1. FINAL MAYORAL DEBATE GENERATES FEW SPARKS
The three leading candidates in the New Orleans mayoral race — Michael Bagneris, LaToya Cantrell and Desiree Charbonnet — met for a final debate Oct. 11, but most of the drama took place before and outside the event. The website Think504 sent out an email claiming supporters of Troy Henry, who was polling in fourth place, "plan to deny other candidates entrance into the debate," which was presented by WWL-TV and the Committee for a Better New Orleans. At the WYES-TV studio where the debate was broadcast, police officers were at the doors, but no such protest took place, though about two dozen supporters of similarly excluded candidate Tommie Vassel staged a cheerful, friendly protest in front of the building.
The debate itself covered little new ground, other than a moment when moderator Karen Swensen asked the candidates to express something they admired about each other. Bagneris complimented Charbonnet's "taste in shoes," while Cantrell likewise saluted Charbonnet's fashion sense. For her part, Charbonnet complimented Cantrell's activism in the Broadmoor neighborhood, but said of Bagneris, "I feel like he has a lovely wife who has stood by him." Charbonnet didn't explain the comment.
2. Quote of the week
"Giving #Equifax a $7.3-mil contract to protect the IRS frm fraud is outrageous- it looks like we're giving Lindsay Lohan keys to the minibar." — U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy, criticizing the award of a federal contract to Equifax, which had a much-publicized security breach just weeks before. Kennedy was referring to Lohan's stints in rehab. His comment infuriated Lohan's father, Michael Lohan, who said, "Dina [his ex-wife] and I are seeking legal counsel for Lindsay regarding the slanderous comments and unprofessional behavior of Senator John Kennedy. His comment and analogy was inappropriate, slanderous and unwarranted." (Lindsay Lohan is 31.)
3. Ferry pedestrian bridge moves forward
New Orleans officials recently announced funding for construction of a pedestrian bridge alongside the new Canal Street Ferry Terminal for passengers to cross over the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad tracks. Mayor Mitch Landrieu and District C City Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey announced funding for the $7.4 million project with money coming from $5 million in city capital funds, $900,000 in bonds from the New Orleans Building Corporation Canal Street improvements, and $1.4 million in New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) funds. The bridge will be next to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (on property the Audubon Nature Institute owns) and will link to the $27 million ferry terminal. Both projects are expected to be completed in 2018, and demolition of the existing terminal will begin "in the coming months," according to Landrieu's office.
The bridge announcement follows months of discussion and speculation — and political sniping — about its inclusion in the riverfront's development. City officials noted last week that the bridge won't include a covered walkway, which many Algiers ferry users (and District C City Council candidate Kristin Gisleson Palmer) have lobbied for — and criticized Ramsey for not securing. Landrieu's Deputy Mayor of External Affairs Ryan Berni told the Council's Public Works, Sanitation and Environmental Committee Oct. 11 that "anybody who says [a covered walkway] is realistic at this point would be lying." Landrieu has endorsed Ramsey for re-election.
Committee members questioned the transparency of the design process and whether the multi-million dollar costs are necessary. RTA officials said designs are still in progress.
Landrieu issues endorsements
Without a press conference or fanfare, Mayor Mitch Landrieu last week announced his endorsements in the Oct. 14 election. Most notably, Landrieu did not issue an endorsement in the mayoral race, nor in the race for City Council District A, though he has said he may do so if there is a runoff.
In the City Council races, Landrieu endorsed Helena Moreno and Jason Williams for the At-Large Division 1 and At-Large Division 2 seats respectively, as well as Jay Banks in District B, Nadine Ramsey in District C, Jared Brossett in District D and James Gray in District E. He also urged renewal of three Orleans Parish School Board millages.
5. Jeff Parish schools
urged to protect immigrant youth
Parent advocacy organization Nuestra Voz is pressing the Jefferson Parish School Board (JPSB) to pass policies that protect undocumented immigrant youth in schools and limit law enforcement interactions with students on campus. In July, the group called on the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) to adopt similar policies, which the OPSB incorporated in September. Those policies provide OPSB schools with guidelines for how to engage law enforcement on campus, including federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, without involving students.
"Immigrant and minority families face increased intimidation, criminalization, and deportation under Louisiana's current school policies and the current administration's aggressive immigration enforcement," read an October statement from Nuestra Voz. "Passing these policies is a concrete action [the Jefferson Parish Public School System] can take to support and protect valued members of our community."
6. Juvenile Court advocates help for kids without putting them into the justice system
New Orleans Juvenile Court judges hope to find alternatives for youth offenders involved in minor crimes by granting them continued access to court-approved diversion programs.
Juvenile Court Chief Justice Candice Bates-Anderson told the New Orleans City Council Oct. 11 that young people "don't want to leave" diversion programs but still need referrals, transportation help, homework assistance and other aid. The court also is putting together a Racial Justice Improvement Project Task Force to build intervention programs that prevent young people involved in school-based offenses from having to enter the courts. The number of school-based offenses in juvenile courts increased from 6 percent to 14 percent from the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school terms, she said.
Bates-Anderson also discussed human trafficking victims entering the court system, which she said has often been "housing" them for their safety as a way to "offer protection" instead of putting them back on the street. District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who chairs the council's Criminal Justice Committee, asked whether those "protective" measures end up putting young people in jail who otherwise would not be there. Bates-Anderson said they often have failure-to-appear warrants and are picked up for other reasons. "We try to look at each case independently," she said.
7. 'Defender Dialogues'
and justice second line
The community storytelling event Defender Dialogues returns Oct. 23 for its second year. Hosted by WBOK radio host and former City Councilman Oliver Thomas, the event is a discussion on criminal justice and the need for reform. It is 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Cafe Istanbul, with a suggested $10 donation to fund the second annual "Second Line for Equal Justice," which is sponsored by the Innocence Project New Orleans, the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights and the Orleans Public Defenders. That parade will be held from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 4 and will go from Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge (1500 N. Claiborne Ave.) to the steps of Criminal District Court at Tulane Avenue and Broad Street.
8. Caddo Parish Sheriff laments loss of 'good' inmate labor with criminal justice reform
Reaction was swift last week to a video of Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator lamenting new criminal justice reform laws that will reduce the prison population beginning Nov. 1 (see "Commentary," p. 10). Prator's objection? The loss of inmate labor.
The state will be "releasing some 'good ones' that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in our kitchen, to do all that where we save money," Prator said.
"The criminal justice system is supposed to be about keeping communities safe," said Marjorie Esman, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana. "Jails are not supposed to incarcerate people just because they need work done — that is slavery." State Rep. Gary Carter Jr., D-New Orleans, was similarly appalled: "We will not make criminal justice decisions based on the availability of an inmate to wash the sheriff's car or cook in his kitchen. The inmates do not exist to serve at Sheriff Prator's pleasure," he said.
Prator's comments went national and international, being picked up by the likes of the New York Daily News and England's Daily Mail, as well as on African-American websites like Ebony and The Root.
9. New Orleans Youth Open Mic new season starts this week
Now in its fourth year, the New Orleans Youth Open Mic begins its fall season Oct. 18, opening a space for young people to showcase their voice, whether in poetry, prose, rap or other media. Organizers noticed a pattern in poetry scenes around the U.S. where "the best adult scenes have well-supported youth scenes and poetry pipelines," says co-founder Mwende Katwiwa. While New Orleans has developed space for local adult writers and slam poetry competitors, "we don't necessarily have the next generation set up to do the same," she said.
Signup begins at 6 p.m. and the events start at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18, Nov. 15 and Dec. 13 at Ashe Cultural Arts Center (1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.). It's open to people in the seventh-12th grades age range.
10. Louisiana Nature
Opened in 1980, the Louisiana Nature Center in New Orleans East gave visitors an immersive, hands-on look at Louisiana wildlife and the Mississippi River Delta. It came under the wing of the Audubon Institute in 1993 and in 2005 was submerged in 6 feet of floodwater following Hurricane Katrina.
The 86-acre center reopened this month following a years-long, $10 million restoration, bringing back trails and boardwalks winding through trees and waterways, a planetarium, an 8,500-square-foot "exhibit pavilion," classrooms and more.
Exhibits are open 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, and walking trails are open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. The planetarium is open only during scheduled programming. Classrooms are available by reservation. Visit www.audubonnatureinstitute.org/nature-center for more information.