Voters go to the polls Tuesday, March 9, for the Louisiana presidential primaries, but three races in the New Orleans area arguably have generated more local interest. Runoffs, where necessary, will be April 17.
Gambit Weekly does not endorse in presidential primaries or in judicial elections. In addition to the presidential primaries, voters in Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes will elect one of two candidates to fill the unexpired term of the late Judge William H. Byrnes III on the state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal.
Meanwhile, voters in Kenner will go to the polls to replace former Mayor Louis Congemi, who has been elected to a district seat on the Jefferson Parish Council. Voters in Jefferson Parish School Board District 1, on the West Bank, will choose from two candidates to replace Chris Roberts, who also has been elected to a district seat on the parish council.
The hotly contested race for mayor of Kenner (pop. 70,500) offers a field of energetic candidates but has attracted public attention for the wrong reasons. The political factionalism between the Congemi family and the alliance of acting Mayor Dominic Weilbaecher and District 5 Councilman Phil Capitano has divided the Kenner Council and paralyzed city government. Both Capitano and Police Chief Nick Congemi (brother of Councilman Congemi) are candidates in the mayor's race, and that has only escalated tensions. Most recently, the Capitano-Weilbaecher faction embarked on an ill-advised, expensive and unsuccessful quest to get state and federal courts to push the election back to the fall -- a time considered more favorable to Capitano's candidacy. The litigation failed at every turn, and Kenner taxpayers must foot the bill. The election will now proceed as scheduled on March 9.
After interviewing all the major candidates, we believe Betty Bonura offers Kenner the best chance to rise above the bitterness that currently marks its politics. Bonura, 57, is well qualified and sees the "big picture" of Kenner as an economically progressive and family-oriented community.
Bonura knows that Kenner can be an even bigger player in the regional economy as home to the Louis Armstrong International Airport -- and perhaps as a loop in the proposed Mag Lev system over Lake Pontchartrain. We believe Mayor Bonura would be proactive in the effort to bring business into Kenner, and we are encouraged that she plans to seek city representation on trade missions.
"We are actively seeking a new day for the airport," Bonura says. She envisions an airport with "buy-out land" put back into commerce, possibly as a technology park or a golf driving range. Active in civic and neighborhood associations, she has the vision and the drive to reduce the clutter of signage on Williams Boulevard and to make it more aesthetically pleasing. We also trust that she will facilitate an objective vetting of the city's contracting process by an independent, nonpartisan organization, such as the private Bureau of Governmental Research.
On leave from her position as a grant writer for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, Bonura is the only candidate in the race with a college degree (a master's degree in social work). She also has more than 20 years of experience in government, including 12 years in elected offices. She got her start in the early 1980s as city planning director, overseeing the growth of the Rivertown museum complex, the Esplanade Mall and the Pontchartrain Center. First elected to the Jefferson Parish School Board in 1990, she became board vice president and helped craft a $253 million operating budget. She twice won election to an at-large seat on the Kenner City Council, in 1994 and 1998.
In 2002, Gambit Weekly endorsed Bonura's re-election campaign. Though she lost that race, she gained valuable experience and perspective during a two-year hiatus from Kenner politics. Then, as now, we found Bonura to be strong-willed but not inflexible. Her temperament and experience set her apart from the rest of the field. We urge voters to elect Kenner's first woman mayor -- Betty Bonura.
Also on Tuesday, Jefferson Parish voters will elect a school board member to fill the 1st District seat that was vacated when Chris Roberts won his bid for Jefferson Parish Council last fall. We endorse Mark Morgan, who we believe will bring a wealth of experience and informed opinion to the task.
An attorney with experience in both construction and education (he is a partner in a residential construction company and is an adjunct professor at Tulane Law School), Roberts knows the importance of building a quality public school system that will draw in resource-rich parents who might otherwise opt for private or parochial schools. He supports the planned magnet school, yet is aware that the ultimate goal is to improve schools throughout the district. A former assistant district attorney for Jefferson Parish, he argues convincingly for coordinating the juvenile justice and school discipline systems.
Above all, we urge all voters to go to the polls next Tuesday, March 9.