual and consensual.

  Gov. John Bel Edwards, who had called for Schedler's resignation in February, said in a brief statement, "In light of the additional information that has been disclosed, I believe this is the best course of action for Tom, his family, and the state of Louisiana."

  The heat had been turned up on Schedler since late last week, when The New Orleans Advocate published some of the emails and cards he had sent to employee Dawn Ross. Many of the emails were sent via the state's server. After those were made public, U.S. Sens. John Neely Kennedy and Bill Cassidy, both Republicans like Schedler, called for his resignation.

  In his resignation letter, Schedler said his duties would be carried out by First Assistant Kyle Ardoin until the next Secretary of State election, which will be in 2019.


Bill to ban abortions in Louisiana after 15 weeks advances

After hearing emotionally charged testimony that pitted an all-male group of bill supporters against an all-female group of abortion rights advocates, the Louisiana House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee voted 9-8 last week to advance a controversial ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

  Senate Bill 181 by state Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, tracks a recently passed law facing legal challenges in Mississippi. The Milkovich bill would go into effect after the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on Mississippi's ban. The Louisiana law, opponents say, would endanger women's lives by forcing abortion underground and would force women to carry pregnancies to term even after fetal abnormalities are discovered. (A third-year medical student testified that such abnormalities often don't occur until 18-20 weeks of pregnancy.)

  In statements on the bill, Milkovich and bill supporters argued for fetal personhood, with Milkovich saying the state has a "moral obligation" to protect the unborn. "Babies are humans — they're just small humans," he said. He also introduced arguments, which were largely not present in previous committee and floor appearances, that abortions after 15 weeks present a special risk of complications to the mother.

  One of the most startling moments of the hearing took place during an exchange between Milkovich and state Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, who questioned whether SB 181 would retain Louisiana's present law permitting late-term abortions to save the life of the mother. While abortion opponents who testified in favor of the bill said doctors' opinions would probably take precedence in such situations, Milkovich disagreed.

  "This bill does not recognize exceptions. ... My position is that this is a total ban after 15 weeks," he said.

  After the close vote, the bill moves to the House floor, where it faces one of its last hurdles before heading to the governor's desk. If approved by legislators, Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he would be inclined to sign the ban.


Report: Women candidates gaining ground in Orleans elections

A new Tulane University report finds that women are running for office more frequently and winning more elections in New Orleans in the years since Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. In "Assessing Equity in Political Representation in New Orleans," authors Mirya R. Holman and Chloe Schwanz found women made up the majority of the New Orleans City Council in every council cycle since Katrina, whereas other city councils nationally are typically 25 to 30 percent female. (Three of the seven new council members are women.)

  New Orleans also has elected an average of two women per election since 2005, up from 1.17 women in the pre-Katrina years.

  The report contrasts New Orleans with state and national trends in representation for women and people of color. In particular, New Orleans' majority-black council is "markedly different from many other major cities in the United States," the authors said. The increasing presence of women in city politics also goes against national trends; less than 20 percent of Congress and only 25 percent of state legislatures are female.

  The prevalence of women in city politics also differs from the Louisiana Legislature; just 15 percent of representatives are women. No women represent Louisiana in Congress.

  Because women and people of color tend to be disproportionately affected by issues of inequity (such as low wages, housing issues and limited access to opportunity), the election of Cantrell and other women, as well as more people of color, may usher in significant policy changes affecting outcomes for those citizens, the authors said.


Planned St. Claude Avenue hotel fails at Council

In the final votes cast by the outgoing New Orleans City Council last week, a hotel planned for St. Claude Avenue in Bywater failed to get enough support for a required zoning change that would open the door for commercial development — despite support from outgoing District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, in whose district the hotel would have been built.

  The proposed zoning change was to cover part of a block that formerly housed events space The Truck Farm and several residences, which would have made room for the Sun Yard, a 37-room hotel with an adjoining restaurant.

  At the City Council's May 3 meeting, developers also withdrew their request for a conditional use permit that would allow construction of the hotel (necessary for hotel projects larger than 10,000 square feet) as well as their appeal of the Historic District Landmarks Commission's denial of renovation and construction plans. Those plans now are on hold after the City Council's 3-2 vote against the zoning change.

  The zoning change was to put the three lots at St. Claude Avenue and Montegut Street into a commercial designation aligned with the St. Claude Avenue commercial corridor. But without a conditional use request or firm plans to build the hotel, the zoning change could open the area to other commercial development. Without a specific plan, residents felt blindsided.

  "You should not incentivize this obfuscation, this abuse of process," said Megan Kiefer, who lives on the block that would face the hotel. "We should not incentivize out-of-town developers coming here, purchasing land expecting they're going to change the zoning."

  Sun Yard attorney Justin Schmidt argued that the zoning change merely clears up a "mistake" that was overlooked in the city's Master Plan, the heavily amended document guiding land use matters in New Orleans.

  The project faced significant opposition from immediate neighbors and other Bywater residents, who said its scale threatened the neighborhood's culture and character and would disproportionately impact property values, taxes and rents.

  Ramsey and District E Councilman James Gray voted in support of the zoning change. Councilmembers Jason Williams, Susan Guidry and Stacy Head voted against it. (District B Councilwoman and Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell and District D Councilman Jared Brossett were not present.)


The Mitch Landrieu book you haven't heard about

Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration capped off its eight years in office by releasing a glossy hardcover book, The Will and the Way, highlighting its more than $2.5 billion in building projects.

  Landrieu's team says it inherited a City Hall in disarray, a municipal government that had a bad relationship with FEMA and poor recordkeeping of active and pending city contracts. "When we came into office, we couldn't make heads or tails of where things were at," Landrieu Communications Director Tyronne Walker told Gambit. A capital projects team repaired those relationships, leveraging FEMA aid for more than $2 billion in infrastructure and road projects, while City Hall rebuilt or rebid contracts.

  But the administration bristles at the idea that publicly funded development had primed areas for rapid upscaling and gentrification leading to residential displacement. "We absolutely want to be a place where development is happening," said Walker, adding that citywide budget hearings and community meetings largely were calling for more business activity, and the city responded. "We heard them and we made those investments there," which ended up attracting development in areas "it hadn't seen for a very long time," he said, adding, "That's enough; that's good and that should stand by itself."

  Balancing development without displacement remains a challenge. Walker points to Landrieu's 10-year affordable housing strategy, which aims to increase the number of affordable units. "There are new challenges and strains that make it harder for all not to be able to afford to live here," he said. Those challenges now remain for Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell to address, but "the administration is going to inherit a system that's much better than we inherited," Walker said.


Stormy forecast: Daniels to make New Orleans appearance this week

Louisiana's most famous porn export and presidential irritant, Stormy Daniels, posed for the cover of Penthouse this month, and she's going on a mini-tour to promote the issue. She'll appear for two performances at the Penthouse Club in the French Quarter May 9.

  Daniels, nee Stephanie Clifford of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has claimed she had an affair with President Donald Trump (which he has denied) and sued the president. She earlier had signed an affidavit stating they never had an affair, which she has retracted. In March, she repeated her claims for 60 Minutes, but never provided proof.

  While much of the rest of the country was introduced to Daniels recently, Louisianans first got a look at her mix of porn, politics and celebrity in 2009, when she said she might run for the U.S. Senate seat held by then-Sen. David Vitter. Daniels said that if she got in that race, she would run as a Republican, but nothing ever materialized besides a brief spate of amused publicity.

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