Voters in District C will be able to rely on recent and more distant memories in choosing who will represent them on the New Orleans City Council.
Nadine Ramsey, 61, is finishing up her first term on the council, and her only challenger, Kristin Gisleson Palmer, represented the district from 2010 to 2014 before deciding not to seek a second term.
Palmer, 50, has spent the interim renovating properties in Algiers. She said she is running because her Algiers neighbors and former constituents across the river in the French Quarter, Treme, Faubourg Marigny and Bywater — all parts of District C — have told her Ramsey is unresponsive and isn’t getting things done.
“I think what we’re seeing now is a total lack of representation in this district,” Palmer said recently. “I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and say maybe it’s a lack of appreciation for the diversity of this community — not just racially, but geographically, economically, culturally, socially.”
Ramsey, however, said her record with constituents will speak for itself come Oct. 14.
“It’s definitely not true,” she said of Palmer's charge. “We’ve fielded thousands of complaints from our citizens. I attend neighborhood association meetings. I visit the churches. I visit the schools. I’m engaged.”
Ramsey, who was a Civil District Court judge and ran for mayor before she was elected to the council, accused Palmer of being selective with her attention during her time in office.
“My opponent selected certain areas of the district and held their hands,” she said. “I don’t do that. I go out into the community and I treat everyone respectfully. I’ve done my job. She quit. She’s a quitter.”
Palmer said went on hiatus for family reasons, but now that two of her daughters have entered college, she is ready to get back into politics.
When she announced her entry in July, she said the final straw in her decision was Ramsey’s support for a plan to demolish the Canal Street ferry terminal and replace it with a design that did not include a pedestrian bridge, which some Algiers residents said is crucial to getting them to work on time.
Ramsey called accusations that the new terminal was designed for tourists over residents “crap” and dismissed Palmer’s broader critique that she ignores residents when it comes to zoning and development issues.
As an example, she said she took the concerns of all stakeholders into account during an overhaul of the zoning of Gen. de Gaulle Drive, which she said was instrumental in getting commitments to build there from Starbucks, Pizza Hut and RaceTrac.
“My office went out and encouraged businesses to come and made it easy to work with the city,” she said.
Palmer said she wants voters to ask themselves whether there has been real change in the district over the last three-plus years.
“There’s nothing,” she said. “Her concept of economic development is a gas station, a Pizza Hut and a Starbucks on Gen. de Gaulle, and none of the three have been built yet. That’s not economic development.”
On issues such as loosening height restrictions on buildings along the riverfront, Palmer said Ramsey has not listened to resident groups throughout the district.
Ramsey counters that there are plenty of people in the district who want to see more riverfront development. “I haven’t coddled who she wants me to coddle, but that’s not my job,” she said. “My job is to be responsive to everyone in my district, and that’s what I’ve done.”
Palmer said the city’s operating budget has increased by about $100 million a year since she left office. “No one is talking about that,” she said. “Where are we putting it? And is it reflecting the needs of the city, and are we using it wisely?”
Ramsey has built up a war chest of $208,435 over the last four years, while Palmer has raised $152,432, most of it in a more recent flurry of fundraising, according campaign finance records.
Generally speaking, Ramsey's campaign is supported by developers and the restaurant, bar and entertainment businesses, while Palmer, who has strong support among the preservation community, has drawn many of her maximum $2,500 donations from business leaders.
One thing Ramsey and Palmer agree on is that there is a lot of anxiety about crime throughout the district.
Ramsey said she will continue to work closely with NOPD district commanders. She said she has asked the commander in Algiers to increase patrols. But at the same time, she promised to try to give young people outlets that will steer them away from crime.
“A lot of (the violence) has been between people that know each other, people that are related to each other," Ramsey said. "You don’t see a lot of random violent crimes. But you only need to see one incident for people to be frightened, and that’s understandable. But having said all of that, we’re still one of the safest areas of the city.”
Palmer said officers should be allowed to take the Civil Service exam for promotion more frequently than every five years, which would help prevent them from leaving for better jobs elsewhere.
She said there should be more accountability in the French Quarter, where the 8th District security task force’s quarterly reports have not been provided to the council for almost a year.
As for Algiers, Palmer said, the city should look into installing license plate-recognition cameras there because Algiers has few major streets leading in and out.
Short-term rentals have stirred controversy throughout Treme, Bywater and Marigny. The ordinance setting forth rules under which property owners may rent their homes using websites like Airbnb and VRBO went into effect this spring, though it banned the practice outright in the French Quarter.
Many property owners have embraced short-term rentals as a way to generate income. But critics say the practice is destroying the fabric of their neighborhoods and inflating the cost of housing for local buyers and renters alike.
Palmer said residents in Bywater, for example, are seeing their tax bills triple, and the houses that come on the market are unaffordable because they are priced for out-of-town investors looking to rent them to tourists.
“We are losing Treme,” she said. “I walk down the street on Ursulines in Treme and it’s short-term rentals — mini-hotels — up and down the street. … My question is: Who did we rebuild this city for?”
Palmer said neighborhoods were not sufficiently represented in the crafting of the ordinance. Neighborhoods should be able to decide for themselves whether short-term rentals of entire houses should be capped, she said.
Earlier this month, Palmer’s campaign criticized Ramsey for a $2,500 contribution from Airbnb made a month after the ordinance was passed.
“When everyone feels tense about what’s going on, you’ve probably reached a good spot,” Ramsey said, saying the council was able to wring some important concessions from Airbnb.
“I think we did a good job finding a middle ground that is best for our citizens, which was most important to me,” she said.
Both candidates said they would push to create more affordable housing, which they said is crucial to serving workers who live in the district.
Sewerage & Water Board
Asked about the Sewerage & Water Board, Ramsey said she favors putting some council members back on the board, as they once were.
In the big picture, she said, the public needs to remember that, whatever failures in leadership have been laid bare, the board has good employees.
“Sometimes when you have a system that is that old, it starts running by itself and you get comfortable,” she said. “I think now everybody’s eyes are open, and putting council members back on the board is going be a major help.”
Palmer was in office when the council voted to take its members off the board, a decision she stands by, though she said she would support folding the board into city government as a department rather than a quasi-independent agency.
She said the council should push to modernize the system so it can be publicly monitored in real time.