LaToya Cantrell and Michael Bagneris fielded questions from progressive group Indivisible NOLA.
New Orleans mayoral candidates Michael Bagneris and LaToya Cantrell found a lot of common ground at a forum hosted by progressive group Indivisible NOLA, broadly covering wage inequity, immigration, racial justice, homelessness, substance abuse and mental health services, among other issues. Another announced candidate, Civil District Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet, also was invited to the forum but had to drop out
due to a scheduling conflict. But the invitation-only event was this year's candidates' first large public introductions before qualifying begins.
Candidates sat in front of an orange Black Lives Matter banner at First Unitarian Universalist Church at Jefferson and Claiborne avenues June 17, fielding questions from event moderators, Indivisible members and members of the roughly 300 people in attendance.
District B City Councilmember Cantrell said she's running "to make our city better, to ensure our people live in safe and healthy environments" and are "connected to real gowth and opportunity." In speaking with constituents, she said, "what I hear from them is we are a city divided." Cantrell says she aims to "fight for inclusive values" and to bring "equity at the ground level to ensure we’re moving forward."
"They feel priced out, they feel they’re totally unsafe," she said. "We need hope, we need protection, we need opportunity."
In his opening statement, Bagneris highlighted his New Orleans roots, from his father's work as a janitor to his life in Treme and Desire neighborhoods, graduation from Tulane and Yale universities, and career as a Civil District Court judge. His family "instilled in him "two virtues: a love of learning and love of God." His mayoral campaign stresses the need for a "safe city, viable economic city, and a city that addresses quality of life," he said.
The forum's opening question asked whether candidates support the platform for a People's Assembly, a multi-pronged effort including a hospitality workers' bill of rights, criminal justice budgets that spend less on police and more on community programs, improving education, and public transportation that meets the needs of working New Orleanians, among other points also tackling racial and environmental justice.
The candidates' positions on the platform, explicitly, was among few diverting opinions, with each largely agreeing and expanding on ideas reflected in the platform. Cantrell generally supports the platform, adding her support for raising the minimum wage and increasing access to public transportation. She supports a gradual $15 minimum wage and said the city — after raising a municipal worker wage to $10 an hour ‚ should also be pushing the business community to do more. "If that’s unionization we need to do that as well," she said.
Bagneris also agreed the city should encourage businesses and said even with a $15 minimum wage, "we're still going to have families that find it difficult with rent and groceries — but yes, we’re gonna push in that direction."
Bagneris said "the only problem with blanketly endorsing [the platform] is not knowing the road how to get there." When pressed for specifics for a plan within his first year in office, he said his first 100 days would include a plan to "revitalize our neighborhoods," including better-equipped neighborhood watch programs supplemented by foot patrols and police.
Asked whether they support ending the practice of local police acting as a "deportation force" for federal immigration authorities, both candidates said "absolutely." Bagneris said it's "unfortunate" that "demonizing" immigrants has occupied public debate.
On how to address racial justice in the city and a "critical need for equity," Bagneris said "we have to talk with each other more in order to understand each other more," swiping at cries of "reverse racism," which mayoral candidate Frank Scurlock accused Indivisible
for not inviting him to participate in the event.
Cantrell got more specific, addressing improving the "conditions in which people are living," including focusing on blight, slumlords, and "people not having access to jobs and opportunity" and "meeting people where they are."
"There's a real disparity there even though we’ve seen growth, but people don't feel connected to that growth," she said. "Once folks feel like they matter, truly matter, that's when our lives will be better ... That rests with coming together, communicating."
Candidates agreed that meaningful criminal justice reform is beginning at the state level, with the passage of a landmark package of bills meant to gradually reduce the state's overwhelming prison population. "If [Gov. John Bel Edwards] holds true to that, we’re obviously on the right road," Bagneris said. The city budget then should also focus on reducing its prison population, "because it's constitutionally mandated," Bagneris said.
"Locally we’re still broken," Cantrell added, also pushing for an end of the "revolving door" to the prison population and for more youth services that typically are capped at young teenagers. As for budgeting, it's about "making it a priority, simple as that."
Candidates also supported treating — not policing — people with substance abuse disorders, which have dominated local headlines over the last year for the rate of overdose deaths. "We should treat it, not incarcerate it," Bagneris said. "It's an illness, not a crime."
Cantrell also urged for a "real access for treatment," including more mental health bed with a "not fully utilized" University Medical Center as a first step. Cantrell also pressed the need for a low-barrier homeless shelter
with connected health services.
Candidates also support hiring a "community education liaison" at City Hall and expanding library services for homeless and at-risk youth.