By Danae Columbus, opinion columnist
It’s no secret that the New Orleans Fire Department has been understaffed and underfunded for far more than a decade. The city has consistently told firefighters that they should be good soldiers and wait their turn. But their turn has never come. Firefighters are asking — if not now, when?
Instead of having the city attorney schedule a negotiating session to discuss outstanding issues, Mayor LaToya Cantrell cancelled all leave and vacation time, in an effort to force firefighters to work extra shifts during Mardi Gras season.
Why is she picking a fight with firefighters just when their services are needed the most? Am I having visions of the Mardi Gras police strike 40 years ago?
If a citizen calls for the Fire Department, they arrive in a flash. Yes, they “put the wet stuff on the red stuff,” but they also respond first to 911 calls regarding heart attacks, especially on weekend nights. They will start CPR and stabilize – often save a person’s life – before EMS and police ever arrive. If you are in an auto accident on Interstate 10, it’s the Fire Department that gets to you first.
The public sees Fire Chief Tim McConnell at every Hard Rock press conference because close to two dozen firefighters still work round the clock at the building site. Firefighters are essential for every parade, in it and behind it. They comfort lost kids until their parents are found. They monitor the cooking of food at festivals so eliminate needless fires.
Year-round, firefighters maintain the firetrucks, hoses and accessory equipment so it’s always working. In their “spare“ time, firefighters distribute fire extinguishers and put up smoke alarms. They will even rescue your cat from a tree.
Firefighters are scrappers. They are used to going to Baton Rouge and sniffing out new sources of funding. The existing $30 million firefighter millage is one example of their hard work.
Pay the firefighters what they deserve and hire enough of them to adequately staff the department. Work with our firefighters, not against them. The Fair Share concept must include firefighters too.
STATE REP. WILLARD HOSTS PUBLIC SWEARING IN
Community leaders and elected officials gathered Tuesday evening at SUNOs School of Social Work for a pubic swearing in ceremony for District 97’s newest legislator, Rep. Matthew Willard. Willard’s aunt, former legislator Councilwoman Cynthia Willard Lewis, presided over the festivities and Willard’s uncle, Criminal Court Judge Dominic Willard, administered the oath of office. Council members Cindy Nguyen and Jay Banks, both of whom endorsed Willard, were on hand along with Clerk of Court Austin Badon and a quartet of legislators – Jason Hughes, Mandie Landry, Candace Newell and Royce Duplessis — who will be serving alongside him. Working together with Mayor Cantrell, this team can accomplish many goals.
ALLIANCE FOR GOOD GOVERNMENT ENDORSES SARA LEWIS
In the first major endorsement of a sleeper judicial race for First City Court, oil, gas and environmental attorney Sara Lewis, won the nod from the powerful Alliance for Good Government earlier this week. Lewis is one of five remaining candidates seeking the chance to replace the late Angelique Reed.
Lewis made a solid presentation including a heartfelt description of her grandparents’ struggles in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II and her mother’s subsequent immigration to the U.S. from Italy. Many insiders had expected the endorsement to go to Aylin Maklansky, who appeared surprised when Lewis was named. The endorsement gives Lewis a slight edge which should help her raise a few bucks (if such a thing is possible) during the Carnival season.
After Ash Wednesday, the campaign’s last five weeks will be fast and furious with important endorsements from the two parish-wide political organizations, OPDEC and OPREC, as well as from IWO, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, BOLD, Mayor Cantrell and others. Whether the candidates have the financial resources to take full advantage of these endorsements remains to be seen. This will also be the first race in which the new leadership of WBOK has a change to participate. Its role in terms of endorsements and other political support is yet unknown.
STATE REP. FREEMAN TO MEET WITH WOMEN ACTIVISTS THIS EVENING
Uptown members of the organizations that make up the Legislative Agenda for Women (LAW) Coalition will meet tonight with District 98 State Rep. Aimee Freeman to discuss their legislative wish list for the 2020 session which begins next month. Freeman says she will be discussing “other priorities for women” and “how we can work to improve health care and equal pay.” Women’s groups are counting on Freeman and other to fill the gap left when Helena Moreno was elected to the City Council. The event will be held at the home of Seth and Julie Schwam Harris.
LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS SETS CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION
The New Orleans League of Women Voters will host a mixer, luncheon and panel discussion to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment and the founding of the League on Saturday, March 7 at Andrea’s Restaurant, 3100 19th St. in Metairie. Speakers include former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who will talk about women’s progress in politics; Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Judge Bernette Johnson, who will discuss women’s progress in law; and Loyola University President Tania Tetlow, who will talk about women’s progress in education. Tickets are available through Eventbrite and will not be sold at the door.
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 Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.