New Orleans voters go to the polls Saturday, Feb. 1, to choose a mayor, sheriff, coroner, clerk of Criminal District Court and six City Council members. Collectively, the winners of those elections will chart the course for New Orleans for the next four years and potentially determine the quality of life in our city for years after that. New Orleans has come a long way since Hurricane Katrina, but we still have a long way to go. Herewith are recommendations for the mayor and the parochial offices that are on the ballot this week.
Mayor: Mitch Landrieu
Last week, we recommended Mitch Landrieu for a second term as mayor. Landrieu has proved that he knows how to lead and unite our city. He has stabilized the city budget — which faced a $100 million deficit when he took office — and he launched city programs that helped reduce New Orleans' murder rate by 20 percent in 2013. He also kept his promise to tear down 10,000 blighted properties, which set a new standard for attacking blight. Overall, he has represented New Orleans exceedingly well to the nation and to the world. We have great respect for the mayor's opponent, former Judge Michael Bagneris, but when things are going well it makes no sense to change leaders. Landrieu deserves a second term to continue leading New Orleans past recovery and toward a brighter future.
Sheriff: No endorsement
We recognize that voters must make a choice for this very important office, but we cannot lend our name to any of the candidates seeking the sheriff's job. The incumbent, Marlin Gusman, has mismanaged the office to the point that it seems beyond repair. His predecessor, Charles Foti, created an unwieldy empire when he was sheriff — and Foti's operation was even more opaque than Gusman's. The third candidate, school board member Ira Thomas, fails to convince us that he is up to the task. Given this field of candidates, and given the criminal justice crisis that the city's poorly run jail only exacerbates, we repeat what we said months ago, when the jail was the subject of litigation in federal court: U.S. District Judge Lance Africk should appoint a receiver to right this ship and get its finances as well as its operations back on track — because none of the current candidates for the job offers any real hope of cleaning up this office.
Coroner: Dr. Vincent Culotta
The coroner's office has been the redheaded stepchild of the local criminal justice system for years, chiefly because veteran Coroner Dr. Frank Minyard failed to advocate for improvements more aggressively. What the office needs is new direction and new leadership as it prepares to move into brand-new facilities. We believe Dr. Vincent Culotta, a physician who has served as a leader in the Louisiana State Medical Society, is best suited for the job. Culotta has extensive experience lobbying the state Legislature for the medical profession, and there's no question that help from Baton Rouge will be critical to the office's recovery. He also holds a degree in health services administration, which will help him improve the office's operations. He pledges to hire the best pathologists available and increase the office's vital role in improving local mental health services. Both of those initiatives will help restore public confidence in the office.
Clerk of Criminal Court: Arthur Morrell
The clerk's office at Criminal District Court, like the coroner's office, suffers from a dire lack of funding — but in this case it's not the fault of the current office holder. In fact, Criminal Court Clerk Arthur Morrell has sued the mayor — and won — to get more funding. We think Morrell has done a good job with very limited resources, and we recommend him for another term. Among other improvements, he has bought new computers for the office and is working with the district attorney and the sheriff to improve inter-office communications by synching the offices' IT systems. The clerk is also the city's chief elections officer, and Morrell has vastly improved this aspect of the office over the shoddy record of his predecessor.
City Council endorsements
On Saturday, voters will choose six of the council’s seven members. One incumbent, District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, was automatically re-elected when no one qualified to run against her.
Meanwhile, we remind readers that this year, at-large council candidates must run separately, not all together as in the past. At-large council candidates have thus declared themselves for either the Division 1 or the Division 2 seat. In the past, all at-large candidates ran for both seats, which often created confusion. Herewith our recommendations:
At-Large, Division 1: Stacy Head
Since stepping into the at-large seat 18 months ago, Head hasn’t lost any of her trademark energy and knack for constituent services — and she has learned to temper her bluntness without losing her reputation as a straight shooter. Head was largely responsible not only for redeveloping the Freret and O.C. Haley corridors, but also for making sure they serve the neighborhoods around them by including local businesses. She wants to spread that approach to other areas, particularly the I-10 corridor in New Orleans East. Some see Head as a counterbalance to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and it’s no secret that she and the mayor have had some disagreements. Overall, they have agreed more than they have disagreed — and they agree on the major reforms that have moved New Orleans forward. Where they have disagreed, we think Head has filled an important role on the council as a co-equal branch of government. She asks the right questions and gets real results. We recommend Stacy Head for re-election.
At-Large, Division 2: Cynthia Hedge-Morrell
At-large council members take turns presiding at council meetings as president and vice-president. The council president also appoints her colleagues to the council’s various committees, where much of the council’s work gets done. As the senior member of the current council — and the only member who served during Hurricane Katrina — Hedge-Morrell brings an unmatched depth and breadth of experience to the job. Before winning a seat on the council from District D, where she served two terms, Hedge-Morrell was a successful public school principal. She understands public policy as well as anyone at City Hall, and she knows how to work with the administration and her council colleagues to get things done. Above all, she is unafraid to tackle tough, controversial issues that require real leadership to get resolved. She showed that kind of strength in pushing to demolish and redevelop the St. Bernard Housing Development, now the site of Columbia Parc. We recommend Cynthia Hedge-Morrell for the Division 2 at-large council seat.
Council District A: Susan Guidry
District A includes parts of Uptown, Mid-City, Carrollton and Lakeview. Incumbent Susan Guidry, an attorney, chairs two of the council’s most important committees: criminal justice and government affairs. As criminal justice chairwoman, Guidry sponsored ordinances to free courts of having to deal with first-time marijuana possession and prostitution cases without reducing penalties. She also consistently scrutinized the budgets of the sheriff and others in the criminal justice system to make sure city funds are properly spent — and she has been a stickler on the city budget overall. The council needs that. The Governmental Affairs Committee vets key reform measures that have helped restore public confidence in City Hall and the direction in which New Orleans is moving, and Guidry can rightly take credit for strengthening local reform ordinances. She also is leading an effort to create the Lafitte Greenway, a 3.1-mile park that will run from the edge of the French Quarter to Bayou St. John. We recommend Susan Guidry for a second term from Council District A.
Council District C: Jackie Clarkson
In many ways, District C is the council’s most diverse district. It includes all of Algiers and the French Quarter, and parts of Treme, Faubourg Marigny and Bywater. It has the city’s oldest neighborhoods and some of its newest, some that are bouncing back and some still struggling to rebound. At-large Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson is a well-known quantity on both sides of the river, having launched her political career by winning the District C seat 20 years ago. A veteran Realtor, Clarkson brings to the council a special knowledge of real estate and land use matters. She also served a term in the state Legislature, giving her a broad perspective of the regional political landscape. Above all, Clarkson is a tireless public servant who has shown a deep and abiding love of our city’s culture, a sincere interest in addressing its many needs and a knack for working with people to get things done. We recommend Jackie Clarkson for District C.
Council District D: Jared Brossett
While we are recommending the re-election of incumbents in other races, District D affords New Orleans the chance to put some young blood on the City Council. That’s just one reason why we endorse state Rep. Jared Brossett. His state House district already includes major parts of District D, which covers Gentilly, most lakefront neighborhoods, Pontchartrain Park and parts of New Orleans East. Brossett would bring a wide variety of governmental experience to the council. A native and lifelong resident of District D, he got his start as an aide to former Councilman Marlin Gusman and later served as chief of staff to current District D Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell before winning his legislative seat. As a state lawmaker, he was chairman of the Joint Committee on Hurricane Recovery, and in that capacity he held bureaucrats accountable for making sure recovery dollars reached the areas that needed them most. We recommend state Rep. Jared Brossett for District D.
Council District E: James Gray
District E includes the two areas that remain hardest hit more than eight years after Hurricane Katrina — most of eastern New Orleans and all of the Lower 9th Ward. Gray, an attorney, was only recently elected to the council from District E after former Councilman Jon Johnson resigned amid a public corruption scandal. In the short time that Gray has served on the council, he has brought a fearless brand of leadership on key issues, including a push to get some economic development in his district. The new hospital, the new Walmart, the new state Office of Motor Vehicles center, the reopening of Joe Brown Park and other projects are all open or soon to open thanks to his efforts. Gray also is unafraid to stand up for those who feel left out of the recovery or, like taxi drivers, who feel run over by reform efforts. If he is given the chance to serve a full term, we are confident he can do even more to help his district recover. We recommend James Gray for District E.
Whether you agree with our recommendations or not, it's critically important that all New Orleans voters who haven't already cast ballots during early voting go to the polls on Saturday.