We're now less than two weeks away from early voting in the New Orleans citywide elections, and so far no mayoral candidate has captured voters' imagination or articulated a message that resonates. In fact, most voters' reaction to the field of would-be mayors is a collective yawn.
That's scary, because one of those candidates will be New Orleans' next mayor.
Former Jefferson Parish Sheriff-turned-WWL radio host Newell Normand offered an interesting remedy to that situation last week: If the candidates aren't inspiring voters, maybe voters should inspire the candidates.
It's not just a clever turn of phrase. Two citizen-driven organizations are making moves right now to disseminate candidates' specific stances on hot-button issues: Forward New Orleans (FNO) and the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR). Voters should use FNO's and BGR's reports, which are available online, to light a fire under candidates at the numerous forums being held around town.
One such opportunity will come Sept. 28, when FNO hosts an issues forum at the Jazz Market on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. The organization has asked me to moderate that forum, and I encourage every New Orleans voter to attend. As one FNO leader put it, "This will be an issues forum, not a candidate forum."
Candidates are encouraged to attend, of course, but the panel will be local political experts discussing FNO's issue-based platform statement — and candidates' responses to that platform in terms of committing (or not) to implement FNO's proposals. The experts include former City Councilman and now WBOK radio host Oliver Thomas, term-limited At-Large City Councilwoman Stacy Head, Advocate political columnist Stephanie Grace and pollster Ron Faucheux (who ran for mayor in 1982).
FNO's platform is a collection of 35 specific policy recommendations in six major areas of focus. The platform was written by a diverse coalition of more than two dozen community and civic groups. FNO has compiled the responses (in some cases, nonresponses) from all candidates for mayor and City Council. The group is publishing a summary of those results in newspaper ads this week, but much more is available at www.forwardneworleans.com.
To some extent, all the leading candidates for mayor embraced FNO's recommendations, but some had caveats. Go to the website to get more information — and attend the forum on Sept. 28 to dig deeper.
Voters should also check out BGR's "Questions For A New Mayor" report at www.bgr.org. The report is a compilation of candidates' responses to 18 questions developed by BGR. The topics covered include ways to address police manpower; retooling city employee pensions; fixing and maintaining street and drainage infrastructure and more. BGR also put those questions to City Council candidates, and it will release those answers this week.
The BGR questionnaires were sent to candidates before the Aug. 5 flood, so their responses do not address that hot-button issue. At the end of the Sept. 28 FNO forum, however, candidates who attend will be available to discuss their positions with voters face to face.
That'll be a good chance for voters to engage — and perhaps inspire — the candidates.