And how that is terrible for Louisiana

Gentrification threatens tourism in New Orleans more than shootings on Bourbon Street. 

As the primary economic engine of not just New Orleans, but the entire state of Louisiana, tourism is normally politically protected at all costs.  The recent decision by voters to delay suddenly-sharply-rising property taxes is a step in the right direction, but much more is urgently needed lest New Orleans tourism morphs into a regional, rather than an international, draw.

Make no mistake about it:  New Orleans tourism, though unspoken, is largely Afrocentric.  In fact, the culture of the African American community is the key ingredient in our tourism gumbo.  People come to The Bowl for music, food, architecture and joie de vivre.  None of these exist without the contributions of African Americans.  Gentrification threatens this reality.

Olympians 2nd Line Crew

Cultural Erosion

Local leaders have tried unsuccessfully to convince national leaders that coastal erosion in Louisiana is a threat to national interests.  The loss of seafood production and the threat to oil and gas interests are brushed aside in Washington, D.C., as trivial, replaceable assets the national economy can easily absorb. But as gentrification pushes less-resourced people from inner-city neighborhoods, the future of the city we all love is seriously imperiled. Unlike Louisiana’s relative unimportance nationally, New Orleans’ success is critical to Louisiana. 

Every time a newcomer displaces a native, the whole Jenga structure becomes less stable.

From a distance, all might seem good when a more-resource rich transplant migrates in to town. Nevertheless, one need only look behind the mask of in-migration statistics to understand the precariousness of the impending doom.  Political strategy and long-term planning are essential to prevent catastrophic cultural erosion.  The destruction of our city’s cultural foundations – think second line clubs and brass bands – of tourist dollars can be prevented with smart legislation, based on sound and fair economic principles.

 Other cities, with far less important and influential cultural communities, have enacted safeguards to protect their own cultural assets.  A look at Seattle provides a glimpse of how we can protect our tourism industry, our city and our state.  That city has developed an Equitable Development Framework  which guides how the city prioritizes its work; shapes its budgets, policies, programs and investments; and structures the implementation of targeted strategies and equitable development projects by using clear objectives for reducing disparities and achieving equitable outcomes for marginalized populations.

Equity Drivers

  • Advance economic opportunity. Promote economic opportunities for marginalized populations and enhance community cultural anchors. Provide access to quality education, training and living-wage career paths.
  • Prevent residential, commercial, and cultural displacement. Enact policies and programs that allow marginalized populations, businesses and community organizations to stay in their neighborhoods.
  • Build on local cultural assets. Respect local community character, cultural diversity and values. Preserve and strengthen cultural communities and build the capacity of their leaders, organizations and coalitions to enjoy greater self-determination.
  • Promote transportation mobility and connectivity. Prioritize investment in effective and affordable transportation which supports transit-dependent communities.
  • Develop healthy and safe neighborhoods. Create neighborhoods that enhance community health through access to public amenities; provide healthy, affordable and culturally-relevant food; and safe environments for everyone.
  • Enable equitable access to all neighborhoods. Leverage private developments to fill gaps in amenities; expand the supply and variety of housing and employment choices; and create equitable access to neighborhoods which offer high access to opportunity.

The consequences of doing nothing are potentially calamitous.  As horrific and petrifying as a shooting on Bourbon Street is, the long-term effects of cultural erosion caused by gentrification are not offset by increased property tax collection. In fact, cultural erosion forebodes doom as the New Orleans which tourists seek out, no longer exists. Instead, NOLA will become more like Savannah: Nice place, but it’s no New Orleans. Without a protected and empowered black community in The Bowl, we might not be here no more.


A Savannah Trolley vs a New Orleans Street Car

Gentrification – the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that displaces poorer residents – is in full swing in New Orleans.  Property values in certain parts of town are skyrocketing.  For pennies on the dollar, generational homes are being sometimes sold to developers and sometimes lost to a convoluted code enforcement process.  Many view the changes as positive transformations, while others recognize the economic rigging that is happening to poor black people.

I am proud to be a New Orleanian.  While our great city has much work to do, the current city council is enacting the kinds of laws that reflect a keen understanding of the effects of policy on people.   And this progressive legislation will surely lead to healthier people, stronger families, and a more prosperous city.

Recent legislation to decriminalize marijuana and remove bonds for municipal offenses are two recent examples.  These new policies shift the influence from punishment to empowerment.  For too long, city government has sought to raise funds on the backs of poor black men in New Orleans.  In the mass incarceration center of the world, African American men form NOLA have been the fuel.  Yet studies show that incarceration for even minor offenses dramatically increases crime. 

Why do arrests for even minor crime turn people into career criminals?

According to University of Michigan economics professor Michael Mueller-Smith, “prison obliterates your earnings potential. Being a convicted felon disqualifies you from certain jobs, housing, or voting.” Mueller-Smith estimates that each year in prison reduces the odds of post-release employment by 24% and increases the odds you’ll live on public assistance. Time in prison also lowers the odds you’ll get or stay married. Being in prison and out of the labor force degrades legitimate skills and exposes you to criminal skills and a criminal network. This makes crime a more attractive alternative upon release, even if you run a high risk of returning to prison.

The overwhelming preponderance of empirical evidence shows that putting people in jail, especially for minor offenses, increases crime.  So the actions of our city council are beneficial.

And as our new city council transitions to a more supportive and investing form of government interaction with people, one of the most important policies has not yet been progressively addressed.  Gentrification in New Orleans.  And just as not putting people in jail for minor offenses as a way to reduce crime is counter intuitive for many, so too are the best case approaches to manage gentrification.

Gentrification is not the same as revitalization.  Revitalization maintains the affordability of neighborhoods.  Gentrification causes displacement.  Direct displacement is a rent increase.  Exclusionary displacement describes people who remain in changing neighborhoods but cannot afford the new neighborhood.

The COSTS OUTWEIGH THE BENEFITS

Governments often welcome gentrification as a way to increase tax revenue.  The propaganda around gentrification is that the neighborhood “improvements” reduce crime, improve schools and improve the quality of life for all residents.  But that’s not true according to Dr. Stacey Sutton, professor of Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois Chicago. “Gentrification is a social justice issue,” according to Sutton.   “Gentrification causes cultural and economic barriers.” Gentrification causes social segregation.  Schools test scores drop and crime increases. These counterintuitive outcomes are like the unexpected consequences of putting people in jail for minor offenses.  Big cities across the globe have all suffered similar fates.  New Orleans leaders should take the time to understand this universal phenomenon and not subscribe to the tired propaganda of real estate investors who only seek fast cash.

PROTECT OUR NEIGHBORHOODS

Displacement disrupts people’s lives.  And most importantly, displacement is an integral part of gentrification.  Displacement of people from their homes and neighborhoods.  In fact, because of this displacement of people from neighborhoods, crime increases, schools deteriorate and the quality of life is improved only for a few.  The increase in property tax valuations is more than offset by the increases in crime and lower test scores seen as a result of the gentrification.

WHO AND WHAT DO YOU VALUE

There are alternatives to gentrification.  While free market dynamics are important, the culture and substance of New Orleans neighborhoods are more important.  The people who live in family houses passed through generations or renters who struggle in low wage jobs are the people who play the music, and sew the costumes and cook the food we all claim make our city unique.

Preserving this character is priceless and worth more than the often promised increase property tax revenues.  And since the resulting social costs offset the new revenue, a more thoughtful approach is in order.  Our elected leaders need creative property tax measures that simultaneously raise property taxes while protecting the property rights of generational homeowners.  Further, rent controls must protect the working class – who are mired in a fight for living wages.

NOLA is a unique city.  Not homogenized, full of traditions and centuries of character, we must properly preserve and protect our culture.  We need to improve.  We need to get better. And we need to stay the same.
 

Whispers of gentrification still swirl around New Orleans, which experienced a significant population shift after Katrina. At least 75 percent of the 100,000 Hurricane Katrina survivors who returned to New Orleans found higher rents, higher property taxes, and other by-products of gentrification.  Mixed-use housing replaced public housing complexes. Translation -there were fewer affordable units.  

Gentrification in New Orleans is no longer the subject of quiet backroom discussions. It’s a fact. New Orleans is the fifth on a list of the top 20 most gentrified cities in America.

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) released a report entitled Gentrification and Disinvestment 2020. It analyzed data from the American Community Survey (ACS). The ASC collected this data from 2008-2012 and 2013-2017. They examined neighborhood change and gentrification. Read a copy of the full report here

“An analysis of New Orleans specific data reveals highly concentrated gentrification in economically vulnerable neighborhoods, placing many families at risk of displacement. By these measures, New Orleans is now the 5th-most intensely gentrifying US city, and the threat of displacement is only increasing,” according to the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center.

Evidence of gentrification in the 504 is apparent. Formerly Black communities are now more ethnically diverse. Lots of people came to help rebuild the city. Many were white students or professionals who saw  once-in-a-lifetime bonanza of cheap houses and land.  The likes of which did not exist anywhere else.

Where else could a house be purchased from the state—which bought abandoned homes way below market rates—for $30,000?  

 Newcomers to New Orleans brought their cultural influences, some good and some bad. New cafes, pop-up businesses, community art, community gardens, co-op groceries added value to neighborhoods east of Canal Street.

 However, the city’s Department of Transportation’s plan to create 600 miles of a connected network of low-stress bikeways and walkways reaching every corner of Orleans Parish is not.  Creating safe pathways for bicyclists to ride on New Orleans streets is a good thing. But the impact of the over-the-top bike master plan has prioritized bikers’ needs over auto drivers.

Citizens who own cars can no longer park on the streets in front of their homes. Somehow, the fact that New Orleans streets, specifically that east of Canal Street, were designed for horses and buggies and are narrow one-way streets seems not to have mattered to the bike safety planners.

Amàndi Images ©

Understandably, safety measures for bicyclists were necessary to prevent tragedies like the deaths of three bicyclists in ten days in 2019.

In response to calls for protection for bicyclists, the New Orleans City Council passed bicycle safety ordinances, and Mayor Cantrell’s Department of Transportation launched the Moving New Orleans Bikes master plan. Moving New Orleans Bikes.

“At least some funding for the bike master plan, roughly $2.6 million, was provided by People for Bikes, a Colorado-based coalition of bicycling suppliers and retailers. The city matched that amount with money it has allocated for infrastructure projects and expects to provide even more funding as the plan is implemented,” David Lee Simmons, a Cantrell spokesman,” told Jessica Williams, Advocate reporter, in 2019.

“While we know that these changes can be disruptive in the short run, we are anticipating major benefits to people who live, work or visit the corridors in this network,” said Simmons.

Amàndi Images ©

Disruptive?

Disruptive is an understatement. Not only are the protected bike lanes ugly, but they have caused traffic congestion and a lack of parking in residential communities. Additionally, in some parts of the city with protected bike lanes, very you see few bicyclists using the routes.

This “connected network” of bike lanes represents a tax-payer-funded service for a small minority of the city’s population who ride bicycles to the detriment of the majority.

Equally disturbing are the rules motor vehicles must follow relative to bicycles. For example, motor vehicles shall yield the right of way to bicycles. In emergencies, a motor vehicle can use the bike lane “in accordance with the normal standards of prudent conduct to protect the driver and others from harm.” Also, “Where bicycles and vehicles share the street: a car must stay at least 3 feet away from the bike when passing.”

Before Katrina, bicycling was merely a past-time that few residents enjoyed. However, bicycling newcomers formed coalitions. They raised funds, and began lobbying the city to create specialized pathways for bikers. 

What’s interesting is that certain areas in the city seem to be exempt from protected bicycle lanes. Maybe St. Charles Avenue, Bourbon Street, and Canal Street will have protected bike lanes one day, but currently, there are none. How about on Poydras Street? Uptown? The Garden District?

Cars or Bikes?

The bikeway network in Orleans Parish currently boasts more than 100 miles of on- and off-street bikeways. More residents own cars than bicycles. Why is it that beautiful, narrow thoroughfares like Esplanade Avenue have been narrowed even more to accommodate a bike path?

However, Esplanade Avenue residents have it better than others. They have a parking lane in front of their houses. On North Galvez Street, from Elysian Fields to Franklin Avenue, residents can’t park in front of their homes. They have to park across the street in front of the homes of other residents.

For all the talk of bicyclists needing a “fair share” of the streets, where is the fair share of neighborhood streets for residents who live in those communities?

The holiday’s 156-year history holds a lot of meaning in the fight for Black liberation today. By Fabiola Cineas

A year after protests for racial justice swept the nation, propelling conversations on how to improve conditions for Black lives, the country is getting ready to celebrate the 156th anniversary of one of its earliest liberation moments: Juneteenth.

A portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they were free from the institution of slavery. But, woefully, this was almost two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. As much as Juneteenth represents freedom, it also represents howemancipation was tragically delayed for enslaved people in the deepest reaches of the Confederacy.

The first Juneteenth in 1866 was celebrated with food, singing, and the reading of spirituals — and it commemorated newly freed Black peopletaking pride in their progress.Today, Juneteenth celebrations span the world, with the global diaspora adopting the day as one to recognize emancipation at large.

After being largely ignored in schools, recognition of the day has also grown in recent years, especially amid a climate seeking justice for Black lives — a new Gallop poll found that most Americans now know about Juneteenth. And just this week, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

While the past year has shown that some factions in America are willing to fight against the systemic racism that continues to plague the country, others are introducing legislation to ban anti-racist education, lessons that would help students understand the significance of a holiday like Juneteenth. As the American public continues to grapple with how to talk about slavery and its enduring consequences, the national recognition of Juneteenth would be at least a start to acknowledging the harmful way America was built and the foundational contributions of the enslaved.

Setting the foundation for Juneteenth

Often referred to as the Second American Revolution, the Civil War began in 1861 between northern and southern states over slavery and economic power. A year into the war, the US Congress passed the Confiscation Act of 1862, which authorized Union troops to seize Confederate property, including enslaved people. (The act also allowed the Union army to recruit Black soldiers.) Months later, on January 1, 1863, President Lincoln affirmed the aims of the act by issuing the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. The document declared that “all persons held as slaves … are, and henceforth, shall be free.”

While the proclamation legally liberated millions of enslaved people in the Confederacy, it exempted those in the Union-loyal border states of Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky. These states held Confederate sympathies and could have seceded; Lincoln exempted them from the proclamation to prevent this. A year later, in April 1864, the Senate attempted to close this loophole by passing the 13th Amendment, prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude in all states, Union and Confederate. But the amendment wouldn’t be enacted by ratification until December 1865. In other words, it took two years for the emancipation of enslaved people to materialize legally.

A group of formerly enslaved people who worked as laborers and servants with the 13th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War, circa 1862.

Not to mention, the ratification happened after the Civil War had alreadyended — in April 1865, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia. Enslaved people in Texas, meanwhile, didn’t learn about their freedom until three months later. On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union army arrived in Galveston and issued General Order No. 3 that secured the Union army’s authority over Texas. The order stated the following:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, ‘all slaves are free.’ This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

Still, even under Order No. 3, as historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. noted, freedom wasn’t automatic for Texas’s 250,000 enslaved people. “On plantations, masters had to decide when and how to announce the news — or wait for a government agent to arrive — and it was not uncommon for them to delay until after the harvest,” he wrote.

Emancipation came gradually for many enslaved people, the culmination of a century of American abolition efforts, North and South. And even still, the formerly enslaved were viewed as chattel that merely existed to work and produce.

Juneteenth symbolized hope — that was quickly quashed

According to Gates, newly freed Black women and men rallied around Juneteenth in the first year it was recognized, transforming it from a “day of unheeded military orders into their own annual rite.”

The first Juneteenth celebration took place in 1866 in Texas with community gatherings, including sporting events, cookouts, prayers, dances, parades, and the singing of spirituals like “Many Thousands Gone” and “Go Down Moses.” Some events even featured fireworks, which involved filling trees with gunpowder and setting them on fire.

At the core of the celebrations was a desire to record group gains since emancipation, “an occasion for gathering lost family members, measuring progress against freedom and inculcating rising generations with the values of self-improvement and racial uplift,” Gates wrote.

Communities would read the Emancipation Proclamation as part of the tradition, which was especially significant during Reconstruction, when the holiday reinforced hope. Reconstruction (1863-1890) was a time to rebuild the Southern economy and society through the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments which gave Black people freedom, due process, and the right to vote — Black-run Southern governments, and the work of the Freedmen’s Bureau, among other efforts.

President Rutherford B. Hayes oversaw the end of Reconstruction. After the Civil War, reformers aimed to rebuild society through the passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, black-run Southern governments, and the work of the Freedmen’s Bureau.

But the goals of Reconstruction were consistently countered by white supremacists. For example, Democratic Congress members awarded Republican Rutherford B. Hayes the 1876 presidential election in exchange for the withdrawal of Union troops from the South, according to historian Richard M. Valelly’s The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement. After Hayes’s win, leaders at the state and local levels “weakened black voting in the South by means of gerrymandering, violence, and intimidation,” Valelly wrote.

Then in 1890, Mississippians drafted a white supremacist state constitution to disenfranchise local Black people; it included provisions that required people to be able to read and understand all parts of the state constitution in order to vote, according to the New York Times. This barred thousands of illiterate Black people from voting in the 1890s.

Meanwhile, the Federal Elections Bill, or Lodge Bill, to oversee Southern elections failed in the summer of 1890, effectively closing the last window for national voting rights jurisprudence for decades to come. This signaled the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of Jim Crow. “Once black southerners were disenfranchised by the early 1900s, the stage was set for a systematic entrenchment of white supremacist norms and public policies,” Valelly wrote.

Then, and now,the symbolism and spirit behind Juneteenth remain sorely needed.

Over time, Juneteenth spread to neighboring states like Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and eventually to California as Black Texans moved west; it also appeared in Florida and Alabama in the early 20th centurydue to migration from Texas, wrote historian Alwyn Barr in The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 4: Myths, Manners, and Memory.

Perceptions of Juneteenth have also changed over the past century. During World War I, white people and some Black people even considered it un-American, unpatriotic, and shameful “because it focused attention on a dark period in U.S. history,” according to the authors of the academic article “When Peace Come: Teaching the Significance of Juneteenth.”

According to Barr, Juneteenth observations declined in the 1940s during World War II but were revived in 1950 “with 70,000 black people on the Texas State Fair grounds at Dallas.” The celebrations would decline again as attention went to school desegregation and the civil rights movement in the late 1950s and 1960s but picked back up in the 1970s as advocates in Texas launched the first effort to make Juneteenth an unofficial “holiday of significance … particularly to the blacks of Texas.”

On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became a Texas state holiday after state Rep. Al Edwards put forth legislation. Since that move, 48 states and Washington, DC, now commemorate the day as a holiday or observance.

For more than a decade, Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has introduced a resolution to recognize the historical significance of Juneteenth. In 2020, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) singlehandedly blocked it on the grounds that America could not afford another day off for federal workers. This year, the legislation passed unanimously in the Senate to make Juneteenth a national holiday and now heads to the Housewhere it is expected to pass.

The shift in opinions and recognition of Juneteenth

Juneteenth has been called many things over time: Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, Juneteenth National Freedom Day, Juneteenth Independence Day, and Black Independence Day. And yet despite the many monikers, Juneteenth has faced competition from other emancipation holidays and has been unknown to many Americans — until perhaps last year, when widespread protests for racial justice coincided with the day.

In 2020, corporations pledged to be anti-racist and many recognized Juneteenth as a company holiday. Citiesalso took steps to specifically recognize Juneteenth at the municipal level. For example, Philadelphia, the site of one of the country’s largest Juneteenth parades, passed an executive order designating Juneteenth as an official city holiday for 2020. “This designation of Juneteenth represents my administration’s commitment to reckon with our own role in maintaining racial inequities and our understanding of the magnitude of work that lies ahead,” said the city’s mayor, Jim Kenney.

Performers during the 48th Annual Juneteenth Day Festival in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on June 19, 2019.

One reason Juneteenth’s history has remained widely misunderstood, or even unknown, until recently is because it’s not often taught in schools. Karlos Hill, an author and University of Oklahoma professor of African and African American studies, told Vox in 2018 that “Juneteenth as a moment in African-American history is not, to my knowledge, taught.” As for history textbooks that already tend to whitewash history, “I would be willing to guess that there are few, if any, mentions of this holiday,” Hill said.

In “Teaching the Significance of Juneteenth,” Shennette Garrett-Scott and others wrote, “It is sometimes hard to teach small but pivotal moments in American history. Survey classes mostly allow for covering the biggest events and the most well known people.” But to help students understand major moments like the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is important to teach the smaller historical milestones. To Garrett-Scott, teaching Juneteenth gives students a fuller picture of the long, enduring fight for freedom.

Another obstacle that remains for Juneteenth is the pervasive idea that it’s a “Black thing,” much like Kwanzaa. “It is seen as a holiday that is just observed by African Americans and is poorly understood outside of the African American community. It is perceived as being part of black culture and not ‘American culture,’ so to speak,” Hill said.

Now,the meaning of Juneteenth is being seized more broadly by activists as an opportunity for the United States to come to terms with how slavery continues to affect the lives of all Americans today—it is something for everyone, of every race, to engage in. Stereotypes about Black people as being subhuman and lacking rationality are rooted inslavery. These harmful notions still rear themselves today as police officers disproportionately kill Black people and the health care system fails to adequately care for Black bodies. Advocates argue that the national holiday obviously wouldn’t put an end to racism but would rather help foster dialogue about the trauma that has resulted from the enslavement of 4 million people for more than 250 years.

This year, Juneteenth will be commemorated with protests, marches, and opportunities for healing and joy across the country.It will also be celebrated as it has been for decades, with cookouts and parades as well as church gatherings and spirituals, keeping in touch with the original tradition. In 1937, formerly enslaved man Pierce Harper recalled the first Juneteenth: “When peace come they read the ‘Mancipation law to the cullud people. [The freed people] spent that night singin’ and shoutin’. They wasn’t slaves no more.”

Gary Carters’ landslide victory was predictable.  But his was just the first domino to fall in the upcoming political season that will be thrilling and fun to watch.  Some races will pit heavyweight names against each other.  Political alliances will be tested.  Old school politics and new age thinking face off. Young versus old.  Established versus the past. City council races matter.

Let’s look at the easiest through the most competitive.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE DISTRICT 102

The easiest and least expensive race will be the special election to replace Gary Carter. His house seat is now vacant, and no seat can be open in the state legislature.  The governor must call a special election.  Two weeks ago, we talked about the complexity of this election for westbank politicians.  Click here to read all about it.  This will be an inexpensive and easy to win seat.  Possible candidates include real estate broker Delisha Boyd, Stephanie Bridges, D’Juan Hernandez. Longtime community activist Kenneth Cutno and a city hall neighborhood engagement specialist Steven Musgrove might also enter the race. 

CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT C

Kristen G. Palmer is not seeking reelection to her city council seat.  This opening creates more westbank political intrigue.  The same candidates who could qualify for the state house seat are the potential entrants in this race.  Behind the scenes jockeying and political maneuvering are intense on the westbank now.  Winning or losing the House seat virtually eliminates the candidate from this race. And a city council race could easily top $400,000 to win as opposed to the $25,000 it would take to win a special election house seat.  Additionally, more high-profile candidates like Roy Glapion or Nadine Ramsey might enter and making winning much more difficult.

CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT E

New Orleans East has long been a political hotbed.  From one term incumbents to fiery debates, New Orleans East has birthed legendary politicians like Sherman Copelin and Cynthia Willard Lewis. And current city Council person Cindi Nguyen is known for being everywhere across her district.  She says she has been on nearly every street in her district.  The people know her. 

The biggest district in the city is as diverse as it is wide.  From the exclusive Eastover neighborhood to Little Woods and the Lower 9, the district provides the city’s biggest property tax base.  But a large field of well-known candidates is ramping up to challenge the popular councilmember. Former state rep John Bagneris, Sherman’s daughter -Michon Copelin, community activist Venessa Gueringer, and the biggest surprise Oliver Thomas are all looking at entering the race.  With such a large field a runoff seems likely.  Will Oliver Thomas have a compelling message that resonates with voters?  Has Cindy Nguyen done enough to satisfy the demanding citizens of the district?  Will one of the other candidates attract enough voters and squeak into the runoff?

CITY COUNCIL AT LARGE

This race for the most powerful council seat has attracted the biggest names.  Kristen Palmer decided to run citywide.  Leaving her District C seat, Ms. Palmer said, “I can accomplish more as a leader of the council than I can as a member.”  She will face another council member in Jared Brosset.  He is term limited but wants to continue his career serving citywide.  Former state senator JP Morrell is yet another big name in this race.  He has waited in the wings since being termed out of his senate seat.  Another recognizable name is Timothy Ray.  He served as the interim clerk of first city court. Although he lost to current clerk Austin Badon, Ray picked up over 30,000 votes.

The biggest issues for voters will be crime, economic development, Sewerage and Water Board billing, Entergy rates and crumbling infrastructure. 

The  “new normal” of the U.S. economy is sending shockwaves across companies’ bottom lines as owners and managers struggle to staff up.

“The U.S. is experiencing a labor shortage, especially in the labor and hospitality sector,” says Daniel Zhao, a senior economist at Glassdoor, a job and recruiting site.

Republican elected officials and some business owners blame the labor shortage on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PAU), a federal subsidy that pays an extra $300 per week in unemployment benefits.

“The most vocal source of speculation [for labor shortages] is that the supplement to weekly unemployment benefits is enticing a lot of people to stay home,” said Erica Groshen, a labor economist at Cornell University and a former commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics during the Obama administration. “I think that’s far too simplistic,” he told CNBC.

At least 25 Republican-led states believe the benefits are keeping people home, so they’re opting out of the PUA three months before the program expires to force workers to return to the workforce.

Also, a handful of the states are offering return-to-work bonuses of up to $2,000 in place of the enhanced unemployment benefits, though there are caveats like limited availability.

New Orleans businesses are also feeling the pain of staff shortages.

“We could easily hire 20 to 24 people today. I need them,” Drago’s owner Tommy Cvitanovich told Fox 8.  Cvitanovich thinks some people are making more on unemployment than they can on the job.

 “At the end of the day, $547 a week is too much. People stay home, and we have to compete against that,” said Cvitanovich.

Metro Services Group co-founder and CEO Jimmy Woods, Sr. says his company needs at least 20 drivers with CDLs (Commercial Driver License) and two years of experience. “We’ve probably lost eight to nine drivers to our competitors,” Woods explains. Metro’s competitors are paying drivers more than Metro can pay. “We’re in a bidding war,” he adds. And Metro’s ability to pay their drivers is locked into an outdated contract with the city. Static wage rates are baked in the contract. So Metro has little to no wiggle room. 

New competitors in the metropolitan area, in Jefferson, and other parishes are driving salaries up. Also, the pandemic prompted some employees to leave the company and start businesses.

Metro pays drivers from $15 to $21 per hour, depending on experience. Hoppers earn at least $11.40 per hour.

“That’s not the ceiling of what we pay; that’s the base. Most make more than that!”

Jimmie Woods – Metro Disposal

The entrepreneur says the company’s contract with the City of New Orleans is one reason for Metro’s inability to pay a living wage. In the fourth year of its seven-year contract, Metro’s $13 per household bid for three visits to each home per month is not enough to offer higher salaries.

The company has had to pull drivers from its other companies to fill the labor gap. “We have to import CDL drivers every week for ten days at a time and put them up in hotels to meet contract requirements.”  

Metro is losing money. In the past, Metro got a royalty for picking up recyclables. Now, the company pays to dispose of the materials. “When China pulled out of the program, the bottom fell out of the recycling market.”

Woods says he’s continuing to push through and look for innovative ways to bring CDL drivers aboard. Of those who have stuck with him through hard times, Woods said, “I tip my hat to our workers. I can’t thank them enough.”

Are New Orleanians willing to pay higher water bills to account for the new economics surrounding trash collection?  A $10 per month increase would allow the city to pay garbage contractors more. Doing that stops the collection gaps. 

Also, pandemic lockdowns might be partly to blame for the labor shortage. But a wage reckoning by workers who refuse to return to jobs paying poverty wages could be the primary cause of the hiring shortfall.

Economists the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is not a living wage. Even a person earning $15 an hour is only grossing about $31,000 annually. That’s not enough to purchase a home in the suddenly gentrified New Orleans real estate market.

“The median necessary living wage across the entire U.S. is $67,690. The living wage in Louisiana is $63,842,” Business Insider reports.

The “living wage” is defined as the income you need to cover necessary and discretionary expenses while still contributing to savings. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the 50/30/20 budgeting rule — which allocates 50% of your income to necessities, 30% to discretionary expenses, and 20% to savings —GOBankingRates published a study of each state’s living wage.

“Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck. So once the pandemic hit, many didn’t have any savings to fall back on. Conservative lawmakers complain that the extra $300 a week unemployment benefits Congress enacted in March discourages people from working now. What’s really discouraging is the lack of childcare and lousy wages,” economist Robert Reich wrote in The Guardian. “Essential workers deserve far better.”

Americans’ fight for good-paying jobs is decades old. From the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs to the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the re-launch of the Poor People’s Campaign in 2018  led by Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, to the nine-year-old fight for $15, workers have continued to march and demand living wages.

Feeling the pressure of workers’ demands and strikes, a few multinational corporations, including Amazon, Costco, Target, and Best Buy raised salaries to $15 per hour, even before the pandemic hit.

But workers’ demands fall on deaf ears in Congress. However, if the Senate passes SB1, $15 per hour becomes the federal minimum wage.

The pandemic has caused a paradigm shift in the fight for living wages. The labor market will never be the same. People are starting businesses, returning to school, and finding other ways to earn a living wage.

Reich, a former U.S. secretary of labor and  professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, offers advice for returning the labor market to normal:

“Workers are always essential. We couldn’t have survived without millions of warehouse, delivery, grocery, and hospital workers risking their lives. Yet, most of these workers are paid squat. Most essential workers don’t have health insurance or paid leave.”

‘The Stock Market isn’t the economy. Stop using the stock market as a measure of economic wellbeing. Look instead at the percentage of Americans who are working and their median pay.’

How will corporations cope with this new paradigm?  New Orleans is a great example.  Are citizens willing to offset the higher wages by paying more in fees?

STATE SENATOR CALLS FOR AN END TO CHARTER SCHOOL EXPERIMENT.

By C.C. Campbell-Rock

Are charter schools actually good? Or should they be closed? When Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signs Louisiana Senate Bill 95 into law this month, the Orleans Parish School Board will regain legislative power stripped from the elected body 15 years ago by legislators and state education officials. In New Orleans maybe we will get to answer the questions.

Once signed, SB 95 will allow a simple majority on the OPSB to determine whether to renew or cancel charter school contracts instead of the supermajority mandated in ACT 91.

Senator Joe Bouie

“Senate Bill 95 is significant because it returns the statutory authority to override the superintendent’s recommendation for charter school contracts, says State Senator Joseph Bouie, the bill’s primary sponsor. The law is the first step in what Bouie hopes will be the fundamental reform of a privatized charter school system with no accountability or oversight.

“Now the new Board will have a real opportunity, Henderson will be gone, to take back the schools. When contacts come up for renewal, the School Board can decide to take back schools.”

NOLA-PS Superintendent Henderson Lewis, Jr. told reporters he wouldn’t renew his contract, which expires on June 30, 2022.

The former SUNO Chancellor has championed the return of the public schools to the elected Board since being elected to the Louisiana Legislature. “That’s what I’m here for. I took up the challenge,” he adds.

“Our state chose the experimental charter model. There is no way in the world we should have allowed our children to be experimented on. What they (government officials) did was illegal, unethical, immoral, and unconstitutional,” Bouie adds. They fired more than 7,000 teachers, spent over $7 billion, and miseducated and uneducated our children.”

Bouie maintains that the state lied about schools failing in New Orleans. He likened the takeover to the “Tuskegee Experiment,” where unsuspecting Blacks were the subjects of medical experiments.  “We have outsourced the education of our children to private entities. We allowed others to educate our students. They’re doing worse than before.”

Bouie points out that only 25% of students were reading on grade level when the takeover occurred. “Today, 75% are not reading on grade level.,” he said, referring to data reported in Whose Choice? The New Orleans Experiment, a Stanford University study. Stanford

“When they changed the law in 2003, more than 50 school districts, statewide, we’re failing,” Bouie said. “New Orleans only had four failing schools, but the state only took over Orleans Parish public schools.”

States were allowed to open “public” charter schools under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB) if schools didn’t meet the Adequate Yearly Progress standard after five years.

Louisiana didn’t even give Orleans Parish schools five years to meet the AYP standard. Leslie Jacobs, a BESE member, the self-described architect of education accountability, cooked up the New Orleans Public Schools takeover with then-Louisiana Education Secretary Cecil Picard.

Former BESE Member Leslie Jacobs

“In 2005, when Katrina hit, state education officials changed the school definition for failing from a 60 to an 87,” Bouie explained. The state took over 100 public schools in New Orleans.

Jacobs admitted as much during an interview with the authors of Agents of Change:

“I went to the superintendent, Cecil Picard, in Lafayette,” [former Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) member Leslie] Jacobs told us, “and I said, ‘This is how we take the rest of the [New Orleans] schools over let’s change the definition of failing school and require BESE to take over the schools.'”

Bouie maintains that Jacobs and other education officials didn’t do what NCLB law directed. They didn’t collect data for 15 years. “Show me the data where charters are doing great. Stanford shows they lied and changed the way we measure student performance. If the charters are so good, why didn’t they replicate them in other areas of the state?”

A State Legislative Auditor Report ordered by Louisiana Education Superintendent Cade Brumley and released in March advised the NOLA-PS to collect data to determine what works and include them in charter contracts. Citing the autonomy of the charters, Superintendent Lewis says the NOLA-PS began collecting data in 2020. IDENTIFYING SCHOOL PRACTICES THAT IMPACT ACADEMIC OUTCOMES IN ORLEANS PARISH CHARTER SCHOOLS

Lewis presided over four schools and rebranded the system, NOLA-PS, but there’s no public school system in New Orleans. The so-called Unification law, ACT 91, passed by the Legislature in 2016, mandated the return of the charter schools to the Orleans Parish School Board. By July 2018.

However, Act 91 is not a unification law. It’s a farce. It returns most schools, except those that the RSD is still constructing and those run by BESE or the LDE. The charter schools remain fully autonomous. The OPSB has no say in any decisions made by charter operators. ACT 91 – pg 6

The taking of the Orleans Parish Public Schools was about money and race.

Former Senator Karen Carter Peterson

White legislators got Ann Duplessis, a former state senator, and State Senator Karen Carter Peterson, to sponsor Act 35 and Act 91. These Black lawmakers aided and abetted the White politicians in taking power and money from the predominately Black school system and put it in the hands of White charter school operators.

The top-performing charter schools were exempt from the One App enrollment system, and their student bodies are predominately White. Jacobs brought in young, white, uncertified aspiring teachers, under the auspices of Teach for America, to take the place of certified, experienced Black teachers. Her power grab has had a disparate effect on Black students.

 “Among many findings, the research shows that New Orleans reforms have created a set of schools that are highly stratified by race, class, and educational advantage, operating in a hierarchy that provides very different types of schools and to different types of children. While some have a choice; others do not: both access and educational quality differ substantially, with the most vulnerable students least likely to experience the stability and supportive environments they need.,” the Stanford study found.

Erase The Board supports school board candidates and tracks money allocated to charter operators. The coalition holds a particular disdain for ACT 91 and State Senator Karen Carter Peterson, its sponsor. They’ve posted her campaign contribution on their Facebook page and Henderson Lewis’ annual salaries. Thus far, Lewis has received $2 million during his nearly seven-year tenure.

“Let’s put things into perspective. Seventy-eight schools in New Orleans are currently operated by 38 different Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) instead of directly run by OPSB/NOLAPS. Of those 38 CMOs, the combined salaries of 20 CEOs is $4,212,000.00,” the group posted on its website. Erase The Board

“The OPSB should replace Henderson with a superintendent who knows how to run schools to improve student performance,” Bouie advises. We need certified teachers and a certified curriculum. We need to end the experiment. And we should stop participating in it and directly run the schools.”

by Alan J. Steinberg M.D.

The science is clear: Meditation reduces stress and helps manage mental illness.

KEY POINTS

  • Meditation has been associated with reduced stress, improved mental health, and greater empathy and creativity.
  • Meditation originates from ancient Ayurvedic philosophy, but can also fit into modern medical care as an adjunct treatment.
  • Patients struggling with depression, anxiety, stress, or other mental health challenges could see significant improvement from meditation.
 javi_indy/Shutterstock

Source: javi_indy/Shutterstock

Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month, this is an excellent time for mental health professionals to become reacquainted with meditation’s potential as an adjunctive treatment for most mental illnesses. As a practicing primary-care physician for over 35 years, it is clear to me that the single greatest cause of suffering in my patients has been mental illness. Cancer causes pain—emotional and physical. Colds and flus cause discomfort and annoying symptoms. Heart disease results in disability and early death. But mental illness towers over all of these as a life-long, difficult to treat medical problem.

The research on meditation is clear. Multiple studies have shown that have shown that people who meditate are less stressed, more relaxed, more empathetic, more creative, and less mentally ill. It is my contention that mental health professionals, including primary-care physicians, should routinely recommend meditation to our patients because of its proven ability to calm and stabilize our physiology.

What is Meditation?

Meditation was first was described in Ayurvedic philosophy. Ayurveda is a natural system of medicine which originated in India more than 3,000 years ago. The term Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science)—science of life.

Ayurvedic theory suggests that in every instant of our perceptions there are three elements: the subject, the “I,” the experiencer, or the Self with a capital “S.” Then, there is the object of our perceptions—which includes our sensations, our feelings, our memories, and who we see as ourselves—our self with a little “s.”

Finally, between the subject and object there is the process of perception. That self with a little “s” is an object of perception. According to Ayurveda, the self with a little “s” is not the subject, the “I,” or the real Self. I will explain.

I am a primary care physician working with the Cedars-Sinai Medical Group in Beverly Hills. Yes I am one of the team physicians for the Los Angeles Clippers. And I am a father. I am a husband. All of those things that “I am” are things I see myself as being. Behind all those things that I am is the I, the subject, the Self. The physician, the father, the husband—all are objects of perception that I see myself as; those are my self.

Thousands of years ago, Ayurvedic philosophers posited that contacting or experiencing the I, or the Self, through meditation would result in a state of deep relaxation; this, in turn, would be healing to the meditator’s mind and body, or self with a little “s.”

What is it about experiencing the I that would lead to such a prediction? Ayurveda posits that the I, or the Self, of each of us, at our core, is an ocean of silence that is beyond problems, anxiety, fear, and stress. Coming into contact with that, even for a moment, would provide sanctuary and respite from the outside world that contained those issues.

And indeed, current-day meditators do report that the problems of our world seem to be a less problematic after meditating. Even if you don’t accept Ayurveda’s explanation of how meditation works, the studies show (look here, and here, and here) that meditation does work—and works well.

Ayurvedic theory anticipated that the effects of becoming aware of your I during meditation would have profoundly beneficial effects on mental health. Ayurveda hypothesized that meditators becoming directly aware of their I would cause a deeply relaxed but non-drowsy state of restful alertness. This deeply relaxed yet wakeful state of physiology described in ancient Ayurvedic texts was confirmed and demonstrated by one of the original studies done on a widely practiced form of Ayurvedic meditation called Transcendental Meditation (TM), which is an easy to learn, easy to do mental technique.

This simple, and at the time, groundbreaking experiment [1] was done in 1971. The study showed that subjects who practiced TM even for a short time became physiologically calmer, more stable, and less labile. Even when they weren’t meditating. This physiological calming and stabilization outside of meditation has been repeatedly demonstrated during subsequent studies on TM and some other forms of meditation.

In summary, Ayurvedic philosophy correctly predicted thousands of years ago that meditation would produce a unique, wakeful hypometabolic physiological state. It said that this state of mind and body would be easy to induce with a simple mental technique it called meditation. That relaxed state was theorized to heal many of the afflictions that commonly cause pain and suffering. Over the last fifty years, that theory has been supported by multiple scientific studies.

Based on this scientifically confirmed theory, mental health professionals should be open to recommending not only modern treatments to improve mental health but also open to recommending the Ayurvedic practice of meditation. Mental Health Awareness Month is an excellent time to start recommending meditation to all our patients.

Drew Brees Gets An Early Retirement Present 

They say the NFL is a copy cat league. A league where one team tries to mimic the successful blueprint laid out by another. Well apparently Drew Brees and Demario Davis have taken that mentality. And they applied it to the areas of economic development and submitting business proposals to the city as well.

Drew Brees cheating off of Troy Henry’s paper wasn’t the headline of any local news reports last week. But that’s exactly what happened. The East New Orleans Neighborhood Advisory Commission (ENONAC) held a meeting this past Tuesday. One of the key agenda items was reviewing the two remaining proposals to redevelop the long dormant Six Flags site.

The Brees led group bombed the first time out. If it was Showtime at the Apollo, they would have been led off stage by the Sandman. The New Orleans East community supports new entertainment opportunities and other businesses that create jobs. But Drew Brees’ group originally centered their proposal around turning Six Flags into a farm and transportation hub. 

“I felt we weren’t framing our project in a way that highlighted the interests of the community,” said Demario Davis. He uttered this major understatement during the opening minutes of the (ENONAC) meeting last week. 

Drew Brees and Demario Davis Should Be Ashamed

Home Team Hits Home Run

Meanwhile, Troy Henry’s group knocked it out the park (pun intended). They proposed upgrading the Six Flags into a site that would house

  • an indoor/outdoor amusement park,
  • restaurants, hotels,
  • a golf course,
  • along with the transportation hub requested by the city. 

 This would all be Bayou Phoenix.

“It is exactly what this community has requested, what it needs, and what it wants” 

Tangie Wall of New Orleans East Matters.

Seemingly, the selection committee judging the proposals agreed. What they couldn’t agree on though was rightfully awarding the contract to Bayou Phoenix. Instead of awarding the contract on the day they promised, the committee gave the Brees/Davis led group 30 more days to revise their proposal.

Three weeks later, it was hard to tell to the two proposals apart. AMAZING!

Suddenly, at the ENONAC meeting Davis revealed that amusement and entertainment had been a big part of their proposal all along. It was all just a matter of poor communication. As Brees walked the committee through the “refocused” version of his group’s proposal, it became hard to tell if they had inadvertently loaded Bayou Phoenix’s slides on to their computer. Instantaneously, there was a water park, restaurants, an amphitheater, talk of community uplifting and engagement. The farm, once the selling point of their original unfocused proposal, was now a backdrop, only mentioned as a complimentary piece to what they now realize the community actually needed and wanted. Troy Henry and his Bayou Phoenix partners could only fume.

“They say imitation is the purest form of flattery,” Henry said during a phone interview. Well, he must’ve been flattered to the bone, watching his idea be repackaged and stolen.

The committee has set a bad precedent with the way they have handled this process.  

Regardless of how this eventually turns out, future developers who plan on doing business with the city may end up feeling a bit skittish. Here it is as a developer you go out and do your due diligence of engaging the community. You actually listen to their wants and needs. Then you create a plan built around those meetings only to see your idea stolen because the city’s committee allowed another group to cheat off your paper.

The community is not standing down. New Orleans East Matters has teamed up with local clergy, hoping that there is strength in numbers. “We just want to be heard,” said Wall. And as she has said before, the community feels that Henry and his Bayou Phoenix partners were the ones who initially engaged them. Henry’s group came up with a proposal built around their needs, so for them Bayou Phoenix is the one who should be awarded the deal.

“This is not just about The East,” said Wall, “Bayou Phoenix can be an asset not just the East but to city as well.”

The NFL might call it being a copycat, but in real life, stealing somebody’s business proposal, ain’t just competition.

This Friday, June 11th, will mark 30 days. We’ll see if the committee agrees. For more information stay tuned.

Why was Drew Brees led group given extra time to improve their proposal?

The city of New Orleans’ response to the proposals to redevelop the abandoned Jazzland amusement park in New Orleans East was umm, shall we call it perplexing. Did the city really pass on a superior proposal that the community clearly favored to allow Drew Brees to redo his proposal that the community rejected?

Maybe not. But it might as well had. At least that would’ve been a more honest dismissal, as opposed to the shenanigans that went down. 

Imagine the scenario. The city establishes an oversight committee and puts out a call for proposals to finally transform the long abandoned Six Flags site into something not so abandoned, a site that residents of the East could be proud of. They go about this process with little input from those residents, then set a deadline for May 11th to make a final decision.  

So the moment comes. The grand unveiling. Two proposals stand out, one led by local business consultant Troy Henry. It includes an indoor/outdoor water park, a logistic center, a travel center, a hotel, a sports complex, a redeveloped Eastover Country Club, and an expansion plan to include an amusement park. The new name is Bayou Phoenix. The other is led by Drew Brees and Demario Davis. Its’ centerpiece is a local farm. The farm will be used to teach kids how to grow crops. Yes, crops. In an area as economically starved as the East, one of the top proposals was one that would use acres of land to grow crops. It would also include a water park and food truck park.

So of course the decision was a no brainer for the committee. With over 200 of the 300 responses from residents of the East that were present supporting Bayou Phoenix, the committee did the most logical and obvious thing a biased committee could do. It ranked the Drew Brees led proposal as number 1 on the list with Bayou Phoenix coming in a close 2nd.  Rather than just outright award the contract, because the two were apparently “so close”, the committee then concocted a run-off scenario. Or as they said a 30 day window for both to tweak their proposals. Then a decision will finally be made.

Why was Drew Brees team given extra time to improve their proposal? The score sheet containing the basis of the ranking was not made available to the public. But Troy Henry said that he has requested it. 

Whatever the justification, the committee’s decision left many in the community baffled. “Something is rotten at the top of the chain,” said Tangie Wall, member of N.O. East Matters. “Nobody from the committee ever asked the East how do you feel. It’s just wasn’t a fair process.” 

It’s a point that’s hard to argue with. Troy Henry is a resident of the East and a highly successful businessman. His team canvassed the community to see exactly what was wanted, needed, and financially viable. He then went out and got the financial backing for Bayou Phoenix from Hillwood, a prominent investment company, so it’s sound. The Drew Brees led proposal, on other hand, only has an iconic name behind it. But the East doesn’t need icons. It needs the economic growth that businesses will bring, as opposed to a farm.

“We looked beyond the iconic,” said Wall. And when speaking of Bayou Phoenix, she said, “We feel it will provide the substantial economic development the community needs.”

What’s needed now is for the committee to come to the same conclusion in 30 days. “We’ll be as responsive as we can be,” said Henry when asked about responding to any tweaks the committee may request. 

In the meantime, the best thing residents of the East can do is to state their preference and state it loudly.

“It’s time for the East to rise up,” said Wall. “We’re not intimidated or backing down.”   

She’s right. For too long the East has been neglected and disrespected. The committee’s decision to give the Drew Brees led group a do-over is just another example of decades of disrespect. It’s time for that to come to an end. Get in touch with our mayor and City Council representative. Let them know that what’s more important is the economic impact of the plan, not the name behind it. 

Troy Carter’s runoff beatdown of Karen Carter Peterson created a political volcanic eruption in New Orleans. As a result, the city’s politics have shifted dramatically and suddenly.  Combine the fallout of that election with term limits and political ambition, and we have one of the most competitive election seasons in decades.

This week we will start with the best bank, the Westbank.

The Westbank is like the wild wild west. The Westbank has an open Senate seat, an open city council seat, and the state representative seat.  The void created with all these open seats unleashed a new crop of politicians and political wannabes. 

WILD WILD WESTBANK

State Representative Gary Carter, Jr.

Troy Carter’s victory created the first vacancy.  The election for his Senate seat -which includes Algiers, and parts of Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes – features his nephew Gary Carter, Jr. as the frontrunner.  Also, three candidates from Plaquemines parish – State Representative Mack Cormier, Patricia McCarty, and Joanna Cappiello-Leopold- qualified to run. Adding intrigue, Cormier just defeated Cappiello-Leopold’s husband to win the state rep district 105 seat. Nearly 70% of the voters will come from Algiers, where Carter is a household name. And Gary is the current representative. The primary is set for June 12th.  The runoff if needed is July 10th. With the other candidates fighting primarily over less than 20% of the total electorate, expect Gary Carter to win outright in the primary.

When elected to the Senate seat, Gary Carter’s house seat would become available.  His victory creates a conundrum for the Westbank wannabes. The governor will be required to hold a special election.  A special election costs less and is easier to win.  Fewer people pay attention and even fewer vote in special elections.  Candidates need to motivate fewer supporters. Knocking on key doors, direct emails, targeted snail mail and radio advertising is enough to secure victory.  So candidates can land a plush job on the cheap. 

Current District C Council Person K. Gisleson-Palmer

But Kristin Gisleson-Palmer has announced that she will run at large. Meaning her more powerful district city council seat will be vacant in the fall after the special election. Therein lies the conundrum.  Running for a cheap special election will likely eliminate both the winner and the loser from serious consideration for her more desirable seat. For the winner, seat hopping is frowned upon.  But for the loser having just lost an election for a legislative seat is not a resume builder for a run at the city council.  Regardless the winner or the losers of the special election will each likely be $25,000- $40,000 lighter in the pockets. And none will be a serious contender for the city council. But they risk losing a better seat because they couldn’t afford or break through if they waited for the city council race. Poli-tricks!

Timing is a key ingredient in political victories.  The list of Westbank wannabes includes some familiar names.  But most will be first time entrants.  Attorneys Freddy King, Stephanie Bridges, D’Juan Hernandez, and a city hall neighborhood engagement specialist Steven Musgrove are all interested in serving our city.  Freddy King has worked in the community for the last few years with food and coat drives.  Ms. Bridges narrowly lost a bid for a judgeship last fall, and Mr. Hernandez is an extraordinarily successful attorney. The biggest name, Roy Glapion, has not confirmed his intention to run. Glapion is an engineer and a self made businessman. His father previously represented District D on the council. If he qualifies, he would immediately become the frontrunner.    

Roy Glapion

AT LARGE SEAT ATTRACTS BIG NAMES

Kristin Gisleson-Palmer is a big fish jumping into a pond with other big fish.  The unexpired At-Large term left when Jason Williams was elected District Attorney is one of the most powerful seats in city government.  She will face another city council member Jared Brossett and former state senator J.P. Morrell. All Democrats, this contest may come down to race in the primary and turnout in the runoff. 

We will examine the At-Large race, plus upcoming races in the other city council districts in the weeks.  Stay tuned.

                               

New Agency Helps Us All

As a city, New Orleans is no stranger to overcoming obstacles. Our location on the Gulf Coast makes us primed for climate disasters. The pandemic took its toll not only on our residents but also on our economy.  The hospitality industry was to shut down. And countless employees found themselves suddenly out of work. But one organization stepped up. Resilience Force created a jobs program that many believe can serve as a national model.

                                Resilience Force, founded by Saket Soni in 2018, is the national voice of the rising Resilience Workforce.  Millions of people work and develop the expertise to make it possible for people to return home after disasters. Resilience Force works on the frontlines of climate change and COVID-19 relief. They advocate for the creation of good, stable jobs. They make cities and communities more resilient and adaptive in the face of worsening climate disasters.

                                As an early epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Orleanians were at the forefront of an unprecedented public health and economic crisis. Seeing the critical need presented by COVID-19, Resilience Force and the City of New Orleans partnered to design and launch the New Orleans Resilience Corps.  NORC is a culturally competent and accessible health care and jobs program designed to support immediate and long-term recovery for communities most impacted by the pandemic. Soni recruited long-time labor leader LaTanja Silvester to launch the NOLA Resilience Corps.

Resilience Force

                                The Resilience Force leveraged support from The Rockefeller Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and Ford Foundation. Also they collaborated closely with the Louisiana Department of Health,  the New Orleans Health Department, and Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development to unlock federal funds. These funds started a program to train local residents to be community health workers. These jobs served as crucial public health infrastructure for the City of New Orleans. The jobs pay a living wage and create pathways to further professional opportunities.

                                The programs focus on support for the communities that have the greatest need including Gentilly, New Orleans East/Michoud, Hollygrove, The 7th Ward, and Algiers. The Resilience Corps performed critical functions in limiting the spread of COVID-19. They coordinate with contact tracers, conduct door-to-door canvassing and wellness checks, deliver food and hygiene kits, connect residents with city and state services, and more.

                                “We’re proud to be building the first Resilience Corps in New Orleans. The Resilience Corps creates a path to long term careers for those hardest hit by COVID-19 and unemployment—and those who will be impacted by the climate disasters to come,” said Soni.

                                The Resilience Corps model is designed to be replicated in communities across the country. It aims to bridge the “resilience divide” – economic and racial inequalities. These inequalities exist because of the lack of support and resources local, state, and federal governments give to Black and Brown communities to prepare for and recover from disaster. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted these communities. The pandemic is the most recent and dramatic proof that the resilience divide is an urgent national crisis.

Local Women Leads A Great New Program

                                Spearheaded by New Orleans native, LaTanja Silvester, the program has been well received by community leaders and residents alike. Ms. Silvester draws upon years of experience.  As the former head of the SEIU, Silvester knows our community.  She works daily with New Orleanians across town. Silvester has developed community leaders. She trains and motivates her leaders to listen to our people.  Her network has a pulse on the needs of the community because they are actually in the community.

                                “It’s been incredibly rewarding to see both the opportunities we’re able to create with jobs, and the ways in which we’re impacting people’s lives through our work,” Silvester stated. “Because we’re working with members of each community we’re able to not only gain access but also trust almost immediately. Our community health workers know these people because they are their neighbors, friends and family. That personal connection has made all of the difference when it comes to moving the needle and enacting change.”

                                The New Orleans Resilience Corps has been able to support 15 community health workers through the first 6 months of the pilot. In those initial 6 months, they have reached over 10,000 door-to-door contacts since October. Since December,  they delivered over 1,200 hours of food and supply deliveries to COVID exposed households .  And our work has increased trust and accessibility for testing sites amongst Black and Latinx communities.   61% of the total community members were tested in key areas.

                                “This pilot is an example of how communities facing disaster can get those who have been economically impacted back to work by providing them with the good paying jobs that are essential to recovery – whether that’s as Community Health Workers who can address the public health needs of COVID-19 or rebuilders who fix homes after hurricanes,” Soni added. “Programs like this one are crucial to recovery as they compensate and protect workers, an important first step to building a more secure and resilient America. The New Orleans Resilience Corps is an example of the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors joining forces with local governments to step up and take action.”