If you're interested in the citywide elections in New Orleans, now is the time to pay attention and attend a forum or town hall. By the time the televised debates begin, much of the agenda will be set — but already community groups are framing the discussion. Many of them are new progressive groups that sprang up during the 2016 presidential election.
Indivisible New Orleans, one of the groups, held the first New Orleans mayoral town hall three weeks before qualifying began. Last week a coalition of progressive organizations sponsored a "Town Hall for Better Jobs." More than 20 candidates for mayor and City Council attended. Among the topics: raising the minimum wage, expanding job opportunities, and supporting unions and collective bargaining — ideas that are at the top of the progressive agenda. Those ideas are a far cry from forums at which candidates typically try to outdo each other with "tough on crime" rhetoric or decry the city's pothole problems.
In contrast to the last three citywide elections, the backdrop for this political season is not the post-Hurricane Katrina recovery, but rather new challenges posed by that recovery. A study this month found that New Orleans is among the Top 10 cities in the country where the cost of living has spiked, from rent to utilities to transportation. Another study found that a wage earner in Orleans Parish now needs to make $62,000 to live comfortably in a city where the average salary is $37,000. What good is a recovery that excludes longtime working residents who no longer can afford to live in New Orleans?
As voters are just getting to know many of the candidates (and as the candidates' platforms evolve from generalities to specifics), progressive voters have plenty of leverage in pinning them down on these topics early and making sure their positions are consistent. Two of the leading candidates for mayor — former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris and former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet — have no voting record on which voters can evaluate them. Many other mayoral and council candidates are just introducing themselves to the public.
Drilling down to other races, Council Districts A and B each have six candidates and no incumbents. District C is a two-woman race between incumbent Nadine Ramsey and Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who held the seat from 2010 to 2014. Districts D and E each have an incumbent (Jared Brossett in D and James Gray in E), but also several challengers. Both Council At-Large races have familiar names on the ballot (state Reps. Helena Moreno and Joe Bouie in Division 1 and incumbent Jason Williams in Division 2), along with challengers.
If you want a say not only in who's elected but also in what issues are on the table, seek out a forum or town hall in the coming weeks. Indivisible New Orleans will hold a forum for At-Large Division 1 City Council candidates Aug. 5, and more forums will be announced soon. We'll keep you informed where they are — because it's not just who wins that matters, but whether the winners address issues that matter to voters.