When City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell recently announced that she was mulling a run for mayor of New Orleans this fall, she also set in motion consideration of who might succeed her in the District B seat — and so far, the possible field includes former School Board member Seth Bloom, Zulu king Jay Banks and economic development expert Eric Anthony Johnson.
Jay Banks, whose election as king of Zulu last year was attributed to his decades of experience as a political organizer and roots in the community, said he has recently been receiving numerous calls encouraging him to run.
“We have not made a final decision, but it’s certainly exciting that so many people in the community are interested in us doing that,” Banks said. “I’m very excited about the groundswell of support coming for this. I didn’t start this process, but it’s very exciting that so many people think I have the wherewithal to do this.
Seth Bloom was uncontested for re-election to the District 5 School Board seat in 2012 but chose not to seek re-election to his seat on the School Board last fall because he was proud of the board’s accomplishments in eight years and felt it was the right amount of time to turn it over to someone else, he said. Since then, however, he has been talking to District B community members and possible supporters for a run for District B, he said.
“I haven’t made a 100-percent decision,” Bloom said. “I certainly want to stay in public service. I certainly want to take New Orleans to a new place. I’ve not made an announcement yet, but it’s something I’m strongly considering.”
Eric Johnson started his career as a community organizer in New Orleans, and even worked for the city council as a legislative aide to former District B Councilman Jim Singleton as well as for the Downtown Development District. With a Ph.D. in Urban Affairs and Public Policy from the University of Delaware, Johnson went on to a career in major cities around the Southeast and Midwest consulting on development projects, but returned to New Orleans a few years ago and has begun “testing the waters” for a run for City Council.
“All the work I’ve done, from Washington D.C. to wherever, it’s always been about New Orleans,” Johnson said. “It’s always been my intention to return home and do this.”
Issues and leadership style
While two years of rising murder rates suggest that crime is a problem in the city that still needs major attention, Bloom said his experience as a defense attorney gives him a different focus. Of course the city needs more police and more focus on violent criminals, but Bloom said he would try to focus on rehabilitating the city’s many habitual offenders that he would see over and over again in the defendants’ box in court.
The same holds true for the homeless people who appear day after day on Uptown intersections, Bloom said. Those with mental illness and substance abuse problems are simply not going to get better after a stay in the Orleans Parish jail.
“We need to really actually treat the person, not just throw them in jail,” Bloom said. “‘Tough on crime’ isn’t necessarily smart on crime. What can we do to curb our habitual offenders and the cycle of crime in this country?
The only thing we can do is rehabilitation.”
If Banks decides to run, he said he’ll draw on lessons he learned from “old school” politicians — Avery Alexander, A.L. Davis, and Dorothy Mae Taylor. With his office on O.C. Haley Boulevard, he sees the change occurring in the city on a daily basis — and while he applauds it, he wants to make sure no one is being left behind.
One of his proudest moments, Banks said, was when Zulu paraded the first Mardi Gras after Hurricane Katrina — signaling to displaced New Orleanians across the country that the city was coming back.
“I want to make sure the good that came from all this newfound interest helps everybody, and is not to the detriment to the folks that have been here,” Banks said. “It’s a great thing that there is so much interest and activity now, but I’m also very concerned that people who make this city what it is may be being marginalized and moved out. That is a very frightening thing to me.”
Johnson said his first priority as a council member would be to bring community groups together to develop a specific, forward-thinking policy agenda to help spread economic prosperity and opportunity. One of his projects in south Florida involved bringing together six community groups that were all at odds with one another, finding their common goals, and helping them to work together to build a new community with 43 affordable single-family homes.
In New Orleans, Johnson said, he would try to unite likewise disparate groups, such as affordable housing advocates and historic preservationists.
“I like to be able to create something with the help of the people,” Johnson said. “We cannot be the number-one inequality city and really say we are a world class city.”
The election is Oct. 14, and qualifying is July 12 through 14. All three men reiterated they were still making up their minds — in part while waiting on Cantrell to make up hers.