1. TAKE A KNEE, TAKE AWAY TAX BREAKS?
"Get that son of a bitch off the field," President Donald Trump said of NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality against people of color, and on Sept. 24 some players defied him to make a point — including several members of the New Orleans Saints. That was enough to get some Louisiana legislators grumbling about the team's millions of dollars in state tax breaks. State Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, told the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, "Why in the world should we allow state-subsidized sporting events, for people who are ultimately ending up with that money, to use it for a political platform?"
State Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, sent a formal request for the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget to review the Saints' tax breaks during its next meeting, which is set for next month. But Gov. John Bel Edwards, while distancing himself from the protests, insisted the state would fulfill its contractual obligations to the team. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser (pictured), who was in Europe promoting Louisiana tourism, said he would not attend the Saints' Oct. 1 matchup against the Miami Dolphins in London's Wembley Stadium and would not attend any more games as long as the protests continued.
The most colorful reaction came from State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, who has watchdogged what he's seen as police overreach since the 2016 death of Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling at the hands of two Baton Rouge police officers. James posted on Instagram, "Y'all worried about Trump, I'm worried about my colleagues who believe as he believes. I can't wait to get my hands on this damn bill!!!!! Not surprised we will have the discussion. Damn, I wish we were in session now."
2. Quote of the week
"It's kind of like [Hurricane] Katrina: 'We got it. We got it. Oh, shit, send in the cavalry.' This is a hit on White House decision making." — Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, talking with Bloomberg about President Donald Trump's response to the damage in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricane Maria, which decimated much of the islands' infrastructure. Electricity, potable water and food are in short supply in much of Puerto Rico. Trump told the press the area has been "devastated, absolutely devastated by Hurricane Maria, and we're doing everything in our power." On Friday, the president tweeted, "The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding!"
3. A 'voice of the
people' mayoral debate
In the hours before the "Voice of the People" televised mayoral debate last week — set up by Sidney Torres' Voice of the People PAC — two journalists who were scheduled to be on the panel backed out, and mayoral candidate Desiree Charbonnet followed suit, earning the wrath of Torres.
Sources at WDSU-TV and WVUE-TV confirmed their stations originally were set to send questioners to the panel, which included Charbonnet, LaToya Cantrell, Troy Henry and Michael Bagneris. The stations ended up reversing that decision. (Two sources at WWL-TV, which is a news partner of Gambit, said that station never committed to participating, despite rumors to the contrary.) The sole TV journalist who appeared was Jacqueline Mazur, a weekend anchor and reporter at WGNO-TV, while the remainder of the panel consisted of retired newsmen Bruce Nolan and Joe Duke, freelance reporter Allen Johnson Jr. and Torres himself. Oddly, the moderator was Alice Stewart, a CNN political commentator with no particular tie to New Orleans, whose pre-CNN resume includes communications duties for a number of GOP presidential candidates, including Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee.
Just before the debate began, Charbonnet issued a statement saying, "The last-minute withdrawal of respected New Orleans journalists from participation in the Voice PAC forum, and other mainstream outlets' refusal to participate, has raised such serious concerns as to the nature of the event that Desiree Charbonnet has withdrawn her participation as well."
Torres immediately fired back, saying Charbonnet "decided to snub the voters" and adding, "What Ms. Charbonnet failed to say in her statement regarding her decision not to attend is that the panelists were replaced with two prominent New Orleans journalists, one of whom earned a Pulitzer Prize and another who led New Orleans' number one television news operation for almost a decade."
Much of the debate trod well-worn ground with well-worn answers about the city's crime problem and the state of the Sewerage & Water Board, but it was two questions from Torres that got the most attention. He asked if candidates would expand the use of his French Quarter crimefighting smartphone app, and in the debate's final question, he invited the candidates to weigh in on Charbonnet's refusal to appear.
The following day, the NotForSaleNOLA PAC, which has sent out fancy mailers attacking Charbonnet while not supporting any particular candidate, issued a statement saying the cancellation "caps a week of embarrassing evasions and attempts at explanation regarding her corrupt krewe of cronies and her history of patronage and sweetheart public contracts." Charbonnet countered with a list of dozens of appearances and interviews she's made in the last few months.
4. Carville: Adieu to Tulane, hello LSU
Political consultant and man-about-town James Carville, who has taught a series of popular classes at Tulane University for seven years, will be hanging his academic shingle at LSU's Manship School of Mass Communication starting in January, the university announced last week.
Carville is an LSU graduate and was the Manship School's commencement speaker in 2015. Last year, he and his wife, political strategist and writer Mary Matalin, entertained a crowd at Loyola University with their thoughts on the 2016 presidential race.
5. Housing advocates release data on short-term rentals
Following legalization and an enforcement rollout for short-term rentals (STRs) earlier this year, New Orleans housing equity advocates say STR laws have merely created a permit system that provides a legal framework to inflate housing prices and displace residents. At a meeting held by the Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative on Sept. 27, program manager Breonne DeDecker stressed that STR policy is a housing issue, despite assurance from officials and proponents that STRs have no bearing on housing affordability.
According to data pulled by the group, as of June 2017 more than 5,300 listings appeared on Airbnb (nearly 4,000 are whole homes), at an average cost of $229 a night. Most listings are available for 196 nights a year. According to data scraped from the city, there are only 3,156 listings with permits.
DeDecker says enforcement is unable to keep up with the prevalence of fraud, and it's "impossible" to match anonymous data among platforms — people with a "temporary" STR permit can list beyond a 90-day limit by switching to another platform.
Exterior demand for tourist housing perpetuates high housing costs without having to adjust to the local real estate market, according to DeDecker, as residents must manage their property taxes assessed at inflated values because of neighboring STRs. Listings also reveal that STRs are expanding in gentrified and gentrifying areas, where there's increased access to health care, transit and "things our residents actually need," DeDecker said. After the commercially designated CBD, Central City is the second-highest number of whole-home rentals, followed by the 7th Ward, Marigny, 6th Ward and Mid-City. STR enforcement becomes "an issue of who gets to access our housing and under what circumstances," she said.
Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative has called on the city and incoming administrations to adopt a "single host, single listing" policy, a ban on full-time, whole-home rentals, limits on the number of permits and number of listings per block face, and removing anonymity from data sharing.
6. Sewerage & Water Board: Sorry about double billing you
The interim director of New Orleans' Sewerage & Water Board said residents "deserve better" following a recent round of erroneously double billing customers, amounting to bills that were in some cases inaccurately billed at hundreds of dollars more than a typical bill. Robert Miller, who temporarily heads the beleaguered office following Cedric Grant's retirement, told the New Orleans City Council Sept. 26 the agency has begun to remedy the issue, which affected roughly 4,600 accounts.
Miller attributed the issue to poor communications between the agency's billing department and meter readers, often leading to using estimates in customers' bills for accounts without meter readings for that billing period. For those 4,600 accounts, estimated bills were sent before meter readings were entered into the system, creating a "second" bill.
7. City Hall organizes neighborhood catch basin cleaning events
As New Orleans City Hall moves forward with a new contractor tasked with cleaning New Orleans' 15,000 catch basins in 120 days, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's Office of Neighborhood Engagement is calling on volunteers to assist in neighborhood catch basin cleaning events.
Kenner-based company RAMJ Construction was dropped by the city last month following concerns from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, and a new contract was arranged with Compliance EnviroSystems.
New Orleans' Department of Public Works (DPW) is budgeted for $22 million to clear and repair catch basins following Landrieu's budget shuffling in the wake of the August flooding and shakeups at the Sewerage & Water Board and DPW leadership. Neighborhood groups also will lead catch basin cleaning days from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. every Saturday in October. Visit www.nola.gov/neighborhood-engagement for details.
8. Louisiana: Deadly for women
Louisiana remains one of the deadliest states for women, with the nation's third-highest rate of murders in which the victims were women. In its 2017 report analyzing murder rates among women using the most recent FBI data from 2015, the Violence Policy Center found more than 1,680 women were killed by men in the U.S. that year.
Over the last 20 years, the rate of women murdered by men in single-victim and single-offender incidents dropped 29 percent, from 1.57 per 100,000 women in 1996 to 1.12 per 100,000 women in 2015 — but the rate in Louisiana remains 2.22 women per 100,000. That's double the national average. The center's 20th annual report adds that "Louisiana has failed to make the progress seen in the rest of the nation."
Mariah Wineski, executive director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, says inadequate funding for domestic violence programs and not preventing abusers from accessing firearms are among the many factors that keep the homi- cide rate among women high in Louisiana.
9. Scalise returns to Capitol, appears on 60 Minutes
In his first public appearance since being shot during a practice for a charity congressional baseball game in June, U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., received a standing ovation Sept. 28 when he returned to the House of Representatives on crutches. His office issued a statement saying, "Starting today, Whip Scalise will be resuming his work at the Capitol, while also completing an extended period of out-patient rehabilitation over the coming months."
The Washington Post reported Scalise sat on the GOP side of the chamber, but his best friend in Congress, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., sat behind him in a gesture of support.
Scalise and his wife Jennifer completed an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes, scheduled to air Oct. 1, which recounted the shooting, his numerous operations and his subsequent rehabilitation.
10. Governor's office organizes relief effort for Puerto Rico
The Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) is organizing a donation drive to help the people of Puerto Rico, who are recovering from Category 4 Hurricane Maria, which knocked out primary infrastructure.
The only donations being accepted are diapers, nonperishable baby formula, baby wipes, baby bottles and nipples and feminine hygiene products. In Orleans Parish, donations can be made at 2118 Elysian Fields Ave., 5403 Read Blvd. and 2000 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. In Jefferson Parish, donations can be made at 920 David Drive in Metairie and 5001 Westbank Expressway in Marrero. There are dropoff locations in every parish. A complete list of collection sites can be found at www.gov.louisiana.gov/page/PuertoRico.
The drive runs through Oct. 11 and may be extended.