Voters in New Orleans go to the polls this Saturday (Feb. 2) to elect a new mayor and City Council members. All over town, there is a sense that real change is possible -- indeed, likely -- because voters from all walks are fed up with the old way of doing things. Voters are clamoring for ethical, business-minded officials at City Hall. So are we. With that in mind, the Gambit ballot follows.
Mayor. We enthusiastically endorse businessman Ray Nagin for mayor. More than any other candidate, he offers real hope for fundamental change at City Hall. His election will send a message to the world that New Orleans has finally embraced political reform.
City Council at-large. (Vote for two candidates). We endorse Eddie Sapir and Oliver Thomas as citywide council members. Sapir is a political role model for constituent services. And he listens. He believes that we should investigate the potential benefits of privatizing the Sewerage and Water Board, but he supports the process more than a particular conclusion. Thomas has served well for eight years as a district councilman. He is the only council candidate who has dared to address our city's racial issues, and his willingness to take bold stands indicates he has earned the right to seek a citywide constituency.
District A. This was our toughest decision, but we give the nod to incumbent Scott Shea. We endorsed Shea in a special election in 2000 because we liked his people skills and because we didn't want a political bomb-thrower. Shea has lived up to his promise in that regard. However, he has had a long learning curve in other respects. His deliberate style gives the impression that he is indecisive and avoids tough issues. For example, he softened his initial opposition to Mayor Marc Morial's bid for a third term. On the other hand, Shea gets high marks from neighborhood groups and preservationists for resolving a number of bitter development disputes. Here, his style enables him to forge consensus between opposing forces. That is an important asset in light of ongoing development battles citywide, and we think Shea deserves a full term to show how much more he can do.
Jay Batt, a successful businessman, has matured since his combative campaign for this seat two years ago. We like his business credentials, and we believe he would push hard to make City Hall more business-friendly if elected. In the end, however, we believe Scott Shea would serve the district best.
District B. Rene Gill Pratt, a special programs compliance monitor in Orleans Public Schools, has served as a legislator for more than a decade. This district includes the Morial Convention Center, the Warehouse District and the proposed site of the controversial Wal-Mart near the Irish Channel. Pratt is a hard-worker who will bring a quiet, thoughtful presence to the council.
District C. State Rep. Jackie Clarkson has pledged to serve her former council district -- which includes the French Quarter and Algiers -- with more humility but no less energy than she did during her previous council term. Danette O'Neal, a fellow Realtor and political newcomer, is one of several attractive candidates who also is running for this open seat. We tilt toward Clarkson because the new council will need her experience.
District D. Incumbent Marlin Gusman, chair of the council's budget committee and a former chief administrative officer to outgoing Mayor Marc Morial, won a special election two years ago. He is, by far, already the best council advocate for the consumer on utility issues. We endorse him for a full, four-year term.
District E. Incumbent Cynthia Willard-Lewis, who also was elected in 2000, will need four years to address both the promise and the problems of the city's largest council district, which includes part of the impoverished Ninth Ward, eastern New Orleans, the Jazzland theme park, and the new Lincoln Beach development.
Among the parochial offices on the ballot, we endorse all of the incumbents: Edwin Lombard, clerk of Criminal District Court; Dale Atkins, clerk of Civil District Court; Coroner Dr. Frank Minyard; and Criminal Sheriff Charles Foti Jr.
There are several propositions on the ballot, and we make the following recommendations with respect to them.
Proposition A -- We urge our readers to VOTE NO on a proposed charter amendment to raise the minimum wage in Orleans Parish exclusively by one dollar. This proposal will drive out businesses and make the city less competitive with neighboring parishes. Moreover, it leaves out needy city employees.
Proposition B -- This proposal would allow the self-taxing New Orleans Business Industrial District in the old Almonaster-Michoud corridor to renew its 10-year taxing authority, which is limited to non-residential property owners. VOTE YES on Proposition B.
Proposition C -- Voters in Lakeview are asked to renew for four years an annual property fee of $100 for the Lakeview Crime Prevention District. We urge Lakeview readers to VOTE YES on Proposition C.