Early voting starts Saturday, Sept. 30, across Louisiana — but nowhere is that date more important than in metro New Orleans. Voters in New Orleans will elect a new mayor, at least three new City Council members and two judges. They also will decide the fate of three important school board millages.
In Jefferson Parish, voters in Council District 4 will choose a new parish councilman, and voters parishwide will decide whether to renew two transportation millages. Statewide, voters will elect a new treasurer and consider three proposed constitutional amendments.
These are vitally important decisions, yet early indicators suggest a low turnout statewide — and only tepid interest locally. With so much at stake for New Orleans, we hope voters heed the "wake-up call" described in our cover story (p. 17). As we considered whom to endorse in these critical elections, we looked for candidates who not only had the skill sets to get things done, but who also understood the sense of urgency that will be needed to address the challenges facing our city, region and state. Whether you agree with our recommendations or not, we hope you'll take time to vote.
Eighteen people have qualified to be New Orleans' next mayor. While we found lots to like among the leading candidates, one stood out as the best choice to lead our city going forward: LaToya Cantrell.
New Orleans has made great strides over the past eight years, but much remains to be done. The next mayor must continue emergency and long-term fixes at the Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB), accelerate street repairs and catch-basin cleanings, boost police manpower and morale, reduce crime and blight, enforce short-term rental (STR) policies, reduce economic disparities, and improve the overall quality of life in the city.
Every one of those is a make-or-break challenge. New Orleans cannot afford a mayor who faces a learning curve. Our next mayor will have to hit the ground running on Day One. We think the best person to do that is someone who already has dealt with those issues extensively, firsthand, from the ground up as a neighborhood leader and a proven coalition builder at City Hall. Cantrell is the only mayoral candidate who has done that — and she continues to do it every day, while the others merely talk about it. That's the critical difference between Cantrell and her opponents.
She would be New Orleans' first truly post-Katrina mayor. She came to prominence as a leader in Broadmoor during the tumultuous early days of New Orleans' recovery. At a time when some suggested turning her neighborhood into green space, Cantrell led the grass-roots effort to make Broadmoor one of the first neighborhoods to come back strong. During that time, she learned how city government works from the citizens' point of view, which served her well when she won a special election for the District B council seat in 2012. On the council, she earned a reputation for personally addressing constituents' concerns and tackling tough issues. She also helped consolidate 14 disparate council committees into eight, which increased council members' participation and engagement.
District B includes some of the city's poorest neighborhoods as well as some of its wealthiest. Cantrell won re-election to a full term in 2014 as a pro-development representative with solid progressive bona fides, including a commitment to social services, health care and inclusiveness. She spearheaded creation of a low-barrier shelter for the homeless and supported diversion programs for non-violent criminals. She supported the council's Living Wage ordinance and says she'll ensure city programs and initiatives "are aligned with what people say in the city."
As mayor, Cantrell pledges to give cops the tools and resources they need to do their job — and to let the police chief run the department as he sees fit. She wants to treat the root causes of violent crime by bolstering programs for youth and families while pushing the New Orleans Police Department to identify and pursue the city's most violent offenders. "People need hope," she says. She's right. On another important front, Cantrell will push to hire an experienced engineer to lead the troubled S&WB. Her platform for economic development is tailored to the city's diverse neighborhoods yet rooted in presenting clear guidelines for public incentives. These ideas are the hallmark of someone who knows how City Hall is supposed to work.
We haven't agreed with all of Cantrell's positions as a councilwoman, but we always have respected her commitment to her principles and her constituents. She ultimately supported a STR ordinance that didn't require a homestead exemption for operators. She says today "the jury's still out" on the STR ordinance, but she acknowledges that City Hall needs to step up inspections and enforcement. Her smoking ban ordinance was, in our opinion, overly broad, but her stewardship of the issue was masterful — and it showed the kind of political dexterity and determination mayors must have to get things done.
Cantrell made a joke during her announcement speech about having sharp elbows behind the scenes. Given our city's daunting challenges, we think New Orleanians will appreciate a mayor who sometimes finds it necessary to kick butt to get the job done — because being mayor of New Orleans is one of the toughest jobs in America. Besides, style points ultimately don't matter nearly as much as substantive progress. For all these reasons, we urge our readers in New Orleans to vote for LaToya Cantrell for mayor.
New Orleans Council
At-Large, Division 1: Helena Moreno
In her seven and a half years in the Legislature, state Rep. Helena Moreno has been a consistently progressive voice — and a remarkably effective one in the heavily conservative House of Representatives. Moreno has gotten Republicans to support legislation benefiting New Orleans and has been a strong voice for women's rights (including equal pay), tougher laws on domestic abusers and more rights for their victims, greater access to health care, and criminal justice reform. She will make an excellent addition to the City Council.
New Orleans Council
At-Large, Division 2: Jason Williams
Jason Williams has been a strong, even-handed citywide representative on the City Council and a steadying force during tense debates. As a former Criminal Court Judge and practicing criminal defense attorney, he helped steer local criminal justice reform efforts through the council and sits on the board of the Innocence Project, which works to free innocent prisoners. Among his biggest accomplishments on the council, he says, were helping to revamp the city's 911 system and improving police response time. We urge his re-election.
New Orleans Council
Joe Giarrusso III
Joe Giarrusso III followed the post-Katrina road to public service via grass-roots civic engagement: He served as president of the Lakeview Civic Improvement Association and is a past president of the Young Leadership Council. Outgoing District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry endorsed Giarrusso early, and his other endorsements include state Sen. JP Morrell and state Rep. Walt Leger, as well as many local organizations. His name consistently was the first one mentioned by several council and mayoral candidates as someone they looked forward to working with should they be elected. That speaks volumes about his ability to forge coalitions and work with others.
New Orleans Council
Timothy David Ray
Timothy David Ray is a newcomer to politics who has more than held his own in candidate forums. He has a unique resume that should stand him in good stead on the Council: a law degree from Loyola University New Orleans; a B.A. in music from Dillard University; sitting on the Dispute Resolution Committee of the American Bar Association; and teaching political science at the University of New Orleans. Ray's ideas include reactivating former Mayor Marc Morial's Youth City Council and redeveloping Canal Street with a mix of attractive national businesses and local entrepreneurs. He proposes dedicating a millage to youth resources — another interesting idea. Ray's grasp of the issues is clear, and his platform is refreshingly specific.
New Orleans Council
Kristin Gisleson Palmer
Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who represented District C for four years beginning in 2010 before choosing not to run again, is making another bid to represent Algiers, the French Quarter, Marigny and Bywater. She calls the STR ordinance passed by the council last year a "catastrophe" and favors tying STR licenses to homestead exemptions to keep absentee landlords from ruining entire neighborhoods. Palmer is a staunch advocate for the Algiers ferry and supports a higher minimum wage, a "ban the box" provision on employment applications and programs to help disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs). We think her energy and commitment to neighborhoods will serve District C well.
New Orleans Council
While most candidates agree that the federal minimum wage is inadequate for working New Orleanians, Jared Brossett was the council member who got the city's first "living wage" ordinance passed, spending nearly a year in negotiations to make it happen. He voted against the controversial STR law because it didn't require STR operators to have a homestead exemption — a principled and reasonable objection. Brossett correctly calls the hundreds of unfilled jobs at the S&WB "a public safety issue," and he has emerged as a strong voice for seniors on the City Council.
New Orleans Council
New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward still are recovering from Hurricane Katrina, but James Gray points to several significant retail achievements — and several on the horizon (including the former Lake Forest Plaza mall) — that have and will increase economic opportunities in the district. Gray has taken some criticism for approving a few high-density apartment buildings, but he insists developers will never return to New Orleans East if there isn't a minimum density of residents there to patronize their stores. Moreover, he has been a calm voice of reason during some of the council's most turbulent debates.
Jefferson Parish Council
We have great respect for both candidates in the race for Jefferson Parish Council, but we think state Sen. Danny Martiny is the better choice because he will be a truly independent councilman. He is not the choice of scandalized Parish President Mike Yenni, who is working behind the scenes for Kenner Councilman Dominick Impastato's election — even though Impastato publicly has distanced himself from Yenni. As a state senator, Martiny has been extremely effective for his district by bringing disparate interests together to get things done. He consistently offers reasonable solutions to complex problems, and he's not afraid to tackle tough issues. He will serve Kenner and West Metairie very well on the parish council.
To hear some candidates tell it, the job of the state treasurer is to keep taxes low, cut spending and support President Donald Trump. In truth, none of that has anything to do with the job. The treasurer is the state's banker, fiscal agent and chair of the state bond commission, which plays a significant role in managing state debt. In this contest, one candidate stands out as the only one with actual banking and bond commission experience: state Sen. Neil Riser of Columbia. Riser ranks among the Senate's most conservative members, but conservatives and liberals alike respect him for his integrity and sincerity. A banker and businessman by profession, he already knows how to do the job, and his campaign focus on the treasurer's duties shows that he views the job as a public trust and not a political stage or stepping stone.
Constitutional Amendment 1:
This amendment would grant a property tax exemption for building materials that are delivered to residential and commercial construction sites. It also brings statewide uniformity to the treatment of construction materials.
Constitutional Amendment 2:
This amendment broadens a property tax exemption for surviving spouses of certain first responders killed in the line of duty.
Constitutional Amendment 3:
This amendment would create a fund to receive revenues from any future motor fuels tax and restrict their usage to the direct costs of transportation and infrastructure projects.
Orleans School Millage Renewals
Propositions 1, 2 & 3:
Yes to all
The three existing property tax millages are up for a 10-year extension, which is a very reasonable time frame. They currently provide nearly $40 million a year for all public schools in New Orleans. Voters are asked to consider each separately — one for employees; one for books, materials and supplies; and one that addresses discipline and dropout prevention. We urge approval of all three.
Jefferson Parish Millage Renewals
Propositions 1 & 2:
Yes to both
The two parish millages on the ballot amount to only 3 mills, yet they provide critical funding for public transit in Jefferson — particularly for seniors and people with disabilities. Jefferson's transit system serves some 2 million riders a year. If approved by voters, the millages would apply for another 10 years. We recommend renewal of both.
Our endorsement process
We want our readers to know how Gambit arrives at the decisions behind our endorsements. This year, as always, we met with all candidates who made themselves available for endorsement interviews. We developed questions for each race and pressed candidates to give honest, thorough answers that reveal both their intellectual grasp of the issues as well as their depth and character as individuals. Our editorial board consists of Gambit President and CEO Margo DuBos, Publisher Jeanne Foster and Editor Kevin Allman. Political Editor Clancy DuBos helps draft and pose the policy questions, but he does not vote on the endorsements. When it's time to decide who gets the nod, our metric is simple: We don't try to pick winners. Instead, we recommend candidates we honestly feel will do the best job — and we hold all the winners accountable between elections. (Note: Gambit does not endorse in judicial elections because we believe judges should be appointed.)