In a crowded House race in Algiers, six candidates say they want to improve infrastructure, create jobs, address blight and reduce crime. It’s a message likely to resonate with voters — if each candidate succeeds in delivering it to them.
But as is typical in elections, the well-funded are most likely to be heard. To combat their lack of money, some of those running more modest campaigns are lobbing attacks at opponents.
All six are fighting for votes in House District 102, which covers about half of Algiers. The election is Saturday; a runoff, which seems likely, will take place Nov. 21.
This time, lawyer Gary Carter Jr., whose campaign coffers once topped $48,000, has emerged as the candidate to beat.
Four other hopefuls — professor Charles “Skip” Gallagher, consultant Kenneth Cutno, businessman Kenneth Garrett and former Orleans Parish School Board member Lourdes Moran — all said they considered Carter tough competition. Carter also is being challenged by lawyer Anthony Ibert.
Carter, 41, has connections. He’s a nephew of former City Councilman and state Rep. Troy Carter, who is making a separate bid for the Senate District 7 seat. His campaign finance report shows thousands of dollars that he donated to himself, as well as other contributions from political action committees and individuals.
He said he also has ideas. On a recent visit to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, a re-entry program inspired him, he said. “The prisoners go in and learn how to repair your air conditioner,” he said. If and when those inmates are released, a coordinator helps find them jobs in that field.
Carter said he wants that kind of training on the front end, so people can avoid the trouble that would land them in prison.
He prioritizes early childhood education, hopes to utilize New Orleans’ natural resources to boost its economy and wants to reduce crime by investing in education and workforce development. Blight can be cut down by encouraging homeownership, and Algiers’ Federal City might be better utilized if it partners with Delgado Community College for workforce training, he said.
“I’m really running to get some stuff done. That may sound naive, but I really am,” he said.
He dismissed claims that he and Troy Carter are out to create a political empire on the West Bank, saying he planned to run long before his uncle jumped into the Senate race.
Cutno, however, said Carter is running to cement a budding political dynasty. “I believe government belongs to the people. It’s not a family business, and you should not have an empire,” said Cutno, 59.
He added that voters should pick him over Carter and the others because he is independent. In addition, he said, he has strong ideas: a living wage, equal pay for women, Medicaid expansion, Medicare for everyone.
Those and a host of other platform planks will address crime and create jobs, he said.
He criticized the Algiers Development District, which collects tax increment financing under an agreement with the city and which is behind Federal City. “Our taxes should be used to fix our streets and take care of blighted property,” he said.
Cutno is running a grass-roots campaign, with his last campaign finance reports showing only about $150 in the bank.
Gallagher, a University of New Orleans professor, said he is most suited for the seat because he gets things done.
When father of two Harry “Mike” Ainsworth was carjacked and shot to death in 2012, just a block from Gallagher’s house, Gallagher and his neighbors mobilized. They initiated a crime camera program, which lets residents foot about half the cost of a camera near their home. Gallagher’s neighborhood association pays for the other half, with help from area businesses.
As a result, crime is down. “At one point, our neighborhood had one-third of all the crime in Algiers, and now we are down to 10 percent,” Gallagher said.
He’s since pitched the idea to other neighborhoods.
When a blighted apartment complex became a concern, he and other neighbors worked to have it demolished. If elected, he said, he would look into whether the owners of blighted property can have blight fines subtracted from their income tax refunds.
“One of the things that we know with crime is there seems to be a blight component that goes with it,” he said.
Garrett, 62, said he already represents the public as a member of the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee. Holding the House seat simply would allow him to do it on a broader scale.
He wants to put his 44 years of business management to good use by helping to erase the state’s billion-dollar deficit, he said.
He said he sees education as key to improving society. “Everybody can’t be doctors, attorneys and judges and elected officials. People need to be taught a basic education,” he said. Further, they need job skills in order to reduce crime, he said.
He touts his years of service in Algiers: “When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was here; I was in this community.”
His opponents may not be able to say the same, he said, calling into question the time Carter has lived in the 102nd District.
Carter said he moved into the district at the end of August 2014.
Ibert, 42, said he is concerned with how often the state has criminalized minor offenses. “We have made repeat offenders, but we are not doing what we need to do to make them not be repeat offenders,” he said.
He said he is the only candidate who has been on both sides of the legal system — as a defense attorney and a criminal prosecutor. The public defenders program, in his view, should be better funded.
“We do it on the backs of traffic tickets. The traffic tickets are extremely high, and people don’t want to pay them. You need to treat criminal justice and defense as a real priority,” he said.
If elected, he would work to change the constitution of the public defenders board and to ensure that public defense gets at least 75 percent of the funding that the prosecution receives.
He added that he wants to raise the pay of both prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Moran, 56, is the most experienced politico in the race. She served two terms on the School Board and spent much of that time in leadership roles. She said she kept a close eye on the district’s finances and, during her tenure, the district reached a AAA bond rating.
As for why she’s in the House race, she said her interest was piqued when she saw how much needed to be done for education and the workforce. “I realized that the only way to make sweeping changes is in the Legislature,” she said.
Moran said higher education and early childhood education funding would be among her priorities, as would vocational training and Medicaid program expansion. If elected, she also would focus on infrastructure, especially highways.
She said she stands out from her competition because she knows how things work. “I’ve already established those relationships, with local officials and the state officials. You do need to have those relationships to be able to move anything in this state,” she said.