The exciting action from the "John Georges Auditorium" on the campus of Dillard University is available from WDSU here. Now that the candidates are on TV all the time, we're well past the point where any of them is going to say or do anything substantive. Not that we've been in much danger of that happening at all this year. But last night was almost entirely on-script and therefore devoid of meaning. The very first question specifically asked them to say what about their approach to crime would distinguish them from their opponents. When they all answered by repeating one another's platforms and the cliches that describe them, it was clear we weren't going to learn anything from this one.
But I took notes so let's run through those real quick.
It is with a heavy heart and with great trepidation that I introduce this strained metaphor but it must be said. Desiree Charbonnet is the Hillary Clinton of this election. She is well funded, well connected, some would say well groomed and prepared for the office, and is running the most bland, playing-not-to-lose campaign of everybody. While it's fair to say all of the candidates are playing a cynical triangulation game, Desiree's version of that seems the most pure. As we've written previously, her ads and website are calculated to target specific slivers of voters with an almost paint-by-demographic obviousness.
Last night she continued in this vein, robotically non-answering whenever possible. I think her opening statement was, "Greetings, Earthlings.." The most interesting thing she said had to do with Sewerage & Water Board which she has decided she does not want to fold into a city department. The reason for this is the independent board has bonding authority and, if it can borrow, that means Desi can pledge not to raise fees and taxes to support its operations. No, this probably isn't feasible. But it's a creative way to finesse a difficult campaign issue and that's really all we're here to do, right?
If Desi's technocratic reserve calls to mind Hillary Clinton, then LaToya's full on smarm can be said to evoke Bill. On the campaign trail thus far she has frequently draped her rhetoric in a kind of false empathy designed to comfort audiences but not necessarily commit to anything. She tells personal stories about crime in her neighborhood, or the time she rode a bus past a housing project, or the fact that she, too, once lived in an apartment. I've watched her talk to hospitality workers about how she understands their experience having once worked in a hotel herself. They seemed to eat it up despite the fact she promises nothing in the way of supporting their efforts to organize today. There's very little that comes out of this candidate's mouth that anyone should take at face value. Even her signature line, "nothing stops a bullet like a job" is cribbed from an L.A. gang intervention program.
In her opening statement last night, Cantrell told us she is running in order to "spread the love" whatever that might mean. At the times when one could pull policy positions out of her syrupy ooze, they invariably derived from a dismal neoliberal playbook. On crime, she talked up her record of pushing for more surveillance cameras. On flood control she lamented that only property owners were shouldering the tax burden saying that, I guess, poorer residents need to have more "skin in the game." On affordable housing, she talked about soft second mortgages, "incentives" for landlords, and some bootstrappy sounding ways to encourage homeownership. When it comes to rising rents, LaToya's solution seems to be we should have fewer renters. Which is weird given that she also boasted of her efforts to secure PILOT tax giveaways to the developers of the South Market District apartments. Wasn't the idea there to bring more rental units onto the market? Maybe not, actually.
Wisznia could be just one of many developers who — intentionally or not — have run afoul of HUD requirements, she continued.It's worth noting also that every candidate ducked a question about Airbnb. Each of them said some version of LaToya's meaningless call for "balance." Also, to be fair, LaToya isn't the only candidate promising tax giveaways to developers and corporations in hope that the benefits will "trickle down." Charbonnet presented a hypothetical pitch to Amazon where she said she would help them apply for new market tax credits. I think I actually shot myself in the brain at this point so excuse me if I'm missing some things.
Many of the city’s prominent developments are HUD-insured properties, such as the South Market District’s Paramount Residences and the Woodward Loft Apartments in the Warehouse District.
A search of the city's database found at least one unit at Woodward to be operating as a commercial short-term rental.
I believe I heard Michael Bagneris say he was going to compile facts and clean things up several times. Like all the candidates, Bagneris loves police and thinks we need more of them. Like all of them he ducked the question about the monuments. They all basically said it was time to move on and have less "divisiveness." Like the other candidates, his housing answer centered on blight remediation and boot-strap type talk. Like all the candidates he agreed to give Payton and Brees one more season with the Saints. (Yes, this was a question.) He repeated the "nuts and bolts" manufacturing pitch he launched his campaign with. So, Bagneris was his typical boring self, right? Not exactly.
For one thing, he was the only candidate to deliver anything like a direct attack on anyone.
In the most heated exchange of the evening, Bagneris took a shot at one of Henry's big talking points, that he is best positioned to reform the Sewerage & Water Board because he once served as a top official at a wastewater management company called United Water. Bagneris pointed to the brief period when the company ran Atlanta's water system, calling it a time of "customer complaints," "broken pipes" and "excessive chlorine in the water."It might have been better if Bagneris had skipped the customer complaints and asked what, exactly, it is Henry did at United Water. To hear him tell it, he was the "President" of the company. It's been a few years since the last time anyone called him out for this particular lie. Maybe in his mind there's a statue of limitations. In any case, Henry is more or less a flim flam artist. His function at United Water, whatever his title, was the privatization of water systems. The last time New Orleans was pushing in that direction under Ray Nagin, Henry was involved. Prior to that he was on the executive team at infamous energy deregulation profiteer Enron. Last month, Henry's name came up in a story about how a venture run by him and actor Wendell Pierce to build houses in Pontchartrain Park had defaulted on federal CDBG grants financed through..... wait for it..... yep, FNBC.
"So that’s experience we can do without,” Bagneris said.
In previous mayoral forums, where the candidates were asked directly if they would consider privatizing Sewerage and Water Board, Henry has answered, "possibly."
Toward the end of this debate, Bagneris also dropped this little gem on us.
Bagneris would raise eyebrows a second time before Tuesday night's debate ended, during a "lightning round" closing out the event. In response to a question about whether the city is in a “mental health crisis,” he replied, “Some of it is represented here.”He didn't specify who he meant. Given his earlier attack on Henry we can reasonably assume that was his target. Although, in this field who could blame us if we asked for a more specific answer?