Helena Moreno, left; Kenneth Cutno, middle; and Joe Bouie

If poll data and fundraising amounts are any indication, state Rep. Helena Moreno is well ahead of her two rivals in the race to claim the at-large New Orleans City Council seat being vacated by the retiring Stacy Head.

But Moreno's fellow Democratic state lawmaker, Joseph Bouie, and Kenneth Cutno — hoping to win his first elected office — have spent the final days ahead of Saturday's primary insisting to voters that they are the ones who should succeed Head.

Moreno, 40, said in a recent interview that her key endorsements, big donations and favorable poll numbers are evidence she has shown the ability to pass legislation since joining the state House of Representatives in 2010.

She highlighted her successful push for the state to use unclaimed casino winnings to pay for sexual assault testing, ending the earlier practice of billing the victims.

The former television journalist and one-time candidate for Congress also pointed to her successful push to expand domestic violence protections to dating partners, even if the victims did not live with or share a child with their abusers.

Moreno said voters can expect her to be similarly efficient if she is elected to the City Council, which likely will spend much of its next four-year cycle seeking long-term solutions to the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board crisis as well as a violent crime problem that has seen few meaningful improvements over the years. 

Generally, she said she would prioritize resolving the drainage crisis because pursuing loftier business development goals won't get off the ground with such a basic service crippled. That could include moving the quasi-independent Sewerage & Water Board under City Hall's direct control and ending the practice of splitting upkeep of the drainage system between two separate entities. 

She also said she would pursue better coordination among the various law enforcement agencies that have jurisdiction in New Orleans in an effort to minimize the effects of the ongoing staffing shortage affecting the roughly 1,100 officers on the New Orleans Police Department.

"People can do a lot of talking, but I have a record of pushing forward difficult agendas and getting bills passed," Moreno said. "I am effective, and people in this city are looking for effective leadership."

Meanwhile, the 70-year-old Bouie said he, too, has accumulated meaningful legislative experience since joining the state House in 2014 and also has made substantial contributions to the city's fight against crime.

The retired Southern University at New Orleans professor and administrator highlighted his helping former Criminal District Court Magistrate Judge Gerard Hansen develop a "drug court."

That court's aim was to rehabilitate drug offenders rather than simply shepherd them toward prosecution. The program began about the same time that former Police Superintendent Richard Pennington delivered on a promise to significantly reduce the city's homicide rate, then about twice what it is these days.

Bouie added that one of the solutions he would offer for the S&WB crisis would be training and hiring unemployed neighborhood residents to maintain catch basins, many of which were clogged with dirt and debris during two recent floods.

"This is a pivotal time for our citizens to choose, ... and I am optimistic the community will no longer go along with those 'anointed' to be the next leaders of the city," said Bouie, who dismissed the polls' sample sizes as too small to be accurate. "If you're serious about change, I'm the one with the knowledge, skills and relationships with the community to do it."

Cutno, 61, a Democrat who has previously run unsuccessfully for seats in the state House and Congress, said he believes any major improvements in New Orleans must begin with more affordable housing for low-income and working-class people, including those in the music and film industries.

If elected, he said, he would invest $17 million in block grant funds not just for renters' and Section 8 assistance but also to help people make down payments on houses to get them into homeownership.

His hope would be for that to translate into a reduction of blighted properties while also adding to tax rolls, producing revenue that could be used to pursue various drainage improvements and crime prevention programs.

Cutno supports himself these days as a travel agent and by appearing in commercials as well as an extra or stand-in actor in movies. He also bills himself as a housing and community development consultant with a political science degree from Southern University in Baton Rouge.

A recent poll found he has scant support, but Cutno said he is financing his own campaign and therefore is not bound to pursue donors' agendas.

"We don't need politicians," he said. "We need leaders, and I will be free to be one."

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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