By Katherine Hart, Mid-City Messenger
Candidates for the Mid-City’s two City Council districts, on the ballot for the Oct. 9 election, addressed the the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization meeting on Monday (Aug. 9).
Councilman Joe Giarrusso III, who is running for re-election in the fall, and his two challengers in District A race — Libertarian candidate Amy Misko and Democratic candidate Bob Murrell — all made an appearance.
Although the District B race has attracted more challengers to the incumbent, only Councilman Jay H. Banks was on hand for the virtual meeting.
The candidates were given three minutes to speak, with no time allotted for questions. Their speeches are summarized below.
Councilman Joe Giarrusso, a Democrat who has held the District A seat since 2018, began the presentation with the idea that “all politics is local” and discussed the role neighborhood input plays in city governance.
“As I talk about big issues around economic development, we make sure we help out businesses like Brocato’s and Finn’s with their outside seating,” he said.
After the controversy over roadwork on Marconi Drive, he said, he amended the Complete Streets ordinance “to make sure there was neighborhood participation, and that was a big deal to me.”
Constituent service is a priority in his office, he said. “Another way we try to listen to y’all is on encroachments. We’re about ready to offer a new, completely revised policy on encroachments,” Giarrusso said.
The impetus for the new policy, Giarrusso said, was community feedback on issues such as the planned bike lane on Bienville Street and the Jesuit High School bridge over Banks Street. “We want to make sure that it’s a much more open process for the public,” he said.
When the City Planning Commission wanted to shut down the Neighborhood Participation Program because of the pandemic restrictions, Giarrusso said, he asked the commission to ensure that residents could still participate.
“They told me, ‘No,'” he said, “and I said, ‘If you’re going to tell me no I’m going to tell you you have to do it.’ And along with my colleagues we unanimously passed a rule that, as long as there’s an emergency procedure, there has to be at minimum a telephonic or virtual hearing so that neighbors’ zoning rights are protected.”
Giarrusso concluded by telling MCNO members: “It’s been a real honor serving this neighborhood for the past three-and-a-half years. I’ve had the support of your two past immediate presidents, and I look forward to continuing working with you.”
Amy Misko spoke next, telling the Mid-City residents that she is a candidate for change.
“I just want everybody to know that I am running on campaign platform of 21st century solutions for our 21st century problems,” she said. “I don’t want more of the same, and I don’t think of any of my constituents here in District A want more of the same.”
She focused on city taxes and public safety as areas where she wants to implement change. “Our tax structure is completely out of hand,” Misko said. “Our tax assessor is arbitrarily over-taxing us, based on price per square footage is the last one I saw. I also believe that all taxes that are collected in a district should be spent in that district.”
When it comes to public safety, Misko said, she supports more police funding to beef up staffing and retention. “They need our help and assistance and cooperation in giving them new hires,” she said. “We should be spending our COVID money for this particular purpose. We cannot leave our people defenseless.”
She supports boosting salaries to attract NOPD recruits from out of the area. “We need salaries that are competitive with other large cities in America. We need to encourage relocation,” Misko said. “We need to offer them educational advancement and good benefits, so that they will want to stay and invest their careers here in New Orleans.”
She is also running on an anti-corruption platform, she said. “I’m absolutely appalled by the corruption, and I think it needs to end,” she told the online attendees. “And I think it needs to end by not voting for the same candidates.”
Bob Murrell told the MCNO he is a software developer and avid cyclist who lives in Lakeview with his wife and toddler. Murrell also performs in community theater and stand-up comedy shows.
He said his platform is centered on justice and equity. “My priorities are housing justice, racial and economic justice, workers rights, ecological justice and flipping the budget towards care over harm,” he said.
“And I don’t really want to frame this election about what’s wrong with our city, so instead I’d like to uplift what we love and are fighting to protect and preserve.
“It’s not individualism but community and cooperation that define New Orleans,” he continued, “whether we’re talking about our culture, our food or music, our places of worship. It’s all driven by communal relationships.”
Murrell, a democratic socialist, said he plans to introduce a participatory budget and expand neighborhood participation. “I’m a firm believer in direct democracy,” he said.
Murrell is currently an organizer with No More Lee and has volunteered with other progressive causes.
District B voters will find one Independent, Rosalind “Roz” Reed-Thibodeaux, and four Democrats — Banks, Lesli Harris, Timothy David Ray and Rella Zapletal — on the Oct. 9 ballot.
None of the challengers to the incumbent District B council member were available for Monday’s MCNO meeting.
Councilman Jay H. Banks told the MCNO that he has offered common sense, practical solutions to the city’s problems. “We have some real challenges in front of us, and I’m excited by the fact that we have made the situation better than we found it,” he said. “And I promise you that whenever I do leave the council, it will be better than when I started.”
He addressed public safety, saying it involves more than support for the police. “It’s potable water and making sure we’ve got drainage,” he said, noting that he found it important to take a lead role in securing a stable power source for the Sewerage & Water Board plant on Claiborne and Leonidas.
“You may never call the police, you may never need an ambulance, you may never go to Safety and Permits. You may never need any of those city services,” he said. “But I assure you, everybody needs a good drainage system.”
Crime prevention is also an essential service, he noted. “The revolving door of crime has to stop,” he said, saying that violent criminals are too often released and back on the streets after their arrests. “We’ve started processes to be able to close that.”
The official role of the City Council is legislative, he said, but its functional role is to listen to constituents’ concerns and find solutions to them. “We know functionally we are the gateway to government,” Banks said. “We know that people who have problems traditionally in this city reach out to their council member, and I’m very glad to be able to accommodate that.”
Primary among those concerns are zoning and land-use issues in the district. “They tease me about District B being the land of the provisos,” he said, “because we have been very, very, very diligent, making sure that every development that goes into our neighborhoods conforms to the neighborhood.”
He closed by saying: “I take this job very seriously because I don’t have a choice. Everything I have is here in New Orleans: my mother is here, my grandchildren are here, my whole family is here. I don’t have the resources if something is wrong in New Orleans to pack up and move to another place. I’m totally committed to making sure that District B and this city are the best they can be.”
Katherine Hart is the managing editor of NOLA Messenger. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.