A restaurateur, a film equipment rental supervisor, a business consultant and the owner of a cab company are all hoping to unseat the incumbent in this year's race for the Division 2 at-large seat on the New Orleans City Council.
The challengers bring a wide range of backgrounds and political experience to a race where Jason Williams, who is running for his second term, is the overwhelming favorite, according to recent polling.
Economic growth, drainage issues, public safety and fair housing are the common themes touched on by the candidates, but the five differ on solutions.
The primary is Saturday. A runoff, if needed, will take place Nov. 18.
Williams, a 44-year-old Democrat who was a prominent criminal defense attorney before he ran for office, says he's been working "tirelessly" to better the city since being elected a councilman-at-large in 2014.
He holds up his efforts to secure better 911 response times and reduce jail populations, partly through the decriminalization of many marijuana possession cases.
Williams acknowledges that his term hasn't come without hiccups, saying the city has not done "nearly enough" in terms of criminal justice reform or public health.
He's now advocating for more early childcare programs and better coordination between different criminal justice agencies, including the Police Department, the sheriff and the district attorney.
"There really are city priorities that are geared toward the health of the community and public safety as a whole," Williams said. "Where the real rub is, is making sure everybody understands how they fit and work with each other."
Williams also said the city is primed to capitalize on renewable and solar energy and to learn how to better "live with water" by building canals and permeable surfaces that work in concert with the city's drainage system.
The lone Republican in the Division 2 race, Baird, 64, said he is out to prove that his party isn't about "white, elitist, Nazi-type idealism that really scares a lot of black Americans."
He said he has avoided taking campaign money from those with political connections, instead asking for donations from the homeless.
Baird proposes shrinking the size of the city and investing more in infrastructure. He would push to separate the easternmost portion of Orleans Parish from the city. He cited Jefferson Parish as an example, saying some communities could be within Orleans Parish but not part of the city of New Orleans.
Baird, the owner of the restaurant Le Citron, has criticized Williams for failing to recognize trouble at the Sewerage & Water Board until pump and turbine failures became public in the wake of flooding on Aug. 5. He said many of the agency's problems, including lack of direct supervision, inefficient pumps and poor transparency, were clear when he did a stint as an emergency worker for the city in 2008.
"Sitting back for four years, not taking initiative to drive change in the Sewerage & Water Board — that’s a major faux pas as far as I’m concerned," Baird said.
Baird proposes relinquishing any city control over the agency and instead tasking the state with choosing its board members.
Finally, Baird said he wants to transform Lee Circle into a politically neutral space called "Musicians Circle" now that the statue of Robert E. Lee has been removed.
Aaron 'Ace' Christopher
Christopher did not return calls requesting an interview for this article, but he has laid out his platform on social media.
The candidate, who has no party affiliation, says he was born in the Treme-Lafitte area of New Orleans and describes himself as an advocate for civil rights.
Christopher operates a consulting firm and lists a range of skills and areas of expertise on his Facebook page, including finance, historical research and political analysis. He says he's a philanthropist and since 2003 has worked with the Our House Foundation Inc. to help economically disadvantaged residents find homes and restore credit.
He has criticized elected officials for focusing on the removal of Jim Crow-era statues and French Quarter policing rather than on the city's "extreme" poverty, sub-par living conditions and high rates of incarceration.
"The people do not deserve to be 'left out in the rain,' their homes gentrified away from them or illegally expropriated by executory proceedings; their children shaking cans on the corners at traffic intersections, in order to raise money to engage in sports activities; blatantly discriminated against by race, gender preference, and directly against women, but more importantly being victims of senseless violence," he wrote.
Coleman, 40, operates the Coleman Cab Co.
A Democrat, he has run for office before, campaigning for the District A seat on the council in 2014 and a seat on the Orleans Parish School Board in 2012, losing both times.
Coleman could not be reached to discuss his platform for the 2107 at-large election, but in public forums he's advocated for better transparency from government officials and better economic opportunities for minority business owners.
The candidate has also supported Step Up Louisiana's 3-Point Platform, which argues for giving municipalities the authority to set a $15 minimum wage, ending unequal pay for women and promoting the "ban the box" campaign, an effort to stop employers from asking job seekers about criminal histories on application forms.
In his previous bid for the City Council, Coleman told reporters that the city needed more road repairs and better community centers for the elderly.
David Gregory Nowak
Nowak, a 34-year-old Democrat and foreman of a film industry equipment rental company, has been prolific on Twitter and Facebook, laying out detailed proposals on fair wages, mental health policy and climate change.
He ran for a seat in the Legislature when he was 19, and he said he felt compelled to get back into politics now because of how disappointed he was in the result of last year's presidential election.
His top issue is a push for an $18 minimum wage, compared with the current $7.25. "We all have a right not to live in poverty," he said.
He also thinks the city should employ ex-convicts instead of using prison labor programs.
Nowak advocates opening a string of 24-hour community crisis centers to improve mental health. He said those centers, along with better housing policies and the reopening of Charity Hospital with a focus on mental health treatment, could end homelessness by 2025.
On the environment, Nowak wants to help implement a 100 percent green-powered city grid by 2030 and to start an aggressive carbon offset program for the Port of New Orleans.
He also promises to push Congress for levees that would protect all of southeast Louisiana from Category 5 hurricanes.