Voters go to the polls Saturday, Sept. 18, facing a number of critical choices. A controversial proposal to amend the state constitution to set strict limits on marriage could increase voter turnout to as high as 50 percent in New Orleans, says pollster John Grimm. And although Jefferson Parish's ballot is shorter, turnout could hit 35 percent because of Amendment One, voting officials say. In addition, important races in Orleans Parish for criminal sheriff and all seven school board seats will have a lasting impact on the future of the city.
We urge our readers to study our Election Guide in this issue as well as guides published by the League of Women Voters of New Orleans (www.lvno.org) and the Public Affairs Research Council (www.par.org.) Above all, we urge our readers to vote.
We make no recommendations in the judicial races on the Sept. 18 ballot. In all other races, we make the following endorsements:
New Orleans Criminal Sheriff
Warren J. Riley, assistant superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department, is a 23-year NOPD veteran. He holds a master's degree in criminal justice from Southern University in New Orleans. He has a commanding presence, a contagious confidence and a bold plan to help cops fight crime by putting 200 sheriff's deputies on local streets. His other priorities include improving employee management and training, inmate education, and a citizen-supported discharge program aimed at reducing the prison population.
Orleans Parish School Board
District 1 -- Heidi Lovett Daniels, an assistant professor of education at Dillard University, is one of the most exciting candidates -- for any office -- we interviewed this campaign season. She brings expertise in academic policy, technology-based instruction, mathematics and funding. Those qualities are desperately needed for a district with 16 underperforming schools.
District 2 -- Alden Reine, a Xavier University administrator and chemistry professor, is our choice to fill the seat vacated by the retirement of veteran board member Gail Glapion. Reine's top priority is fiscal accountability. He favors acceptance of financial advice offered by Mayor Ray Nagin and would vote to outsource the district's troubled payroll function.
District 3 -- Incumbent Jimmy Fahrenholtz played a key role in defending and strengthening the superintendency of Anthony Amato. Fahrenholtz's goals now include keeping Amato for four more years, restructuring the controversial LEAP test program and building community support for $1 billion in capital improvements. The outspoken Fahrenholtz is an effective advocate for public education reform.
District 4 -- Camacia Smith-Ross, an assistant professor of education at SUNO, has an impressive knowledge of educational policy and school district finances. Smith-Ross also is a former New Orleans public school teacher, administrator and parent volunteer.
District 5 -- We find two candidates exceptionally well qualified to serve this district, which was vacated by incumbent Carolyn Green Ford: Karl Connor and Phyllis Landrieu. Connor, the director of government affairs for BP America Inc., holds an advanced degree from Columbia Law School and has directed the Boys to Men mentoring program. His service on various civic and nonprofit boards gives him valuable experience in governance and policymaking. Landrieu, a matriarch of the noted political family, last year earned a master's degree in education at the University of New Orleans -- after raising 10 children. In addition to distinguished service on numerous civic boards, Landrieu is a force in national, state and local Democratic politics who can revive the interest of many who have given up on our public schools. In our view, this district would be well served by either candidate.
District 6 -- Incumbent Una Anderson is seeking a second four-year term. Anderson, who helped bring Amato to New Orleans and protected him once he became chief, now wants to help stabilize the superintendent's relationship with the board, develop a transparent financial system and expand Amato's academic innovations. A thoughtful advocate of education, Anderson deserves re-election.
District 7 -- Torin Sanders, a dynamic pastor and social worker, has earned recognition by the national media and the FBI for his work with New Orleans children who have lost loved ones to violence. He holds a master's degree in social work from Tulane University and has served on a number of civic boards, including Crimestoppers. Others talk about increasing parental involvement, but Sanders seems particularly capable of achieving this important goal.
Kenner City Council, District 5
Kent Denapolis, a Republican businessman, is the kind of bridge-builder Kenner needs to end the political factionalism at City Hall and move the city forward. Denapolis, a 22-year resident of District 5, is a veteran civic leader, volunteer playground coach and family man. He will work to improve traffic and drainage problems in this growing community.
Public Service Commission, District 3
Incumbent Irma Muse Dixon, D-New Orleans, is the first African-American chair and the only female member of the powerful Public Service Commission, which regulates and sets rates for many utilities, transportation and telecommunications services. Her priorities for her third consecutive six-year term include safeguards for Louisiana's place in a national power grid, lower utility rates, and securing federal funds for information and technology improvements to all public schools, modeled on a $40 million pilot program begun this year in New Orleans. Dixon's favorable response to public demands for stronger PSC ethics rules also tells us that she understands the need for accountability.
Vote NO on Amendment One
The so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" is the only proposed constitutional amendment that will appear on Saturday's ballot. Authored by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, this proposition is mean-spirited, unnecessary and economically harmful to Louisiana. Current Louisiana law already defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and it forbids legal recognition of same-sex marriages. Amendment One goes to new extremes. The nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council (PAR), which takes no position on the issue, says the amendment also would ban civil unions of opposite-sex and same-sex couples created under the laws of other states (see www.par.org).
Amendment One will do more than punish gay couples; it will hurt Louisiana economically. By attempting to undo civil unions recognized by other states, the amendment would tell a majority of Fortune 500 companies as well as many smaller ones -- all of which offer benefits to couples in civil unions -- not to come to Louisiana or do business here. And for what -- to "protect" a definition of marriage that already is enshrined in state law?
The truth is, Amendment One is not about "protecting" anything. It is demagogic gay-bashing at its worst. We urge all our readers to vote NO on Amendment One.
The Gambit Weekly Ballot
New Orleans Criminal Sheriff -- Warren J. Riley
Orleans Parish School Board
District 1 -- Heidi Lovett Daniels
District 2 --Alden Reine
District 3 -- Jimmy Fahrenholtz
District 4 -- Camacia Smith-Ross
District 5 -- (dual endorsement) Karl Connor/Phyllis Landrieu
District 6 -- Una Anderson
District 7 -- Torin Sanders
Kenner City Council, District 5 -- Kent Denapolis
Public Service Commission, District 3 -- Irma Muse Dixon
Amendment One -- NO