District A Councilman Joseph Giarrusso told several hundred supporters at Ralph’s on the Park last week that he has spent his first years in office building relationships and working on major issues but that there is much more to accomplish.
The fundraising event officially kicked off Giarrusso’s campaign for a second term. “When I ran last time as a first-time candidate, you bet on me not knowing what you were going to get,” he told his supporters.
Giarrusso said he has worked hard on the three areas he knew were important to his constituents: economic development, crime and infrastructure in District A, which includes portions of Uptown, Mid-City, Bayou St. John and Lakeview. “Last time when I ran, I started my speech with crime, then economic development and then infrastructure.” Giarrusso said he has switched the order because he has learned economic development will help reduce crime.
“When we talk about economic growth, it is not just about growth but smart growth,” he continued. Smart growth, Giarrusso said, means knowing and working with your neighborhoods to spur economic activity, attract new businesses and close down problem locations. “Did you know Microsoft is on Oak Street? District A is a good place to do business in and to be in business,” he said.
Along with District B Councilman Jay Banks, Giarrusso authored an op-ed in May outlining plans for reducing crime in the city. “There is no arguing citywide that the number of carjackings, nonfatal shootings and aggravated assaults is too high. We need to focus on neighborhood patrols and investigation. At the same time, we need other smart initiatives,” he said.
Jefferson Parish has dedicated 3.5 mills for youth probation and parole. New Orleans is spending a fraction of that on these issues. ”If you want better results, we’ll need to invest on the front end. And while still more work needs to be done across the city, District A year-to-date has nearly a 20 percent decrease in crime. We will continue to be vigilant on this issue,” Giarrusso said.
In terms of his biggest legislative accomplishments, Giarrusso reminded listeners that the council’s powers are limited to passing ordinances, appropriating the budget, certain zoning matters and some utility oversight. Giarrusso believes he made a real difference in budget, zoning and utilities.
Regarding millages, when Mayor LaToya Cantrell asked the council to roll the millages all the way forward, Giarrusso countered with a plan that only rolled forward the most critical millages and decreased others. His plan also removed about four millages from tax bills, saving citizens approximately $16 million per year and more than $65 million from 2020 to 2024.
Giarrusso said he is especially proud about the proposed redevelopment of West End, a project he worked on with state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty and Jefferson Parish Council member Jennifer Van Vrancken, “For all of us who grew up going there as kids, this is incredibly exciting for the New Orleans area,” he said. A cooperative endeavor agreement has been signed and a public solicitation process along with public meetings to ensure input will take place before the project begins.
Giarrusso said he has also built citywide community trust through his work with the Sewerage & Water Board and its ability to better serve the community.
“We have been talking for years about the need for a primary power source that isn’t 100 years old. The reality may finally be here. We couldn’t have gotten to this place without Mayor Cantrell and the New Orleans delegation pushing for $20 million in capital outlay, the $20 million from the city for needed equipment, and the smart funding of $34 million for the substation itself, which will be paid for by the fuel costs savings of switching from the turbines to the substation,” he said.
The partnership for the project included the mayor, Entergy, S&WB, New Orleans’ legislative delegation, Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno and the entire City Council.
Giarrusso says he wants to continue the work he has started. Two of the major projects he is shepherding, West End and the substation, won’t be completed for several years.
“After attending all of my neighborhood meetings, it is clear that my neighbors want continued focus on the major issues of crime, infrastructure and economic development,” he said. “Those all affect quality of life. Of course we will continue to pay close attention to quality-of-life issues as well.”
Giarrusso said he should focus attention where the City Council can use its powers. “There will be critical decisions to make with spending, particularly with American Recovery Plan dollars and possibly American Jobs Plan proceeds. We need to think strategically and creatively about that money,” he said.
With the President Biden’s recent guidance on gun violence and focus on infrastructure spending, Giarrusso believes that a complete look is needed to ensure alignment between his recent recommendations to combat crime and the smart use of infrastructure funds. “This is a way to plan for the present and the future,” he said.
While the S&WB works on the substation, Giarrusso said he will continue to push for improved billing and infrastructure simultaneously. S&WB will also be working on advanced metering infrastructure to help with the billing problems. “We want to ensure as much work with streets and subsurface happen across the city in a coordinated way with reasonable deadlines that are communicated to neighbors,” he said.
Giarrusso will also continue to “plug away” at neighborhood issues, he said. He worked with the Cantrell administration to revise the Notice Me email notification system for land-use changes so that residents will know if someone around them is getting a new construction or renovation permit. “This helped ensure people were not missing their appeals deadline if something was off,” he said.
In addition, revisions are underway on how the city deals with encroachments to make the process more consistent, predictable and subject to a public forum on the more significant encroachments.
Giarrusso also wants the Neighborhood Planning Process to be easy, predictable and consistent. “It’s important for people to see what is happening and to know about it,” Giarrusso said.
Giarrusso’s accomplishments can be attributed to his success in maintaining and building relationships. “Your help and guidance has been invaluable,” Giarrusso told the audience. “Second, and this is important, we haven’t agreed on every issue. But we work through those differences to find common ground.” Giarrusso concluded by thanking his staff and especially his wife, Cassie Fornias Giarrusso.
Among those present at the fundraiser were his mother Civil District Court Judge Robin Giarrusso, Judge Mark Shea, Judge Tracy Fleming Davillier, Judge Karen Herman, Clerk of First City Court Austin Badon, Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken, state Reps. Matt Willard and Candace Newell, former District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry, former state Sen. J.P. Morrell, pollster Ron Faucheux, Bill Schultz, Michelle Gaudin, Joe Sobol, John Litchfield, Karen Carvin, Megan Impastato, Chelsey Kiefer, Richard Cortizas, Myrna Shelton, David Fleming and Lisa Diggs.
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 former 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 email@example.com.