Two sitting members of the New Orleans City Council and all of their challengers said the city needs a new police chief on Wednesday night in a response to a question asked by the Alliance for Good Government.
Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell — who are running in separate races for the at-large seats on the City Council — both answered “yes” in a yes-or-no lightning-round question that simply asked whether a new chief is needed. All three of their challengers — Jason Williams and Freddie Charbonnet, who are running against Hedge-Morrell, and Eugene Green, who is running against Head — answered “yes” as well.
In the District A race, Councilwoman Susan Guidry was the lone vote of support for Superintendent Ronal Serpas, answering “no.” Three of her opponents — Jason Coleman, Stephen Gordon and David Capasso — all answered “yes.” Her fourth opponent, Drew Ward, was not on stage at the time the question was asked, but he said afterward that he thinks the police chief should no longer be appointed by the mayor.
The answers by Head and Hedge-Morrell leave support for Serpas on the Council difficult to gauge. The Alliance has already interviewed candidates for the Districts, C, D and E races (including sitting council members Jackie Clarkson and James Gray), but did not include the question on those evenings. District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell is unopposed for re-election and thus did not appear before the Alliance, but has been openly critical of Serpas’ leadership in the past.
Because of the format of the debate, the candidates did not have the opportunity to explain their answers. All agreed on previous questions that crime is not being reported correctly, and they differed on whether crime and murders have actually decreased in the city.
Williams was the only candidate to address the question in his closing remarks, and he implicitly criticized the timing of some of the council members’ statements.
“Everyone up here agrees that we need a new police chief, but both of the folks that I’m up here with had an opportunity to say that from the City Council and neither of them did,” said Williams, referring to Hedge-Morrell and Charbonnet (who was an interim member of the council).
Hedge-Morrell released the following statement on Thursday morning: “Morale and police retention are problems facing
the police department. I have been a staunch advocate for additional professional officers and community policing. In our fight to make our streets safe, every possible solution to the crime problem needs to be on the table.”
Afterward, the Alliance endorsed Head and Williams, and did not issue an endorsement in District A. Members of the Alliance (which previously endorsed both Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Sheriff Marlin Gusman for re-election this year) declined to discuss why they included the question or how the individual members feel about it.
A 2013 quality of life survey by the University of New Orleans found approval ratings at 54 percent for Serpas, an increase from previous years, somewhat lopsidedly distributed between 66 percent of white residents and 47 percent of blacks. The survey polled 301 registered voters in Orleans Parish, with a margin of error of 5.6 percent.
Neither the NOPD nor the mayor’s office would comment on the issue Thursday morning.