Viewpoint: Time is running out to vote by mail

Like almost every other city and town in the nation, New Orleans enjoyed a record-breaking early voting period during which 98,259 Orleans Parish residents cast their votes for president, seven constitutional amendments, sports betting, and an alphabet soup of local races. While the vast majority of Orleans voters – 86,979 – visited one of the five early voting locations, 11,280 citizens mailed in their ballots. Almost 100 mail-in ballots have been received since early voting ending. Today (Oct. 30) at 4:30 p.m. is the last day and time to request a mail-in ballot.

Viewpoint: Business leaders eyeing potential challengers to Mayor Cantrell

Although qualifying for New Orleans mayor, City Council and other municipal offices is still eight months away, many of the same conservative business leaders who gave Mayor LaToya Cantrell the seed money that launched her campaign have begun the painstaking search for a new candidate. “LaToya won’t be mayor much longer,” said one multi-millionaire businessperson who was an enthusiastic early donor. Though many business owners had become disenchanted with Mayor Cantrell, they were willing to work with her for another four years until COVID-19 soured relationships.  “I’m not surprised that the business community is going to put a candidate up against the mayor,” said Ed Chervenak, UNO political scientist. “They are upset that she is not following the lead of Gov. Edwards, who has opened up the state much quicker than Mayor Cantrell has opened up Orleans Parish.

Viewpoint: Campaign finance reports provide bird’s-eye view of race

With the Nov. 3 elections just weeks away, the newly released campaign finance reports provide a long-awaited snapshot on how the various local races are unfolding. Several trends are evident.  

Money is tight in almost every race across the board, forcing most candidates to dip into their own pockets to keep going and also attract donors large and small from outside the region. With the exception of law firms and supporters of the new PAC for Justice, many members of the business community have been sitting these races out, perhaps not realizing how important they are to public safety and quality of life. Finally, a number of more progressive donors, their associated consultants and style of campaigning are bringing generational change to our politics.  

Going into the final few weeks, which judicial candidate reported the most cash on hand?

Viewpoint: To combat potential voter intimidation, make sure you’re vote-ready

Although Olga J. Hedge Pedesclaux was born after women earned the right to vote, as a Black female, she faced down intimidation registering to vote in the 1940s. “They didn’t want us voting and threw all kinds of barriers in the way,” said Pedesclaux, a 96-year-old Donaldsonville native now living in Gentilly.  

The mother of former City Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, Pedesclaux remembers that it took several trips to New Orleans City Hall to finally get registered. On her first attempt, officials asked Pedesclaux, then 20, to recite the entire Preamble to the Constitution of the United States.  

Pedesclaux forgot to wear her wedding ring on her second try and was rejected for lying about her marital status. On the third attempt, she brought along the neighborhood ward boss, who simply stood in the back of the room while Pesdesclaux successfully completed the necessary paperwork.  

Because of the intimidation she encountered just to get registered, Pedesclaux considers voting a sacred honor. “There is no reason anybody shouldn’t vote in every election,” she said. 

Although Pedesclaux is eligible to vote by mail, she prefers to cast her ballot in person during the early voting period.  “There is something special about going to the polls to vote,” she said.

Viewpoint: Candidates meet the moment with redefined campaigns

Armed with push cards, customized face masks and signs, judicial candidate Rhonda Goode-Douglas spent Saturday morning greeting voters outside Congregation Coffee Roasters in Algiers. On Saturday afternoon, her opponent Derwyn Bunton posed with his wife Eileen and daughters Chloe and Reilly for photographs and video that will be used in social media. Both candidates would have attended the annual AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic in City Park today – always a highlight of the fall political season – had it not been canceled. 

While Labor Day signals the beginning of the final two-month stretch before the Nov. 3 elections, New Orleans candidates up and down the ballot are continually adjusting to the new normal of campaigning during COVID-19. 

“I came to this coffee shop because I wanted to meet the residents of Algiers Point,” said Goode-Douglas, a defense attorney who is running for Criminal District Court judge, Section E. “It’s difficult to spread our message and touch the community without being able to campaign door-to-door. We are dropping literature at people’s houses, but we are not ringing their bells.”  

“Trying to win an election during a pandemic requires extra creativity as well as a heavy reliance on technology and social media,” said Bunton, Orleans Parish’s chief public defender and also a candidate for Criminal District Court Section E. “The usual canvassing, meet-and-greets and handshaking can literally place you, your volunteers and potential voters in danger, so we are being respectful and following the science.” 

“Campaigns used to be about visiting people, but now they are all about content for social media,” said Ray Reggie, who has 36 years’ experience on political campaigns.

Viewpoint: Arthur Hunter positions himself as the people’s candidate for district attorney

Long before the honorific “criminal justice reformer” came in vogue, Arthur L. Hunter Jr. was earning a national reputation for identifying alternative solutions to incarceration aimed at decreasing recidivism. After four years as a New Orleans police officer, 12 years as a lawyer in private practice, and 23 years as the Section K Criminal District Court judge, Hunter decided the only way he could bring greater systemic change was to run for district attorney. “I am the clear choice for New Orleans voters who want a fair criminal justice system that truly addresses the needs of victims and defendants while creating programs that reduce crime,” Hunter said. A former St. Augustine High School football star, Hunter said he is running as “a candidate of the people, not a candidate of the bosses.”
Hunter, 61, said he earned the trust of the community during his stint as a police officer.

Viewpoint: Judge Laurie White, Dennis Moore duke it out in Criminal Court Section A race

Judge Laurie White admits she has always been a little feisty. “Even as a child I wanted to free the world,” she said. A former professional boxing manager who traveled internationally with her fighters, White will put her innate pugnaciousness to use in what could be a no-holds-barred competition against seasoned capital defense attorney Dennis Moore. A 61-year old Baton Rouge native, White graduated from LSU and Southern University Law Center and served as an assistant district attorney in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. While in private practice she handled civil rights and insurance matters and also tried more than 100 criminal defense cases as first chair and litigated almost 75 judge trials.

Viewpoint: Three candidates offer diverse experiences in Criminal Court Section K race

In the race to fill the open seat in Criminal District Court Section K, three lawyers are bringing their diverse background and outlook to the competition: attorney Stephanie Bridges, best known for her 24 years as president of the New Orleans Council for Community and Justice (NOCCJ); 36-year-old lawyer Marcus DeLarge, whose family has been active in city government for half a century; and 30-year practitioner Gary Wainwright, who describes his work as “citizen’s defense.” A fourth candidate, Diedre Pierce Kelly, was disqualified by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Stephanie Bridges

A distant relative by marriage to civil rights icons Ruby Bridges and the late Dr. Zebadee Bridges, nonprofit executive Stephanie Bridges has been an advocate for youth justice for more than 30 years. The NOCCJ, the human relations organization she leads, “promotes understanding and respect among all races, religions and cultures through advocacy, conflict resolution and education.”
NOCCJ offers cultural diversity workshops and for almost 10 years provided free expungement clinics in conjunction with the Louis Martinet Society and the Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana.  Some of the young people who participated in NOCCJ programs needed expungements to give them a fresh start. While lawyers from the partnering groups completed the technical aspects, Bridges learned the basics. Longtime NOCCJ partner and former Loyola University President Father James Carter dared Bridges to enter Loyola’s Law School program.

Viewpoint: Proactive policing needed to combat surge in violent crime, MCC says

The Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC), New Orleans’ premier criminal justice watchdog agency, is urging the New Orleans Police Department to refocus on violent offenders during a time when shootings and murders are surging and fewer arrests are being made for violent and weapons felony offenses. A new MCC analysis shows that there is currently a high community demand for police services. They recommend that the NOPD reinstitute a centralized task force model that allows police to strategically identify and target violent felons who continue to pose a threat to community safety. “Every violent crime that goes unresolved by arrest fuels the vigilante cycle of retaliatory justice, thereby diminishing public confidence in law enforcement,” said Rafael Goyeneche, MCC president. “The foundation for prosperity is built upon public safety.

Viewpoint: Before Kamala Harris, a very long battle for women in politics

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’ selection as the 2020 Democratic vice presidential nominee — and potentially the most consequential vice president in American history — is the crowning glory of more than 150 years of incredible work by countless suffragists who first fought for the right to vote and later battled for unfettered access to the top echelons of U.S. government. Though Hillary Clinton, Geraldine Ferraro, Shirley Chisholm and others mightily aspired to reach the White House, polls currently show that the Biden-Harris team has more than a fighting chance to meet that goal. As America remembers the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which cracked open the doors for Harris and many others, there is no better way to celebrate than registering a friend or family member to vote. History tells us that the national women’s suffrage movement began in 1848 at the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, which was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Mary Ann McClintock.   

The suffrage movement started a little later in Louisiana because of an antebellum-influenced view of the Southern lady, delicate as a magnolia blossom in the spring.  Southern males believed the women’s rights movement could only be attributed to an inferior Northern culture and likened it to abolitionism.  Equality of the sexes was a blatant disregard of social distinctions, according to author Armantine M. Smith writing in the Louisiana Law Review. In 1861 men began leaving home to fight in the Civil War, thereby compelling womenfolk to take the lead in caring for children and the elderly.