The campaign in state Senate District 7 is filled with familiar names vying in a hotly contested race for a seat that, until recently, was expected to feature a strong incumbent.
State Rep. Jeff Arnold; former City Councilman Troy Carter; Orleans Parish School Board member Leslie Ellison; and businessman and New Orleans Recreation Development Commission Chairman Roy Glapion are seeking to replace David Heitmeier, the longtime senator who announced just before qualifying that he would not be seeking a final term in the Legislature.
The district represents the West Bank of New Orleans and portions of Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes. All four candidates are Democrats who hail from New Orleans.
The race is one heavily steeped in political legacies.
Heitmeier had represented the district since 2008, when he succeeded his brother, Francis Heitmeier, who was prevented from running again due to term limits. Francis Heitmeier had become a political institution at that point, having served 16 years in the state Senate and eight in the House.
The other candidates have their own pedigrees.
Arnold, a vice president at First NBC Bank and the most senior member of the state House, is the son of Tom Arnold, the longtime assessor for Algiers. Glapion is the son of Roy Glapion Jr., who served on the City Council in the 1990s before dying in office.
Carter also was a councilman at the same time. Carter also has served two years in the state House and run unsuccessfully for Congress and for mayor. His nephew is running for House District 102, which is within the Senate district.
Of the candidates, Arnold, 48, has been the most eager to embrace his status as a longtime elected official.
“You’ve got a Carter, an Arnold and a Glapion sitting up here. Those are all political names in New Orleans,” Arnold said at a candidate forum this month. “Politics is not a bad word.”
Touting his own 13-year tenure in the Legislature, Arnold said seniority and relationships built in Baton Rouge are crucial to making sure the district gets the funding it needs, particularly for infrastructure projects. As a Democrat, having relationships with other senators is also crucial to getting things done in a Republican-dominated body, he said.
“Those relationships have been forged, and we need to continue the momentum because if we’re losing Sen. Heitmeier and we’re losing the most senior member of the House at the same time, that’s how things get lost in the capital outlay bill,” he said.
By contrast, Glapion, 54, has sought to portray himself as an outsider, noting that he is largely financing his own campaign and stressing his experience as a civil engineer who works as a vice president of the Beta Group, a construction firm that works on major projects in the region. And despite ties to Mayor Mitch Landrieu — who has endorsed Carter — Glapion said he is independent.
“I’m self-made. I don’t answer to anybody except God,” he said. “People are going to get what they vote for when they get me.”
Carter, a 51-year-old management consultant, has trod a middle ground, arguing that his past experience on the City Council and in the Legislature would be valuable but not focusing on them.
“I understand the importance of balancing budgets,” he said.
Ellison, who has served as a member of the Orleans Parish School Board since 2012, did not return calls for comment on the race this week. She was the only one of the four candidates who announced that she would be running for the seat before Heitmeier announced his retirement.
According to her website, Ellison is running to increase government accountability, support education initiatives, promote sustainability in higher education and improve infrastructure.
Budget issues play a prominent role in the concerns all the candidates bring to the table.
Arnold said the key is to go after “low-hanging fruit,” federal money that is available to expand Medicaid or for other programs that Gov. Bobby Jindal has rejected. He also said everything should be on the table and all state departments should have to share in cuts or revenue increases.
Carter focused on the need to get rid of dedicated funding, which makes up a majority of the state budget, so that cuts do not always fall on health care and higher education, the two main unprotected areas.
Glapion said the Legislature has not done enough to be transparent about where money is going and needs someone “fiscally responsible” to look into what pots of money are available to fund other needs.
Glapion also called for more money for recreation, to prevent youths from engaging in criminal activity, and said the prison system should do a better job of training inmates in skills like plumbing or carpentry they could use to find work once they’re released.
Carter said his major interests, in addition to infrastructure needs, would be supporting the Common Core education standards and working to get other police agencies, such as the State Police, levee district police departments and Harbor Police, to aid the NOPD in patrolling the city’s neighborhoods.
Arnold stressed the importance of infrastructure and of social services such as senior centers and playgrounds, as well as funding for the general areas of health care and education.
The race has featured its share of mud-slinging.
Carter and Glapion have both criticized Arnold for a lack of progress on Federal City. Arnold is the chairman of the Algiers Development District, which oversees the 100-acre site, and he said significant work had to be done to the site when that board took over the project a year ago.
He trumpets some of the businesses that are there now, including technical firms, the New Orleans Maritime Academy — a charter school — and retail businesses such as a fitness center and Subway. The new master plan put together by a new developer hired by the ADD calls for more businesses and apartments on the site, he said.
“We are light years from where we were,” Arnold said.
Carter also has come under fire, with opponents arguing he spent much of the past decade living with his now ex-wife out of state. Carter said he never “fully relocated” from the home where he has lived for 15 years and stressed family roots in Algiers that go back to the 1800s.
“Anyone who suggests otherwise is throwing invisible darts that won’t stick,” he said.
Glapion has his own potential liability, as City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell has taken aim at NORDC, arguing that it does not meet the community’s needs and citing high turnover among its employees.
Glapion stressed the work the commission has done to raise money for recreation in the city, touting $150 million in new projects or programs, and said he supports a board that is completely independent of the mayor or the City Council.
While acknowledging criticisms of the recreation commission, Glapion said the relatively new entity is still working through “hiccups” and argued that “before this commission you had no one to complain to and now you do. And I’m fine with that.”
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.