Former Judge Michael Bagneris is clearly the dark horse in this year’s race for Mayor. While he may not be the most conventional, the most cutting-edge or the best-financed candidate, Bagneris believes he will bring the most experience relying on his 8 years as a key adviser to Mayor Dutch Morial.
Born into a large Catholic family who lived in the old Desire Housing Project when the Black Panthers were active in that neighborhood, Bagneris was a studious young man who wanted more out of life. He received a scholarship to attend St. Augustine High School and then Yale University where he earned two undergraduate degrees. He attended Tulane Law School and clerked at the Jewish-owned firm Fine & Waltzer which began his deep ties to the Jewish community.
Inspired by the civil rights movement and new opportunities for African-Americans in government, Bagneris was one of the bright young professionals who brought their talents, energy and enthusiasm to Dutch Morial’s campaign and administration.
From this group sprung numerous African-American leaders and elected officials including Assessor Errol Williams, Sheriff Marlin Gusman, retired Judge Dennis Bagneris, former Civil Sheriff Paul Valteau, former PSC Commissioner Irma Dixon, and former legislator Rosalind Peychaud, among others.
Bagneris initially served as an aide to Morial and then became Executive Counsel for six years where he played a leadership role in every major policy decision.
It was in the Morial administration that Bagneris met his current wife Madalyn. The two are an active power couple in the community who attend Corpus Christi Church and have worked many years on the establishment of a civil rights museum in New Orleans.
Dutch Morial loved politics and wanted to control the city’s political landscape. He had a candidate in every race and a proven plan to elect his friends and defeat his opponents. While the late great Reynard Rochon laid out the campaign strategy and the brilliant Jim Carvin handled media, Bagneris directed the execution utilizing a seasoned team of Morial key lieutenants who served the same function in every race. All this is to say that Bagneris learned how to put a campaign together from some of the best minds in the business.
Bagneris’s early experience as a political operative did not always translate into his own campaign victories. Bagneris lost a hotly contested City Council seat to civil rights icon Dorothy Mae Taylor in 1985 but won a civil district court judgeship in 1993. He later served as Chief Judge, then retired from the bench in 2013 to run for mayor against Mitch Landrieu.
Bagneris ran a poorly-funded, lackluster campaign and garnered less than 40 percent of the total votes cast. Bagneris says he is better prepared this time with a more focused message and better fundraising. With more than $70,000 cash on hand as of the last campaign finance report, Bagneris has a fundraiser scheduled for June 15 at Allegro.
Bagneris’ platform has not changed too much because many of the same issues remain. “Public safety is a very, very daunting challenge facing New Orleans these days,” Bagneris said. Economic development, jobs, streets, infrastructure and blighted houses are also issues Bagneris wants to address. “Government needs experience and I am the best party to address those challenges,” he said.
Bagneris would employ a two pronged process to address crime including providing incentives to early retirees to return to the force and creating synergy with other public agencies who have their own police forces including the Port of New Orleans, City Park, the flood protection authority, and educational institutions.
Bagneris also says the NOPD must regain public trust and suggests reinstituting community policing in the neighborhoods including Officer Friendly-type programs in the schools. Long-term he would like to place substations in neighborhoods. “Police protection isn’t a service that citizens should have to pay extra for. All neighborhoods should expect equal protection,” said Bagneris.
Regarding economic development, Bagneris considers New Orleans a “one trick pony” heavily reliant on low-wage tourism industry jobs. “We’ve got to diversify to grow our economy,” he explained. Bagneris believes that manufacturing is a way to increase New Orleans’ job market.
Bagneris says the Port of New Orleans is one of the few ports in the nation country that doesn’t maximize the potential of value-added manufacturing jobs through a Foreign Trade Zone. “We have the raw materials, available workforce and a great transportation system. Our workforce, especially African-American men, need to be put to work,” Bagneris said.
Bagneris also considers the city’s traffic cameras “a money-grab.” “If we can’t get rid of them, we should take those funds, about $25 million last year, and direct them to neighborhood street repair,” he said. “It’s not much but we’ve got to start somewhere.”
Finally Bagneris agrees with the sentiment of many New Orleans East residents that they are a “stepchild” to New Orleans. “I truly believe that New Orleans East’s needs have not been addressed.” Bagneris sees the old Lincoln Beach site as a prime area for future development with a boutique hotel, restaurants, retail and housing.
Bagneris is not worried that he has only one endorsement from an elected official – his brother State Representative John Bagneris. “I am getting the peoples’ endorsement. That’s all that counts.”
CLERK OF COURT DALE ATKINS HOLDS FUNDRAISER TONIGHT
Clerk of Civil District Court Dale Atkins will hold a fundraiser tonight at the Bancroft Drive home of entrepreneur Jimmie Woods. The event begins at 6 p.m. Atkins has served as Clerk since 1990 and is up for re-election this fall.
Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and work for City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. Her current clients include District B City Council candidate Seth Bloom.