The four members of the New Orleans City Council's Governmental Affairs Committee have unanimously approved all 16 candidates vying for an appointment to an interim at-large seat on the council, among them former state Sen. Diana Bajoie. The full council is scheduled to pick an interim appointee for outgoing council Vice President Arnie Fielkow at its next meeting Thursday (Sept. 22).
The committee — District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry, District B Councilwoman Stacy Head, District C Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer and Fielkow — were joined by Council President Jackie Clarkson and District D Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell at the meeting, at which 13 of the 16 candidates appeared to introduce themselves and state their cases.
Candidates Steve Barry, an attorney; John Penny, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Southern University at New Orleans; and Daniel Ring, a customer service representative for local art supply distributor SLS Arts, were not present.
There were three major factions among the candidates, each with a common theme in their pitches for the seat. Bajoie and other politicians, including former District A Councilman Scott Shea and former District D interim Councilman David Payton, highlighted their political experience as a primary reason they should get the appointment. Others, like Tulane law professor Paul Barron and former PR consultant Sally Stevens, took the opposite approach, touting their lack of political experience, agenda or aspirations in politics. The third group, particularly Eric Granderson, Fielkow's chief of staff, and Thomas Milliner, a former deputy city attorney, split the difference: nonpoliticians with no political aspirations who nevertheless know how City Hall functions.
The otherwise dry, straightforward meeting changed tone when two members of the public engaged in brief spats with Clarkson. When Albert "Chui" Clark, chairman of the group Neighborhood Unity, who had filled out a comment request card prior to the meeting, began to speak, Clarkson at first didn't recognize him and continued talking. "You have to respect the public," Clark said. "You cannot shut out the public." In a five-minute statement where he criticized the city's new public housing policies, economic development initiatives, charter school expansion and what he perceives as pervasive racism against black residents by City Hall, Clark said New Orleanians "do not want another Arnie Fielkow."
Clarkson, who was frequently looking down and writing during Clark's speech, received a sharp rebuke from Roseanne Licciardi, who said the council president had treated Clark disrespectfully. "Why is it that you weren't listening to what Mr. Clark had to say?" Licciardi said, to which Clarkson replied testily that she always listens to what Clark, a fixture at council and school board meetings, has to say.
The interim appointee's term begins Oct. 1, when Fielkow is set to vacate his seat. Fielkow, who announced his resignation in late August, is moving to Chicago to take over as head of the National Basketball Retired Players Association. — Charles Maldonado