Citing a lineage of service and civic activism, Jay Banks launched his campaign for the District B seat on the New Orleans City Council on Tuesday morning in the historic New Zion Baptist Church surrounded by supporters, pastors, Democratic party leaders and other current and former elected officials.
“My entire life has been rooted in District B,” Banks told the crowd of nearly 100 people at the church.
District B is poised to host one of the most competitive races outside than the mayor’s race in this fall’s city elections. While Banks’ prospective candidacy has drawn attention for months, former School Board member Seth Bloom also announced a campaign for the seat that will also include a number of well-positioned supporters. Meanwhile, urban developer Dr. Eric Johnson and community activist Timothy David Ray have also begun campaigning for the seat.
Banks’ announcement Tuesday touched on two themes that will likely dominate most of the election for city government this year — crime and economic development.
On crime, Banks argued for an increased focus on prevention while maintaining enforcement efforts against violent offenders.
“I do not believe that the long-term cure to our epidemic of crime can be achieved by arresting our way out of it. By the time the police and the courts are involved, in many instances, it’s too late,” Banks said. “If you talk to some of our young people, one of the most terrifying things that you will walk away with is that many of them have no hope. They do not see the possibility and do not believe that they can be successful.
“…It makes more sense to spend money to keep individuals out of the justice system than it does to spend money to keep them incarcerated,” Banks continued. “Now don’t get me wrong, violent offenders need to be locked up. Those individuals who commit crimes on persons must be dealt with harshly and I have no reservations about saying that, but keep in mind that most criminals don’t start off with violence. Let’s deal with them earlier rather than later.”
On economic development, Banks said the city should seek to continue welcoming new development while ensuring it does not take place at the expense of its longtime residents.
“Every citizen — no matter their race, their religion, their disability or their sexual orientation, including those who just got here and those who have been here for generations — should have the opportunity to benefit from all this new explosion of interest in Uptown,” Banks said. “We have to make sure that all our residents benefit or, at a minimum, are not displaced by the progress.”
Much of Banks’ address focused on his connections to the Uptown area. He was born at the former Sara Mayo hospital in the Irish Channel, attended public schools in the district and graduated from McMain, and now works at the Dryades YMCA in Central City. He also served in the City Council offices of the late Dorothy Mae Taylor — famous in New Orleans for driving the legislation that forced the city’s Mardi Gras krewes to integrate — and of former Councilman James Singleton.
“Experience matters,” Banks said. “Being in a City Council office will not be new to me.”
A recent king of Zulu as well, Banks’ connections throughout the city were evident from the variety of faces in the audience Tuesday. Among those attending were newly-elected School Board member Ben Kleban, former state Rep. Austin Badon, Democratic party leaders Deborah Langhoff and Felicia Kahn, and Central City activists Barbara Lacen Keller (also a longtime staffer for Councilwoman Stacy Head) and Charmaine Baker-Fox.
Banks was introduced by Darren Mire, president of the Black Organization for Leadership Development, which previously endorsed both Stacy Head and LaToya Cantrell, but opposed their predecessor Renee Gill Pratt and the associated William Jefferson political organization. He also received an invocation and endorsement from New Zion’s pastor, the Rev. C.S. Gordon, as well as praise from Singleton.
Banks described Singleton as his mentor, as well as the only person whose advice he values as much his mother’s. Singleton said his membership on the Louisiana Gaming Commission prevents him from offering an endorsement, but acknowledged their close personal relationship.
“He’s my son,” Singleton said to applause and laughter. “I’ll leave that right there.”