North Kenner is often viewed as a haven of suburban tranquility, with quiet, tree-lined streets and well-kept playgrounds. But that doesn't mean the area has no problems, and those problems are providing the grist for the two-man race in Kenner's City Council District 4.
The March 24 election pits incumbent Leonard Cline against George Branigan, an insurance broker and longtime volunteer in the city's recreation system.
The district is bordered by the lake on the north, Canal No. 12 on the south, Ole Miss Drive on the west and Arizona and Alabama drives on the east. It includes the upscale neighborhoods around Chateau Boulevard.
Cline and Branigan, both Republicans, agree that reviving struggling retail spaces is a key challenge facing the district and the city.
"We need to move the city forward from the standpoint of the business environment to increase the property values," Cline said.
One particularly thorny problem is the future of Esplanade Mall, which has been flagging for years and was sold in 2016. Another blow came last year when Macy's closed its store there.
The mall "is not doing as well as we think it could," Cline said. Nevertheless, he said, he has high hopes that the new owner, Pacific Realty, will get it going again, perhaps with a mixed-use redevelopment.
Cline also said the city plans to hire a full-time economic development director, who he hopes will help jump-start the mall and other developments, like the retail complex at West Esplanade Avenue and Chateau Boulevard that is largely vacant.
"We told them if they don't start renting these things out, we are going to ask them to tear it down," he said.
Cline said he also hopes to help renovate part of Muss Bertolino playground and possibly bring Catholic League football games back to the facility.
Branigan said he got into the race because he felt that Cline hasn't done enough to help the district during his nearly four years in office.
He too said that the district's retail centers need to be reinvigorated.
"The Esplanade Mall is never going to be what it was," he said. Rumors of a planned mixed-use development at the site are a good start, he said.
He also said he thinks the Pavilion Mall needs to bring back a grocery store and make it easier for tenants to get leases. "Once we get tenants in there, it will start taking off again," he said.
Branigan pointed to his efforts in the 1990s to upgrade the baseball fields at Muss Bertolino, an effort in which he along with several others signed a bank note to help fund the upgrades and also raised $100,000 to get the work done, he said.
He said the city also needs to address sewerage problems that are causing some toilets in the district to back up during rain storms.
Cline has a significant funding advantage, reporting about $65,000 on hand as of Feb. 12. Branigan reported having just $3,117 as of the same day.
However, Branigan has picked up coveted endorsements from the Homebuilders Association of Greater New Orleans and the Political Action Committee of the Jefferson Chamber.