Southeast Louisiana is in the throes of a very hectic hurricane season, and we're barely halfway through it. In recent weeks, storms seemed to line up in the Atlantic like Mardi Gras floats on Napoleon Avenue — except no one hereabouts wants to see them "parade" anywhere near metro New Orleans. Thankfully, we were spared the full force of Hurricane Harvey, and as of press time we were on track to miss Irma altogether. Our neighbors in Texas, southwest Louisiana and Florida have not been so lucky. Everyone remains on high alert for the latest news on tropical disturbances.
That's not quite the case for the political season, which also is upon us. Early voting for New Orleans mayor and City Council members, as well as a council seat in Jefferson Parish, begins Sept. 30 — less than three weeks from now. Yet, most voters seem uncommitted to any particular mayoral or council candidates, if not disengaged completely from the elections. With early voting right around the corner and the Oct. 14 primary not far behind, candidates have a lot of work to do to capture voters' attention and loyalty. Voters likewise should begin paying close attention to the men and women who aspire to lead New Orleans for the next four years.
Labor Day typically kicks off the political season, and we've noted in our news columns the various mayoral and council candidate forums hosted by neighborhood and civic organizations. We encourage our readers to take these opportunities to meet candidates face to face and hear their responses to questions about the future of New Orleans.
Until recently, the issues uppermost in voters' minds were crime, streets, economic opportunity, blight and economic disparity. In the wake of the Aug. 5 flood and southeast Louisiana's brush with Harvey, candidates and voters should add the current crisis at the Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) to the list of major issues. Candidates need to offer more than platitudes on this issue.
Fixing the S&WB will take years, but voters should demand concrete plans from mayoral and council candidates now. For example, what specific plans do candidates have for getting the city's drainage system in shape before the next hurricane season — or even the next heavy rain? What are their plans for consistent, citywide catch basin cleaning? On a larger scale, should the S&WB be absorbed into City Hall as one or more departments directly answerable to the mayor and council? If so, what specific steps do the candidates plan to take to implement that very complex change? As much as crime and economic issues will shape New Orleans' future, so will the city's ability to provide adequate drainage.
New Orleans has a reputation for colorful, no-holds-barred elections that grab voters' imagination and attention. It's not necessarily a bad thing that this year's election season seems relatively mild, as long as that doesn't lull voters into not paying close attention to those who hope to lead our city for the next four (or eight) years.