New Orleans, La. – A standing-room-only crowd jammed into the Cook Center auditorium for far-reaching discussions of policy and priorities. Candidates Rob Couhig, John Georges, Troy Henry, Mitch Landrieu, James Perry and Nadine Ramsey mostly agreed on the importance of the city's recreation department for children, and reaching out to those at risk. Perry turned up the heat when he again chastised some of his competitors who - at a debate last year - flubbed a question on the Youth Study Center. Only Perry knew that it's a detention center - not an educational program.
Georges fired back that his mistake was quickly corrected.
Henry said Perry was being misleading.
Perry defended his earlier ad campaign on city issues, which included several curses that were bleeped out.
Questions turned to health care, with candidates asked what should be done with Charity Hospital - closed since Hurricane Katrina four years ago.
Ramsey said a study should be done with public input on whether to renovate and reopen the hospital. Georges wants Charity reopened. Landrieu and Couhig strongly support a new hospital proposed by Lousiana State University in Mid-City. Couhig said the city needs more than what a renovated Charity Hospital can provide.
Candidates then offered plans on getting more local and minority businesses a bigger share of recovery projects through the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program. Ramsey said she'd create a mayor's office of contract compliance.
The panel was asked how the city would deal with environmental health concerns posed by elevated lead and arsenic levels. Candidates said they'd make sure the federal Environmental Protection Agency, headed by New Orleans native Lisa Jackson, would play a major role, as well as other departments, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
For their closing remarks, candidates were asked to describe how they'd create an economic and social parity between blacks and whites in the city. Couhig, Georges and Henry outlined their experience in business and government, and their campaign platforms. Landrieu said racial divides can be overcome through a diverse administration.
Perry said discrimination can be fought in court, and people held accountable.
The Urban League of Greater New Orleans is holding a mayoral candidates debate tonight on the subjects of race relations and civil rights.
The primary election is February 6th, with a runoff March 6th.