Three of the candidates seeking to go to Baton Rouge to represent House District 100 agree on this much: Eastern New Orleans, seemingly, has been forgotten.
They say there are few big-name businesses there, barely any good restaurants. Overall, the area has slumped considerably from its 1970s heyday, when well-tended subdivisions, a booming mall and a movie theater beckoned crowds from all over town.
The sentiments of John Bagneris, Shawn Lockett and Alicia Plummer Clivens differ from those of a fourth candidate, Willie Jones, who says improvements in the East are coming and praises current representatives’ leadership.
The four candidates, all Democrats, are seeking to succeed the term-limited Austin Badon.
Though the candidates disagree on how badly off the district is, all agree that some change is needed. And all say they are the person to lead that change.
Voters will decide among them Saturday in a race where economic development, blight and crime prevention are chief resident concerns. If a runoff is needed, it will take place Nov. 21.
The district comprises the area basically east of Crowder Boulevard, north of Chef Menteur Highway, west of Paris Road and Michoud Boulevard and south of the lake.
Though he’s never run for public office, Bagneris, 65, is no stranger to politics. He was an aide to former state Rep. Louis Charbonnet III in the 1970s. And he’s stuck with the Charbonnets since then, as a manager in the family’s transportation company for the past 30 years.
He has the backing of two of the city’s once-potent African-American political organizations, former Mayor Dutch Morial’s group LIFE and the 7th Ward group COUP, plus that of TIPS, short for the Treme Improvement Political Society.
But on the ballot, he might benefit more from the Bagneris name. His brother, former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris, gained 33 percent of the vote in an unsuccessful bid for mayor last year.
If elected, Bagneris said, he hopes to use his consensus-building skills. The East’s recovery has been slow “because everybody has not been on the same page,” he said.
His priorities include boosting business opportunities in the district. “A lady in New Orleans East cannot go out to buy a nice dress to go a function unless she goes to Slidell or Metairie,” he said.
He also said he would help reduce crime by getting more state troopers deployed near state highways.
Jones, 49, is similarly well-connected, though to different politicos. He is backed by the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, the Crescent City Democratic Association, the political organization BOLD and City Councilmen James Gray and Jason Williams.
Jones, a businessman, said he is the right choice because he has represented constituents before. He represents eastern New Orleans on the Louisiana Democratic State Central Committee and the local Democratic Executive Committee.
He has also, unsuccessfully, run for larger public offices repeatedly. He sought a House seat in 2003 and 2011 and the City Council’s District E seat in 2006.
This time, his platform centers on increased wages for all and fairer wages for women. Those moves, he said, will help boost the economy and raise people’s quality of life.
“If you give people more money ... they will spend more money,” Jones said.
Though his opponents all, to some extent, disparage current officeholders, Jones is hesitant to do so.
“Yes, we need more sales, we need more shopping center malls, and we need to return (the East) back to where it once was. But I don’t want to take away from the work that Austin Badon, James Gray and Wesley Bishop have done over the years,” he said.
He cited recent and current improvements, such as the revamped East New Orleans Regional Library, the newly built New Orleans East Hospital and the incoming New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood restaurant. If elected, he said, he will help push other deals forward.
Clivens, 56, said she is most qualified for the job because she already does it. As vice president of the New Orleans East Business Association and a former chairwoman of the original Orleans Parish Hospital Service District board, she’s worked to speed the East’s recovery, she said.
Among her accomplishments, she said, was a deal to buy the former Methodist Hospital building, the shuttered Lakeland Medical Center and the Lake Forest Surgery Center, for a total price not to exceed $40 million. The deal, facilitated partly by former Mayor Ray Nagin, stalled when federal officials refused to sign off on it, saying the proposed price didn’t line up with the appraisals of the Katrina-battered buildings.
When Mayor Mitch Landrieu took office in 2010, the city brokered a separate, $16 million deal for just the Methodist Hospital building.
That building became the New Orleans East Hospital. Landrieu then ousted Clivens and other hospital district board members.
But Clivens said the new hospital isn’t what the East deserves.
“They are not birthing any babies there. It doesn’t have any pediatric services,” Clivens said. Her board’s deal would have brought a full-service hospital, pegged at only $23 million during the final round of negotiations, she said.
If elected, she said, she will work to expand the hospital’s services and to woo more businesses to the East. She said the area’s recovery has been stalled because the Landrieu administration is focused elsewhere.
She is endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, UTNO and the Independent Women’s Organization, among other groups.
Lockett, 45, said eastern New Orleans was in decline long before Hurricane Katrina. The 1980s oil bust drove wealthier white residents out and brought low-income African-American residents in, he said, adding that the storm only made things worse. If elected, he said, he would work to penalize owners of blighted property.
He said the city also needs to figure out how best to serve residents who have moved to the East since the storm. When New Orleans demolished most public housing developments after the storm and replaced them with Section 8 housing vouchers, many voucher recipients ended up in the East, according to a July study by the Data Center.
“Some of the areas that people are being placed in ... many of the buses don’t even run there,” Lockett said. “We need to find a better way that works for our system.”
As for crime, Lockett said, most of it can be eliminated through more police patrols. State troopers could be a big help, he said.
Lockett has not received any endorsements. Unlike his competition, he said, he is not backed by outside interests. It’s those outside groups that have slowed recovery in the East for years, he added.
“I think some people have gotten in office and they expect the wheel to be oiled financially before anything happens, and that’s not my interest,” he said.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.