District E Councilman James Gray celebrated yesterday’s reopening of the Winn Dixie supermarket at 9701 Chef Menteur Highway – which had been closed four months because of tornado damage – as the latest example of how New Orleans East continues to prosper.
“Winn Dixie’s reinvestment is part of the $1 billion dollars of economic development New Orleans East residents have benefited from since Hurricane Katrina. We are special people in New Orleans East. We have done well and we are going to do better,” said Gray at his community-wide campaign kickoff held Tuesday night at the Wyndham Garden Inn, one of the East’s newest hotel properties.
A long-time civil rights, human rights and housing rights lawyer and activist born in the hamlet of Scotlandville outside Baton Rouge, Gray was first elected to the Council in 2012 to fill the seat vacated by Jon Johnson. In 2014, he ran for re-election and received 53% of the vote against Cynthia Willard Lewis and Andre Kelly. If again reelected, this will be Gray’s final term in office.
At least two community activists have announced their intention to run against Gray – Dawn Herbert and Alicia Plummer, a realtor and member of the parish and democratic state central committee. Qualifying takes place in mid-July.
As chair of the City Council’s Economic Development and Special Projects Committee, Gray has been in the catbird seat to shepherd many new business openings in the East including the Royal Brewery which started up in May, the Starlight movie studio which already has their first sound stage rented, and the RaceTrac gas station/convenience store which will locate next to Sav A Lot on the edge of the former Plaza Shopping Center.
Next month’s long-awaited re-opening of the Audubon Nature Center is a magnet that will attract more economic development to the area. “I am a friend of business but also of moms and dads that need decent jobs to take care of their children,” said Gray.
“New Orleans East is a big geographic area,” explained Gray. “Just drive around to see how much progress we have made.” Gray is especially pleased with the new $130 Million New Orleans East Hospital, the $6.2 Million Michoud Front Door Project and $111 Million invested in new schools including Little Woods, Martin Luther King, Schaumburg, North Kenilworth, Lawless and Fannie C. Williams.
Gray also appreciates the jobs that Walmart and the $100 Million Air Products plant have provided. New housing is continuing to be built in the East including the $53.5 Million Village of Versailles apartment complex and the $12 Million Cypress Park apartments. Planning for Cypress Park’s second phase is already underway.
“We have laid a new foundation for New Orleans East that includes fire houses, police stations, parks, schools and libraries. Galveston never recovered after their devastating storm 100 years ago. They didn’t have the people and the determination New Orleans East is built on,” said Gray. Gray believes that government should proactively work with businesses to get new projects moving. “If there is a problem, let’s stop and figure out how to make it work; how to get it done. If the City’s rules and regulations need changing, let us know so we can change them.”
Not all is rosy in the East. There is still much rebuilding that must be done in certain areas including Chef Menteur where the homeless have overrun a former Holiday Inn. Gray says the property was recently sold and that the new owners will be securing the site and applying for permits for redevelopment in the coming weeks. Gray is also anticipating additional interest in the Plaza shopping center site.
Like many elected officials, Gray is concerned about New Orleans crime and sees that working with youth as part of the answer. Gray is the Council’s appointee to the NORDC board. “I have spent 40 years as a coach on our playgrounds and realize how important it is for kids to have a decent place to go to school, to play ball and a decent home to grow up in so they can become the best men and women possible. We need to give kids hope for the future,” Gray continued.
COMPROMISE THE ONLY ANSWER FOR FEDERAL HEALTH CARE LEGISLATION
A new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll shows that just 12 percent of Americans support the GOP’s new health care plan as presented. A larger group would prefer that the framework be left intact or at least repealed only when another plan is ready to replace it. Compromise is in the air which could also bleed over into other thorny issues where Democrats and Republicans currently don’t see eye to eye. The voting public prefers that their elected officials – whether at the federal, state or local level -work together rather than at cross purposes. Perhaps our Mayor and City Council could pick up tips from the health care debate.
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 former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, 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.