Apparently the teenage demographic is breaking for Desiree Charbonnet in this year's mayoral contest.
At least that was the case in a mock vote Friday after a debate moderated by students from local high schools. The youngsters — casting their votes by cellphone, of course — went for Charbonnet over LaToya Cantrell by 82 to 41, though most of those present did not vote at all.
The candidates have a busy schedule of debates leading up to the Nov. 18 runoff, and this one, held at Xavier University’s Convocation Center, was relatively tame.
In a departure from recent attacks, both women stuck with the issues their youthful audience came to hear about, promising to put more money toward recreation programs and create opportunities for young people.
Students from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter High School, George Washington Carver Senior High School, Lake Area High School and other local schools pitched the questions.
Asked about potential plans to bolster programs offered by the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, Charbonnet recalled being involved in extracurricular activities in high school, and the effect they had on her formative years.
“We have to make sure we have the right funding for NORDC,” she said. “I know a lot of people in this audience are in band, in dance. … It molds you, and it makes you who you are.”
Cantrell, a city councilwoman, pointed out that Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council have already increased NORDC’s budget but agreed that more can be done.
“Under Ms. LaToya’s administration, there will be no young people having to shake cans on the neutral ground to support their team,” Cantrell said. “That’s a shame.”
On the question of how they would work to help single-parent households, Charbonnet said the city’s “office of children and family services” receives only 3 percent of the budget — funding she said could be increased and targeted toward those families.
Landrieu’s proposed 2018 budget shows that 3 percent of the city’s general fund is allocated to programs benefiting children and families, though that is a programmatic area, not an official department.
Cantrell said as much when it was her turn to speak. “We do not have a department of youth and family services within City Hall, but I will create one,” she said.
Often, the problem is that people don’t know what resources are available, she added.
Cantrell said she would ensure that tax dollars make their way to classrooms and students by communicating with the Orleans Parish School Board — the entity that holds the purse strings for public schools — and with charter school management organizations.
She also touted her work to shake loose more than $10 million in casino proceeds earmarked for education that had gone unspent and to deliver that money to the OPSB and the Recovery School District.
Charbonnet said she would “go back to the budget” to ensure that schools receive all the tax dollars owed to them.
The city collects local taxes on behalf of the School Board and other agencies, then sends those agencies their share of the money. The School Board creates its own master budget and transfers much of its revenue to independent charter schools.
Both candidates said they would listen to the concerns of young people. Charbonnet said she would do so by convening a commission or group of young people regularly, though not necessarily monthly, as one student requested.
She promised to keep an open door at City Hall, so that teens might come and learn how government works and offer ideas. “My commitment will be always, always to listen to you all,” she said.
Cantrell again touted her plan to create a children and family services department, though she said creating a commission is not out of the question, either.
“I have a commitment to the young people that your voices will be elevated, and if that’s in the form of a commission, then that’s what it will be,” she said.
A representative of the Lower 9th Ward Voters Coalition, the Rev. Willie Calhoun Jr., said the organization put on Friday's event to get kids involved with the political process and encourage students from different schools to work together toward a common goal.
He lamented that the mock vote results were indicative of a larger problem, however.
"We had about 600 kids there, and only 100 voted," Calhoun said.
Editor's note: This story was altered on Nov. 6, 2017, to reflect the Rev. Willie Calhoun Jr.'s correct title at the Lower 9th Ward Voters Coalition.