Council-at-Large candidates debate issues
New Orleans, La. – It's a race that's been somewhat overshadowed by the mayoral contest. Voters will select two candidates to represent the entire city alongside five others selected for each district on the council. Incumbent Jackie Clarkson highlighted her 20 years of experience in public office, and her top concerns.
Incumbent Arnie Fielkow said the city is now at a crossroads to correct deficiencies exposed by Hurricane Katrina.
Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis is barred from term limits from her District E seat, and said she wanted to continue fighting for citywide recovery.
Challenging the current office-holders is Nolan Marshall. He's associate director of the non-profit coalition Common Good. He says it's time for a change on the council.
Local chef Greg Sonnier's platform centered on his battle with the city to open a restaurant after Hurricane Katrina. He vowed to represent the tourist industry, and ensure the city clearly identifies how commercial properties can be used.
Semi-retired businessman William Gant says he knows he has little chance of winning, but continues to run so he can offer advice and help to those who do take office. Event consultant Lance Von Uhde did not attend.
The candidates agreed on the importance of lowering the city's crime rate, but varied in their approach. Clarkson, Fielkow and Willard-Lewis gave general support to the District Attorney's suggestion that his office be given a percentage of the budget for better planning and stability. They said the state must also fund its mandated programs.
Marshall went further, saying the entire criminal justice system must be treated equally.
Outgoing Mayor Ray Nagin was given good grades for his performance in his first term, and for keeping the city solvent after Hurricane Katrina. But relations with the council became strained over budget cuts. Willard-Lewis suggested the budget process be extended to allow more cooperation. Fielkow said the council and the mayor's office must treat each other with respect.
They agreed that economic development was key to any new initiative. Marshall said entrepreneurs should have better access to business opportunities. Fielkow supported a public-private partnership and a more open contracting process. Willard-Lewis said the city should be more aggressive in ridding blighted properties. Clarkson said she'd explore major developments, like Federal City, in other areas.
Voters can chose two candidates in the February sixth primary. There could then be a choice of two from four in a March sixth runoff.