Valentine’s Day Protest

I won’t be there, but this sounds interesting:

Valentine’s day press conference 11:00 am in front of city hall to celebrate the love between the city council and the private interests who will make millions demolishing public housing. Half hour, fun, satirical protest! Wear red, bring a date!

[via txt msg from Brice Nice]

Three More Votes

We’re voting again Saturday. In the fifth precinct of the fourth ward we’ll have three items on the ballot: Attorney General, Judge, and City Council At-Large.

Attorney General
It’s a Republican named Royal versus a Democrat named Buddy. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. I’m really note sure who I’ll support, but if Royal wins, the Republicanization of Louisiana will be complete.

Judge, Criminal District Court, Section A
I’m inclined to support Laurie White over Juana Marine Lombard solely on the strength of Dangerblond’s advocacy. However, for those who like to think for themselves, Silence Is Violence has a forum planned for Wednesday, November 14, 6:30pm at the Sound Cafe (2700 Chartres).

Councilmember at Large
Oooh. The tough one. Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson versus Cynthia Willard-Lewis. They’re both old-school New Orleans politicians. Willard-Lewis is a district councilmember now. Clarkson was a district councilmember for many years; she ran for this at-large seat in the last election but lost. They are both “part of the problem.” If their leadership was really so great, then New Orleans would be in better shape now. We need fresh blood.

I was inclined to support Willard-Lewis because her victory would create a vacancy in District E and thus we might get some fresh blood there. (But Michael said I should be careful what I wish for.) Rumors abound that she’s under investigation by the feds, that she’s actually wearing a wire now. The extremely cynical calculation is that we should vote for her because if she goes down, we’ll have two new slots on the council. I forget where I read that. I’m not sure I can roll like that.

Questions about Willard-Lewis’ role in Garbagegate [TM] have made me reconsider. But those questions were raised in my mind largely by the Times-Picayune, which paper today endorsed Clarkson. Can I really trust the Picayune’s coverage on this issue?

Dirty Deal

This is what I was talking about last Friday. The “dirty deal” relates to the city’s trash disposal contracts. Now that it’s the top story in today’s paper, I can talk about it.

Are you yawning yet? I don’t blame you — unless you live in New Orleans. In that case, you should be angry.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: At the end of last year, the city signed some big fat garbage contracts with some local waste disposal companies. We’re paying far more than we used to, and far more than surrounding parishes. But at least the contract specified unlimited pickup of curbside debris.

So, when FEMA stopped paying for debris pickup this summer, the local companies should have taken over. But they haven’t, and we’ve all seen the result: piles of garbage rotting on the street.

One Month and Counting...

So why are the local guys not stepping up and fulfilling that part of their contract?

Because the City Council in their infinite wisdom passed an ordinance in April limiting curbside debris pickup to 25 lbs. or less.

That stinks. Mind you, we are still paying for the big fat contract. We’re just not getting what we’re paying for.

Why on earth would the council approve such a provision? Could it have anything to do with campaign contributions? Is this a dirty deal? Until I see convincing evidence to the contrary, I have to assume that it is.

We are getting screwed. The cost of debris removal is falling on the shoulders of the private citizen. My neighbor on the corner, for example, who just recently got his Road Home check, has a big debris pile sitting by his house. He will have to pay to have that debris removed. That’s only fair, except that he’s paying for it twice.

The City Council should rescind its rule that curtailed the garbage contract. Give us the service that we are paying for, or give us a refund!

At Large

Now that Oliver Thomas has resigned, the New Orleans City Council’s At-Large seat will be on the ballot October 20.

The question is, will we get any good candidates?

It’s been extremely flattering to have had my name bandied about on the radio, on blogs, and in e-mails. People have urged me to run.

I would seem to be an unlikely candidate, but that’s the whole point. I’ve long held to the belief that ordinary citizens should run for public office as often as possible. We should not concede the power of the state to a political class. And after all, I was contemplating a run for my City Council district seat just before the storm.

So the idea is kind of appealing. But it’s not gonna happen.

Of course, there are many reasons not to run for public office. I’m not sure I have the stomach for it. The timing’s not right. And there are a thousand other reasons.

But there’s one reason that trumps ’em all. When I mentioned the idea to Xy, she wouldn’t hear of it. “You’re gone too much as it is, and the house still isn’t done.” She has a point. Here we are two years after the fact with half our house still not ready for habitation. If our renovation was complete, I might have a little more support from the spouse. Without that spousal support, there’s really no point in contemplating the prospect.

If you wanted me to run, sorry to disappoint. You can blame my contractor. Or you can blame me.

So the question remains: Who will be in the running? The paper today indicates that Cynthia Willard-Lewis (City Council) and Tommie Vassel (Sewerage & Water Board) plan to enter the race. See my comments above regarding the dominance of a political class.

I remember Malik Rahim ran for the at-large seat in 2002. I was marginally involved with that campaign, and it was not nearly as well executed as it could have been. Malik got 3,664 votes, which was only 2% and put him in last place in a field of seven. Even so it was a surprisingly good show for a grassroots candidate with virtually no funds.

I haven’t heard anything about whether Malik plans another run at the seat, but it occurs to me that his credibility and profile could only be enhanced since he founded Common Ground in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Common Ground has grown to be a big organization which continues to have an enduring impact in the area. He’d still be a very long shot to actually win.

Speaking of grassroots candidates, Schroeder posted the following:

For the At-Large seat vacated by Thomas, I’m going to suggest Mary Queen of Vietnam’s Father Luke, the Hispanic-American Apostolate’s Martin Gutierrez, and Patricia Jones of the Lower Ninth Ward community association, NENA.

All three of these activists have excellent reputations for their work in the community. I’d support any one of them. But I’m afraid they’d have to be drafted, and who has the time to go out and twist reluctant arms?

This is why I believe it’s important to revive the Green Party of Louisiana, to create an alternative to politics as usual, a framework that makes it a little easier to run citizen candidates. The party only gained official ballot status a few weeks before the flooding of New Orleans, and it’s been dormant since. Hopefully the upcoming convention will begin that revival.

Scapegoat

Today Shelley Midura bravely repeated her call for Eddie Jordan to resign. Only this time Mr. Jordan was right there and he answered back.

Jordan said she was trying to make him a scapegoat.

I understand where Jordan is coming from. After all, there’s plenty of other people screwing up in our government. Why is he getting all the pressure?

The answer is because he’s screwed up so badly and so publicly that his removal has seemed to become a possibility, however remote.

I still believe Jordan could be pressured to resign if other elected officials follow Midura’s lead and present a united front. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be happening. Perhaps citizens can still unite to the same effect. Perhaps it will require another massive bungle on Jordan’s part.

If and when that happens, if Jordan is forced to resign for his glaring incompetence, then I don’t think he should be considered a scapegoat. I think he should be considered an example.

Perhaps that’s why politicians are afraid of calling for his resignation — they’re afraid of the precedent. They’re afraid they might be next.

Midura to Jordan: Please Resign

Shelley Midura of the New Orleans City Council has asked our Distict Attorney Eddie Jordan to step down. I’m going to reproduce it here in full because her staff sent it to me directly (along with many others I’m sure) so I can claim as direct a line as the mainstream media:

July 12, 2007
Eddie Jordan
District Attorney
1340 Poydras Street
Suite 700
New Orleans, LA 70112

Dear Mr. Jordan:

I am writing to you today to respectfully request that you resign from the office of Orleans Parish District Attorney.

I have no doubts about your intentions or your dedication or your character. By all accounts you are a fine man. But the job of District Attorney is an admittedly difficult one with heavy responsibility and requires more than most fine men are capable of. After the events of the last 48 hours, which have eroded the public’s confidence in your ability to carry out the responsibilities of the District Attorney, I am asking that you resign from office. An elected official’s legitimacy and moral authority to govern is derived from the consent of the governed. I no longer believe you have the consent and support from the public required to perform your duties adequately.

I do not know that there is any excuse for dropping charges against a quintuple murderer without a thorough exhaustion of all possibilities to prevent such a thing from happening. Months ago you and Superintendent Riley pledged to the City Council several reforms and improvements in your lines of communication to ensure that lack of coordination between your offices would no longer lead to dropped cases against those who pose serious threats to our public safety. It has become all too clear that you have been unable to hold up your end of this bargain. Mr. Jordan, you must know as well as any of your fellow New Orleanians the great urgency our city feels in combating the violent crime problem. We have lost the room for these kinds of error. I thank you for your service and your efforts as District Attorney, yet I maintain my request on behalf of my constituents that you resign your office as soon as possible.
Sincerely,

Shelley Midura

cc: Mayor C. Ray Nagin
New Orleans City Council

Midura has no authority over Jordan. As far as I know, Jordan answers only to the voters. Therefore Midura is exceeding her authority here. She’s sticking her neck out, taking a risk. She may pay a price for it. So… is she merely pandering to her constituents, or is this an exercise of true leadership? I tend to think it’s the latter. Big props to Midura for saying what needs to be said. I’m not in her district, but she’s representin’ for me.

Dear Ms. Head

Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail I just sent to my City Council Representative, Stacy Head, addressing three problems in my neighborhood:

There is a small grocery at the corner of Lopez and Bienville which has not been touched since the storm. It is overrun by large rats and is an immediate threat to public health, with families living next door. I’ve alerted Claudia Riegel of the Termite and Mosquito Control Board, and they’ve set traps in the area, but they can’t go in the building. I believe they alerted the health department. I just wanted to make you aware of the situation which I believe needs to be addressed as quickly as possible.

Garbage and debris continues to be a problem. On the 3100 block of Iberville, for example, residents were piling household garbage on the sidewalk without bagging it. The pile became quite large and of course Waste Management wouldn’t pick it up. Finally the garbage was separated from larger debris and properly bagged. The result is two large piles of garbage which continue to be a nuisance and a health hazard.

Garbage

The garbage is not picked up by WM because it is not in front of a residence but a vacant lot. A resident (Gwen Jones) has called various city officials over the past week and has gotten repeated assurances that the problem will be addressed, but so far, it has not. I called the city myself today; they took the information from me and gave me a tracking number (67900) so we hope this will be dealt with now. I hasten to emphasize that this story is repeated on many of the surrounding side streets. Again, we just wanted to make you aware of the situation. WM’s regular Thursday pickup of household garbage (properly bagged) has improved a great deal over the last few weeks.

Finally, the most difficult problem of all: absentee landlords. Roughly 50% of the properties in my immediate area of Mid-City are standing vacant, most having been gutted but not currently habitable. However, a number of landlords have fixed up their places. Unfortunately most of these rental units have been repaired “off the books,” without permits, without inspections, and as a result are somewhat below the standard of habitability. Nevertheless they are being rented out at double the pre-Katrina rate. Directly across the street from me tenants have been living without electricity for weeks. Around the corner a family is living without gas and therefore without hot water. It seems clear to me that these landlords are taking advantage of a very vulnerable population: mostly these are the working poor, many of them are Spanish-speaking and some may be here illegally. It is not realistic to expect these tenants to take legal action against their landlords. I don’t wish to make the situation worse for my neighbors, but I also don’t wish to live in a slum zone. How can we hold these landlords to a higher standard?

Fattening Frogs for Snakes

So I went to the neighborhood planning meeting for Mid-City and Gert Town Saturday morning, and was deeply disturbed by what I saw there. Something doesn’t smell right. It’s not just the lack of publicity for this particular meeting. The whole process seems suspect.

The aim is to come up with a recovery plan for each neighborhood by July, and then a comprehensive plan for the whole city in August. The plan would go to the City Planning Commission and then to the City Council (which body is sponsoring this whole process) and finally to the Louisiana Recovery Authority.

There’s a lot of money at stake here. Billions, I suppose. That federal money I keep hearing about, designated for rebuilding, is coming down to the LRA and they have to decide how to spend it. Established precedent from other disasters dictates that the devastated community should decide how to allocate these funds.

The planning process now under way seems to be designed to give the illusion of community participation — a veneer of legitimacy.

But it’s not the real thing. At least I don’t think it is. How could it be? The timeframe seems unrealistic. They want to cook up a plan for our whole neighborhood in two more meetings, from what I gather. That’s just not possible.

As one guy in the audience said, we’re “fattening frogs for snakes.” I never heard that expression before but it seems to fit. This looks like a scheme to get dollars into pockets, but whose pockets I don’t know.

Of course, I could be wrong. I hope I am. But it’s complicated. I have heard that the LRA will only accept plans for New Orleans that have the City Council’s stamp of approval. And with Saturday’s election, we effectively have a new city council.

I need to figure this out and fast. The pressing question for neighborhood organizations: repudiate or participate?

District B Scorecard

I went to a candidate forum last night for City Council districts A, B, C and at-large. As an experiment, I kept a crude scorecard as the District B candidates answered questions. I marked a + if I liked their answer, a – if I disliked it, and a 0 if it didn’t move me either way. Then I added up a score for each candidate, adding a point for each + and subtracting a point for each -. Here’s the results:


     Brown +++––0+ 2
Duplantier +0++00- 2
      Head ++++0++ 6
    Landry +0++0++ 5
     Pratt +000-00 0
  Truehill +++++++ 7

The questions were about: slots at the Fairgrounds, development at Broad & Tulane, the BNOB plan, the city’s master plan, race relations and blighted housing. Each candidate also got to make a concluding statement. The first question was yes/no, and everyone answered the same, so everyone got the + for that one.

As you can see from my little chart, my responses were mostly positive. Pratt (the incumbent) left me cold. Brown was doing pretty well for a while, until he choked on the master plan question. Truehill made the best impression on me, followed by Head, with Landry close behind.

District B

NOCC District B

I live in New Orleans City Council District B, which includes part of Mid-City, the CBD, the Garden District and Irish Channel, Central City and Gert Town, most of Broadmoor and a little bit of Uptown. [PDF map] We have six candidates running for this council seat in the next election.

The League of Women Voters has profiles of all the candidates. Laureen posted interviews with Quentin Brown and Shane Landry.

Rev. Marshall Truehill is the only candidate I’ve actually met. He came to an MCNO meeting a few weeks ago, and made a good impression. As a friend of mine said:

I think Truehill is serious about getting City Council out of the planning process and that should be something all of us push for as one of the single best things that could happen for our future quality of life (along with fixing the schools). Truehill was on the City Planning Commission for a number of years and I think he saw the damage done by our current system.

That being said, I have at times disagreed with his support of certain projects. He seems a little too connected to the old-guard New Orleans way of doing things for my taste. Maybe it is just the post-K thing, but I’m ready for a complete changing of the guard.

Speaking of changing the guard, there’s also Renee Gill-Pratt, the incumbent, but I have to agree with Mr. Clio on this one: ABIEMO.

That leaves Duplantier and Head as the two candidates I really know nothing about. Duplantier is the only candidate who explicitly mentions the growth of the university where I work in his LWV profile. Gotta like that.

If I had to vote today, I’m not sure who I’d vote for. I need to learn more. Hopefully I will at the upcoming Candidate Forum.

Greenless

The qualifying period is over, and the field is jam-packed. Two dozen candidates for mayor alone!

I’m sorry to say that no one is running as a Green. Les Evenchick is running for City Council At-Large, but his party affiliation is listed as “no party,” which is probably accurate since I think he quit the Greens a few years back to start his own party.

This is something of a disappointment. The Green Party of Louisiana just achieved official party status in this state last summer. We were gearing up to run a Green slate of candidates for all the City Council posts. I was even tentatively planning to run for my district. “Editor B for District B.” Fellow running mates might have included Leenie Halbert, Malik Rahim and John Clark.

Post-Katrina, I didn’t feel up to it, and I guess none of my fellow Greens did either. I’d heard Malik was running for mayor, but according to today’s paper, he’s not.

At least the Libertarians aren’t fielding any candidates either. That would have been embarrassing.

Nope, it’s mostly Democrats, a smattering of Republicans, and a surprising number of Independents and “no party” people. (What’s the difference, I wonder?)

I notice Manny “Chevrolet” Bruno is running for mayor again. He got my vote last time. I didn’t know anything about him except I heard he was a “barstool philospher.” It was a protest vote, the closest thing to “none of the above” which I could find on the ballot.

I sure hope I don’t have to vote for Manny again this time. There’s so much at stake.

As for Kimberly Williamson Butler… Her candidacy would have amused me in the past, but post-Katrina, it’s just embarrassing.