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Councilman Jason Williams, right, alongside Councilman Jay Banks, left, at the New Orleans City Council meeting on Wednesday, November 14, 2018.

COUNCIL PASSES CANTRELL’S FIRST-EVER MUNICIPAL BUDGET

Early childhood development, services for youth offenders, mental health programs and catch basin cleanings got last-minute bumps in funding for 2019 as the New Orleans City Council prepared to sign off on Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s first-ever municipal budget.

The council had roughly 30 days to act after Cantrell presented her $698 million budget on November 1. After some negotiations with the administration, the council found another $4 million, largely from unused funds from the French Market Corporation, bumping the budget to $702 million. The council then passed a budget on November 29.

In a major change, the council doubled funding for early childhood development — money for child care providers to enroll infants up to 3 years old — up from this year’s $750,000 allocation to $1.5 million. The budget also funds Cantrell’s newly created Office of Youth and Families.

New Orleans Early Education Network (NOEEN) enrolled 50 children as part of its pilot program with this year’s allocation. Council members and advocates argued investments in programs for children up to 3 years old is likely to save millions of dollars in incarceration and other costs down the line.

Cantrell’s process for her 2019 city budget included several conference calls and Facebook Live sessions she hosted with the public. Those followed former Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s call-in sessions in his final year in office, which followed his “budgeting for outcomes” sessions at public meetings around town in the months leading up to the budget release. Residents often criticized those Landrieu meetings and the budgets that resulted from them, saying they were all but completed before residents had a say.

Cantrell called the budget’s passage “a victory.”

“We have taken the best step forward to make sure 2019 will be brighter for citizens,” she said at a post-passage press conference at City Hall.

The council also seemed pleased with the process, despite a rough start, a tight timeline, and some priorities that conflicted with those of the administration. Several council members said it went “smoothly,” and District B Councilman Jay Banks said it was the “best and easiest” he’s experienced. Council Vice President Helena Moreno, who formerly served in the state Legislature, joked that compared to that body’s infamously tedious and combative budget process, “this is smooth sailing.”

Council President Jason Williams replied, “That’s a very low bar.”

Richmond to cede chair of Congressional Black Caucus in January

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, who has led the influential Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) since 2017, will be succeeded by U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat, when Congress reconvenes in January. Bass will be the eighth woman to lead the CBC, the caucus says.

The midterm elections added nine new members to the CBC, bringing its total to 55 Congress members.

“I commend Congresswoman Bass on becoming the new chair of the Congressional Black Caucus,” Richmond said in a statement. “There’s much work to be done next Congress to ensure equality and justice for African Americans and other marginalized communities, and I am confident Congresswoman Bass will continue to provide strong leadership in this regard.”

Kennedy, Cassidy on tear-gassing asylum seekers

The sight of U.S. Border Patrol agents sending tear-gas canisters into Mexico to deter asylum seekers split many people along partisan lines, including Louisiana’s two U.S. Senators.

“I understand that our Border Patrol agents were attacked, and when our agents are attacked, they should be allowed to respond,” Sen. John Neely Kennedy told a reporter from Vox on Capitol Hill. Asked if the sight of children choking on tear gas affected his thinking, Kennedy just replied, “Anything else, guys? I got to go vote.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy responded with a link to an article pointing out, correctly, that the Border Patrol used tear gas during President Barack Obama’s administration — though the article conflated and added together the use of pepper spray along with tear gas.

Survey: New Orleans officials not doing enough for affordable housing

Two-thirds of respondents in a citywide quality-of-life survey don’t believe New Orleans officials are doing enough to support affordable housing. In the University of New Orleans’ 2018 survey of 500 New Orleans residents and 500 Jefferson Parish residents, 40 percent of New Orleans residents also rated the quality of housing as “poor,” and 67 percent said the city does a poor job controlling abandoned housing.

Those results arrived as the New Orleans City Council prepares to consider new rules for affordable housing creation, part of a larger policy priority from Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration, which wants to encourage developers to include affordable units in new construction.

In her first year in office, Cantrell’s approval rating is at 57 percent, and nearly half of New Orleans residents approve of the New Orleans City Council’s job, according to the survey results. Cantrell’s approval rating isn’t as high as former Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s in 2010, when he racked up 75 percent the year he stepped into office. Overall, 70 percent of residents are satisfied with their quality of life, though only 44 percent believe New Orleans is becoming a better place to live.

Crime remains the No. 1 concern among residents. In response to a question asking how often people hear gunfire, black respondents were twice as likely as whites to hear gunfire a few nights or more a month (32 to 16 percent), One-third of residents in Districts D and E said they hear gunfire at least three times a month.

‘Everyone’s welcome here’

More than 50 New Orleans businesses have signed on to add a sticker proclaiming their LGBTQ-friendliness. In October, New Orleans tourism officials through the New Orleans LGBT Hospitality Alliance began offering businesses a fleur de lis sticker reading “Everyone’s welcome here” that can be applied to a glass door or window.

New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams said the stickers “signify New Orleans is a welcoming place for all of our visitors” and were “created to build on city’s designation as the second-most welcoming city and to show the world that New Orleans is for everybody.” (The first is San Francisco, according to a 2017 GayCities poll.)

The alliance operates under the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation (NOTMC) and New Orleans & Co. (formerly the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau). NOTMC president Mark Romig told the City Council on November 29 that the stickers “really to show the rest of the world we’re a welcoming city for everyone.”

Cities for Tomorrow conference coming this week

The New York Times will host its annual Cities for Tomorrow conference in New Orleans Dec. 6-7. The gathering brings media figures, authors, historians, NBA team owners, U.S. mayors — and former ones, like Mitch Landrieu — and other “urban power players” to discuss what challenges cities are facing and the “insights into what drives urban success.”

Featured speakers and panelists include Mayor LaToya Cantrell, “The Late Show” bandleader Jon Batiste, New York Times editor Dean Baquet, author and City Planning Commission member Walter Isaacson, chef Emeril Lagasse, and National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward. Tank and the Bangas also will perform.

Among some of the panels and events: Cantrell and Isaacson will participate in a pre-conference tour dubbed “Resilient NOLA,” a “Power of Papers” panel will discuss what’s next while “local journalism is in jeopardy,” and New York Times food editor Sam Sifton will join Pableaux Johnson for a “meandering drive” through New Orleans, stopping at beloved food spots.

‘Hamilton’ tickets? Wait until after New Year’s

If you were hoping your Christmas stocking would contain tickets to the touring production of "Hamilton" coming to the Saenger Theatre in March 2019 — no luck. A Saenger official confirms to Gambit that "Hamilton" tickets will not be on sale until after the holiday season.

The smash hit musical — winner of both the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize — will have 23 performances at the Saenger Mar. 12-31, 2019 as part of the Broadway in New Orleans series. Both U.S. touring productions of the show have been selling out the houses where they play, with top tickets going for about $450.

Saenger season ticket subscribers had first dibs on "Hamilton," though, and some subscribers have put their tickets on secondary sale websites at dizzying prices. On StubHub, for instance, $400 will get you a ticket somewhere in the sides of the Saenger balcony for the March 23 performance, while seats in the center orchestra section start at $999 and go up to $2,248.

WWL-TV warns that some scam websites already are hawking fake tickets. The Saenger has created an online signup for those interested in getting word when tickets actually go on sale. The theater does not recommend purchasing tickets from anywhere except the Saenger box office or Ticketmaster.