Search New Orleans’ District B, and you'll find lots of prosperity, from Central Business District office towers to the Garden District’s stately mansions and the gentrifying Irish Channel. But that affluence hasn't touched abandoned Central City buildings or empty lots in Gert Town. And the disparities are a chief reason why six candidates say they're seeking to represent the City Council district in Saturday's election.
The contenders, all Democrats, largely agree on the district’s problems, but they disagree somewhat on solutions.
Each says he or she is the best candidate to succeed Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who is hoping to parlay her five-year record on the council into a job as mayor.
District B stretches from Canal Street along the Mississippi River to Jefferson Avenue, also encompassing Central City, Broadmoor and parts of Mid-City and Bayou St. John.
After spending his political career behind the scenes, Banks, a standard bearer for the longtime District B-based organization BOLD — formally, the Black Organization for Leadership Development — is stepping onto the front line this election because too many long-time New Orleanians feel left behind by the district’s changes, he said.
“We can’t push the people out that have been here, based on the new people coming in,” said Banks, 57.
To that end, Banks, who directs the Dryades YMCA School of Commerce in Central City and reigned as King Zulu in 2016, has made a proposal to freeze property taxes for cost-burdened residents the cornerstone of his campaign. Those taxes would be frozen at something close to a property’s pre-Hurricane Katrina value, with a cost-of-living adjustment tacked on, he said.
Banks said he favors tying short-term rental licenses to homestead exemptions, an idea that has been floated by Cantrell, mayoral candidate Desiree Charbonnet and others.
He does not support requiring landlords to submit their properties to regular inspections, a move the council is considering.
He supports mixed-income neighborhoods but said the city could achieve that goal by restoring blighted properties in centrally located areas. The council is instead considering requiring landlords to reserve units in certain wealthier neighborhoods for low-income residents.
Ben-Oluwole, an architect, said he’s the best candidate to help improve struggling District B neighborhoods because he has already done so, albeit on a smaller scale.
As head of Benroe Housing Initiatives, he helped build 60 homes on the site of the former B.W. Cooper housing project in partnership with the Housing Authority of New Orleans. And as a board member of the Central City Housing Development Corp., he has worked to promote homes in Central City for the elderly and the disabled.
If elected, he would focus on neighborhoods where residents feel forgotten, he said. “Nobody is talking about Central City, nobody is talking about Gert Town, nobody is talking about the Hoffman Triangle,” said Ben-Oluwole, 61.
He supports a rental registry and set-asides for low-income residents, saying both policies would help those most in need.
On Entergy’s proposal to build a new natural gas-fired power plant in New Orleans East — another issue likely to come before the City Council in the next few months — he, along with Banks, said more study is needed on the power plant’s benefits.
Bloom, a criminal defense lawyer who decided against running for a third term on the Orleans Parish School Board last year, said he jumped into the City Council race because he still feels called to public service. “I’m willing to make the hard choices that are going to benefit New Orleans in the long run,” said Bloom, 39.
For example, he favors merging the Sewerage & Water Board and the Department of Public Works into one city department, responsible for all city infrastructure. Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s hiring of former Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant, who was in charge of infrastructure projects for the city, to also head the S&WB was a step in the right direction but not radical enough, Bloom said.
But talk about that and other issues has been overshadowed in some circles by Bloom’s admission that he struggled with an opioid addiction during his tenure on the School Board. Banks, in particular, has questioned his fitness for the council job and accused him of spinning his drug addiction as an asset. Bloom said he no longer abuses prescription drugs and called Banks’ comments a “cheap shot.”
Bloom does not support a rental registry or set-asides for low-income residents. He is not in favor of the current ban on short-term rentals in the French Quarter, saying that such a ban for one part of the city is unfair to other parts of it.
Probably few candidates can boast of stronger attention to detail than Love. The 42-year-old veterinarian said her lengthy, point-by-point platform is blank on a few pages because she has yet to vet the proposals she wants to put there with local experts.
Love became interested in local politics after the 2016 presidential election, which she called “a symptom of the fact that we accept corruption and lying … in our politicians.”
If elected, she hopes to strike a balance between preserving New Orleans' architectural heritage and fostering new development. She also hopes to balance the needs of long-time residents with those of newcomers.
She wants to work with the incoming mayor to reduce the Police Department’s tally of appointed employees, so that experienced officers can move into key positions based on merit, not based on whom they know. Such a step would improve morale and reduce attrition, she said.
She supports short-term rentals all over the city but favors creating a local version of Airbnb in the French Quarter, a type of cooperative where local property owners could reap even more of the benefits of the practice. “I think (short-term rentals) draw people to our community,” Love said. “We just need to protect ourselves, and protect the integrity of the neighborhood.”
She supports a "renter registry" — instead of the rental registry before the council — that would give renters a safe place to report complaints.
Timothy David Ray
Timothy David Ray, an adjunct University of New Orleans professor and political organizer, also comes to interviews armed with a detailed platform.
If elected, he hopes to expand housing subsidies to include both low- and medium-income residents, “dramatically rewrite” the council’s short-term rental ordinance and help grow minority-owned businesses in underserved neighborhoods, he said.
The short-term rental law rewrite would include tying the rentals to homestead exemptions and banning them in more neighborhoods.
Ray, 35, believes he’s the best candidate for the job because he’s got a penchant for negotiating to get things done. He’s also running “above the political machines,” he said, a reference to BOLD and the education-reform crowd that has backed Bloom.
“My campaign has stayed above the personal attacks and has stayed to the issues, and we’ve tried to present the voters with comprehensive details and actual plans to achieve those goals in District B,” he said.
Like Love, Ray said he would support providing protections for renters in lieu of a rental property registry.
Strumer, 49, said his commitment to public service stems from lessons he learned from his relatives who were Holocaust survivors.
If elected, the Irish Channel neighborhood block captain would put his doctorate in communication to use in working to build a consensus for progressive change in the district, he said.
To tackle both the city’s affordable housing crisis and its violent crime problem, Strumer said, he would work to bring blighted properties back into commerce by partnering with youth programs. He said teenagers would learn how to perform basic carpentry, plumbing and electric work and help rehab the houses themselves.
“Then, you have these kids who can go anywhere in the world and be a carpenter and get work, or be a plumber, or an electrician,” he said.
Strumer would also put the S&WB under the city’s Public Works Department. He does not support the Entergy power plant in the East, arguing that Entergy should instead focus more on renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power.
Strumer, who said he is running a grass-roots campaign, said he would also lobby the Legislature for campaign finance reforms, “just to get the candidates on an even playing field.”