Three Democratic candidates all would pursue similar goals if elected to the state Senate from District 4, though they are pushing slightly different plans as they seek to drum up votes for Saturday’s election.
State Rep. Wesley Bishop, consultant R. Erich Caulfield and psychiatrist Joe Swider are running to replace state Sen. Ed Murray, also a Democrat, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits.
District 4 covers a large swath of Orleans Parish, including much of the French Quarter, the Lakefront, areas around City Park and stretching out to encompass much of New Orleans East.
A runoff, if needed, will take place Nov. 21.
Bishop, 47, the associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and a professor at Southern University at New Orleans and also a lawyer, was first elected to the state House in a special election in 2011.
He said State Police should have a permanent presence in the city and should be dispatched to any high-crime areas and not focused only in the French Quarter, whose residents will vote Saturday on a quarter-cent sales tax to fund their presence there for five years.
Having State Police to supplement the local police is “also important to the neighborhoods of Gentilly, Lakeview, New Orleans East,” Bishop said. “Sometimes we treat visitors better than people that live here.”
The state should reform its criminal justice system to focus less on incarceration and should deal with drug addiction and mental illness through other means, Bishop said, suggesting the huge former Charity Hospital building should be converted into a “mental health headquarters” for southeast Louisiana.
To fix the state’s budget problems, he said, the Legislature should look through the $7 billion in tax credits the state gives away each year.
Bishop touted the opening of new businesses and a hospital in New Orleans East as positive signs of economic development there but said more needs to be done to make sure minority- and women-owned businesses get shares of government projects, which would create new jobs and opportunities.
“We still have multibillion-dollar Hurricane Katrina recovery projects,” Bishop said. “But not enough small businesses, not enough minority businesses, not enough disadvantaged businesses are getting the benefits of that.”
Caulfield, 40, runs a management consulting firm and has previously worked as the New Orleans team leader for the White House’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative, as a White House fellow and as chief policy adviser for former Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker, now a U.S. senator.
He said those experiences would help him develop policies tailored to the problems in New Orleans and the district. “This race is really a continuation of what I’ve tried to do my entire career: help the largest number of people,” Caulfield said.
Some of his focus has been on encouraging small business development; he said small-businesses and entrepreneurs should be encouraged with tax credits and other state incentives in the same way that large firms are now. Tax breaks for two or three years could help small firms get on their feet, he said.
Incentives should also be offered for developers willing to build affordable housing in areas where it is needed, he said.
At the same time, he said, the Legislature needs to take a hard look at existing tax credits in order to balance the budget.
Caulfield said he supports keeping the State Police in New Orleans but that their presence should be only temporary. He said more diversion programs are necessary to reduce the prison population and re-entry programs should be available to make sure prisoners “are in the strongest position to come back home.”
Reducing the prison population could also improve public safety, he said.
“If you’re not locking people up, you can use that money for law enforcement,” he said.
Swider, 47, said his experience as a psychiatrist would help him work with and understand elected officials from both sides of the aisle in Baton Rouge, which he said would be an asset for someone representing a blue city in a red state.
“I’d build partnerships and relationships with people who don’t even want to be in the same room with each other,” he said.
The top three issues for Swider are crime, fixing potholes and education.
He wants a permanent State Police presence in New Orleans and said he thinks troopers should be concentrated in tourist areas to free up NOPD resources to focus on neighborhoods. The chief of police and the mayor should have the final say on their deployment, he said.
Drug addictions should be treated through the mental health system and not through the courts, Swider said. Not requiring police to arrest nonviolent drug offenders would mean officers wouldn’t be taken off the streets to book such suspects, he said.
The state tax code should be restructured to be more progressive, doing away with upper-class tax cuts that were made at the beginning of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s first term, Swider said. More money in the state budget should go toward supporting the state’s universities, he said.
Swider said that to fix the streets in the city, he would advocate a state law that would require New Orleans to spend a portion of the money it raises through property taxes in the neighborhoods that generated that money.
“That way, not all your taxes go to some other endeavor while the streets in front of your house are falling apart,” he said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.