They’ve appeared at so many forums together that they might as well set up a carpool, but still, it can be hard to distinguish between the agendas being pushed by the major candidates for New Orleans mayor. The more they answer questions, though, the easier it's getting to identify areas where they definitely agree, as well as some subtle but real differences.
Six leading New Orleans mayoral candidates vowed this week to keep the troubled Sewerage &am…
I got the chance to pose the questions at one forum last week, sponsored by the Lake Area Advisory Council and The New Orleans Advocate. And while there were clear areas of consensus, not everyone was on the same page on every issue.
Some ideas were predictably unpopular. Candidates panned the very thought of imposing a stormwater fee to pay for drainage improvements, which outgoing Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration is considering seeking and the nonprofit Bureau of Governmental Research has endorsed. The Sewerage & Water Board, which came in for some harsh criticism due not just to recent floods but also for that morning's boil water order, has said it needs $55 million to pay the city's share of major projects.
Yet among the six major candidates — former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris, City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet, businessmen Troy Henry and Frank Scurlock and CPA Tommie Vassel — there were no enthusiasts.
There were some slight variations on the theme, though. Vassel pointed to new large-scale developments that will soon come online and provide new tax revenue as a possible source for the money. And Cantrell repeated longstanding complaints by BGR and others that too much city land is owned by nonprofits and thus off the property tax rolls. One idea behind a fee as opposed to a tax, she suggested, is that it could force these groups to put some skin in the game.
The candidates also agreed that they'd like to revisit the non-profit exemption to see if it can be curtailed, although several noted that it would take a change in state law, which would be difficult.
In addition to the Sewerage & Water Board's woes, public safety has been a top concern, and several candidates offered ideas to recruit and keep more officers. Some, including Bagneris and Charbonnet, thought better pay might help, while Cantrell pointed to pay raises she and the rest of the council have already approved. And some pushed hard for loosening restrictions on outside details or restructuring the office that governs these jobs, a change they say officers badly want in order to supplement their pay. This is an issue that will likely rise to the surface once the federal consent decree, which identified the old system as an "aorta of corruption" and dictated the current policies, expires.
Candidates also differed somewhat in their take on the New Orleans Police Department's leadership. Despite widespread public concern over crime, none of the candidates is openly calling for Superintendent Michael Harrison to go, and when asked, three candidates — Bagneris, Cantrell, Charbonnet — said they'd invite the chief to apply again as part of a larger search. Vassel and Scurlock came down on the side of hiring a new chief, and Henry said he'd want to see a thorough performance evaluation before deciding.
And there definitely wasn't much disagreement over the recent proliferation of traffic cameras. Nobody said the city should add more or even keep the current number. Henry, Vassel and Scurlock all said they'd only keep the cameras positioned to catch speeders in school zones. Bagneris said the same thing, and added that any money the city takes in should be invested in road work. Cantrell, who has in the past talked of suspending the cameras or removing the newest ones, went further, this time saying she'd like to get rid of them entirely.
Charbonnet too said she'd like to eliminate traffic cameras outside of school zones, but she added a caveat: The city would need to figure out how to replace the lost revenue. Lest anyone misunderstand her feelings on the subject, though, she noted that she's gotten a few of those tickets herself.
"I don't like them," she said, which is surely a popular sentiment out on the campaign trail.