As they were sworn in Monday, the seven members of the New Orleans City Council vowed to work with each other and with the Mayor’s Office to build on the city’s growth, improve quality of life and ensure that participation in the city’s economic recovery is equitable among all residents.
The council’s inauguration ceremony, held in the council chamber at City Hall, followed Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s swearing-in at the Saenger Theater. The mayor did not attend the council event.
Four members — Stacy Head, Susan Guidry, LaToya Cantrell and James Gray — were re-elected to the council. Cantrell, in fact, gained a new term with no opposition.
The other three are taking their seats for the first time: Jason Williams, who replaces Jackie Clarkson as an at-large member; Nadine Ramsey, who succeeds Kristin Gisleson Palmer in District C; and Jared Brossett, who takes the place of his political mentor, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, in District D.
The council members each were sworn in by a different lawyer or judge as a family member held a copy of the Bible.
At-large members Head and Williams will serve as the body’s president and vice president, respectively, for the next year.
“New Orleans is the Queen City of the South, and we will work together to polish her up, take the tarnish off of some areas,” said Williams, a newcomer to elected office. “Polish her jewels so that the whole country and this whole world can see her in her glory.”
This will be the first full term for Cantrell and Gray, both of whom joined the council in December 2012. Cantrell, who represents District B, was elected to serve out the remaining 16 months of Head’s term after Head moved to an at-large seat. Gray, of District E, replaced Jon Johnson, who resigned from the council after pleading guilty to corruption charges.
With Head and Williams in the at-large slots, the council’s new lineup restores the unspoken rule of having one black member and one white member in the two citywide seats. The new membership also brings the number of men on the council to three. Gray had been the body’s lone male.
“Despite our seating arrangement,” Williams said, noting that — by accident — the seating on the dais divides the members by gender, “this will not be boys versus girls.”
Each council member addressed the family members, friends and supporters gathered in the chamber. Most thanked their loved ones for their support and promised hard work in the next four years.
Williams apologized in advance to his staff, saying their pay would not be enough compensation for the amount of work they would soon do.
Guidry thanked the mayor and his staff for “rebuilding and re-envisioning” the city with the help of the council, and said she looks forward to continuing to collaborate with the administration to reduce the crime rate and improve the criminal justice system.
“We’ve come so far,” Guidry said. “Our city is coming back stronger, and we are working constantly to make sure that this recovery has a long-term focus on sustainability.”
Brossett said he intends to foster an environment in his district that is supportive of retail and small businesses.
“Together and across all socioeconomic lines, we are going to be successful in leaving District D in a city markedly better than we found it,” he said.
Gray delivered the most pointed address, referencing Landrieu’s frequent slogan: “One Team. One Fight. One Voice. One City.”
“If we really mean one team, it means everyone on the team has to have a fair shake,” he said, adding that the city should focus on adding playgrounds and community services. “We are going to make this the great city that we thought it could be, the great city that we sometimes in the past pretended it was. But it was never a great city for all of its citizens. It was never an environment where everyone had a fair chance.”
Monday also brought assignments to the council’s pared-down list of committees.
At its last meeting, the old council voted to reduce the number of committees from 14 to eight. Some were eliminated altogether, while others were merged. The number of members on each committee also was increased from three to five.
Much of the council’s work is done in committees before the body meets as a whole to vote on issues.
With the exception of Head, who will lead two committees besides serving as president for the next year, each member will chair one committee.
Head will lead the Governmental Affairs and the Budget, Audit and Board of Review committees.
Cantrell will chair the new Community Development Committee, which merges the Health, Education and Social Services and the Housing and Human Needs committees.
Guidry will continue to chair the Criminal Justice Committee.
Gray still will head the Economic Development and Special Development Projects Committee.
Ramsey will chair the merged Public Works and Sanitation committees.
Brossett will lead the Transportation and Airport Committee.
Williams will chair the Utility, Cable, Telecommunications and Technology Committee.