Economic stability, crime, infrastructure repairs and the ban of smoking in bars and gaming facilities around the city were key issues discussed during a forum Wednesday night amongst candidates in the upcoming City Council election on Feb. 1.
Held by the League of Women Voters, Urban League and WDSU, City Council candidates in Districts A, C, D and E were asked how they would improve issues plaguing their districts. Each candidate was given 45 seconds to answer a series of questions on how to best improve the city’s roadway infrastructure, leadership in the New Orleans police department, health services and more. At the end, candidates were given just a minute for closing statements.
Drew Ward, a Republican and neighborhood activist running a seat in District A, pushed for complete reform of the New Orleans Police Department, the Sewerage and Water Board and other city agencies.
“Can I get a show of hands — I’m just curious — is there anybody else here who’s tired of being relegated to the role of spectator while someone else rebuilds our city into something that’s not our city for someone else who doesn’t live here?” Ward asked during his closing statement.”Anybody want to do anything about it? Let me tell you, I’m here for my job interview.”
Ward heavily criticized the current pay structure of civil servants in city government. Pointing to the system the United States Army uses, Ward suggested the city adopt one pay scale for all workers in local government.
“Throw the existing system out the window and into the trash can where it belongs,” Ward said. “No more deputy mayors making 15 to 20 times more than a lot of New Orleanians make. That’s unacceptable.”
When asked what the top three issues in District A were, Ward said poverty, three times.
Economic inequality was also a focus of District A candidate David Capasso, an attorney and Democrat.
Capasso pushed to give civil servants like police and fireman the power of collective bargaining, and to raise wages in order to keep young people in the city.
He also heavily criticized the governor of Louisiana, calling him “Governor Swindal” and blaming him for the city’s poor infrastructure and lack of health services.
“We’ve got to start by calling out the people who have dismantled this system — Governor Jindal and his cronies,” Capasso said, referring to Jindal’s opposition of Medicaid expansion and the city’s healthcare “crisis,” stemming from a shortage of hospitals.
Jason Coleman, a cab-company owner and Democratic operative, said that District A and the rest of the city could benefit from balancing the budget by being stricter on property taxes.
“Our budget is stressed, at 502 million dollars, let’s not kid ourselves,” Coleman added, when asked how to improve the city’s infrastructure. “But it will probably take about a 700 million dollar budget in order to fix the streets the way we need to fix them.”
Coleman also stressed that he was in favor of raising minimum wage.
“We can’t continue to pay low wages and expect better treatment of individuals,” he said.
Incumbent Susan Guidry touted the progress made in her district and the city since she was elected to represent District A. She highlighted her work as chair of the City Council Criminal Justice Committee, helping reform the way police focus on violent crime by allowing officers to issue summonses for minor offenses like marijuana possession and prostitution, rather than making time-consuming arrests.
“Crime is the biggest problem all over the city, and as chair of the Criminal Justice Committee I work on that constantly,” Guidry said. “A lot of my initatives are geared towards putting our resources in the fight against violent crime, and not with the small crime.”
Guidry also praised the increase of retail development in District A, citing the additions of Costco and Mid-City Market.
“The last four years have seen so much progress in this city,” Guidry said. “I’m very optimistic about the future of our city but I’m also in a position where I can see how much there is left to do.”
All candidates except for Coleman said they would support an ordinance that would ban smoking in bars and gaming facilities around the city.