Since early March we have all become accustomed to — and perhaps cynical of — phrases like “the new normal” and “these uncertain times.” Nothing quite describes what so many of us are experiencing, this constant hum of anxiety and powerlessness. In contrast, we also see celebrations of creativity, of learning a new skill or reinventing yourself. But even this encouragement exhibits problems, as for many these past months have simply been about trying to keep it together, a constant struggle to preserve their sanity and well-being. There are so many ways we describe the pandemic experience and so many ways we have responded, but there is one movement I have seen in neighborhoods that has not only captured my attention, but as of late, drawn my family in. Early this summer, my wife discovered The Little Copa — fresh fruit daiquiris prepared right in our neighborhood, the Irish Channel.
Charter school co-principal Mindy McConnell and small business owner Jenette Porter —along with state Sen. Troy Carter, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson and Baton Rouge activist Gary Chambers — all qualified yesterday for the open Second Congressional District seat recently vacated by former U.S. Rep Cedric Richmond, now a high-ranking aide to President Joe Biden. Qualifying continues until Friday (Jan. 22) at 4:30 p.m. The race will be fast, furious, expensive and very competitive. The entrance of McConnell and Porter into the race will make the campaign more interesting to a wider range of voters. McConnell, 37, is a Libertarian who believes that it’s time to break up America’s two-party system.
Viewpoint: Political newcomers Desiree Ontiveros and Gary Chambers Jr. prepare to qualify for congressional seat
“Oh my God, I can’t believe it’s happening,” said Desiree Ontiveros about yesterday’s congressional vote to impeach President Donald Trump for a second time. A Latina who moved to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Ontiveros, 39, has formed an exploratory committee to seek Louisiana’s the Second Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond.
Also recently announced for the race is Baton Rouge activist Gary Chambers Jr. Qualifying will begin Wednesday, Jan. 20, and continue through Friday, Jan. 22. A sixth-generation native of El Paso, Texas, Ontiveros attended New Mexico State University and received a degree in marketing from California State University in Los Angeles. She considers New Orleans a “special city” that welcomed her with open arms.
In 2016 Ontiveros started the Badass Balloon Co.
Amid an Epiphany Day marred by an unanticipated insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the state’s highest COVID rates, 87-year-old Isiah Steele received his long-awaited COVID-19 vaccination at New Orleans East Hospital. “I am so blessed to have gotten this vaccine,” said Steele, before lighting a candle at the Shrine of St. Jude. “I will sleep a little easier tonight.”
Steele has been locked down in his family home since mid-March, where he has fretted about his grandson, a senior soon to graduate from LSU, and his caregiver daughter, who goes to work almost every day despite the pandemic. “While I worry about their health and safety, I am mourning the loss of a year of my life at a time when I don’t have too many years left,” he said.
A chronic voter, Steele is also troubled by how ugly and divisive politics have become. “I pray that our elected leaders will seek consensus, get the virus under control and everybody back working again.
Viewpoint: Piper Griffin, Jason Williams to ring in 2021 with fresh promise; Lambert Boissiere eyes Richmond’s seat
As a newly elected Louisiana Supreme Court Associate Justice, Piper Griffin takes the bench on Monday (Jan. 4), she said she is humbled by the overwhelming support from the community. “I want to thank the people of New Orleans for the opportunity to be of service and the trust they place in me for such an important position,” Griffin said.
Joined by her mother Betty Griffin, a retired Charity Hospital nurse; sisters Kaci and Lisa Griffin; nephew Keenan Fortenberry; and ministers Rev. Samuel Gibbs Jr. and Pastor Calvin Woods Jr., Griffin took the oath of office Monday (Dec. 28). Her formal investiture, a public event, is tentatively scheduled for Jan.
I was walking my dog early one morning recently when I saw a man squatting down to look through the louver shutters of a home across the street. When he saw me watching, he scampered away. Did I foil a burglary? Possibly.
COVID-19 has created great unrest in New Orleans and it shows as a wide variety of crimes continue to increase. As should be expected, citizens in almost every neighborhood are frustrated and afraid for their safety. Like COVID-19 itself, we can only assume crime will get worse before it gets better.
Sure, we can attribute many homicides to gang rivalries — but not all the car break-ins and other property crimes, muggings, domestic violence, and even yesterday’s theft of an Amazon truck.
By almost every measure, Mayor LaToya Cantrell has done a yeoman’s job of keeping COVID-19 at bay in New Orleans, albeit at great cost to our tourism-driven economy. Now that the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have reached the region and Moderna’s vaccine is not far behind, Cantrell must face her next big hurdles: convincing enough citizens to get inoculated so that we reach herd immunity, and retooling the economy to better address the city’s long-standing workforce issues.
Convincing skeptics that the vaccine is effective and without adverse side effects will be a daunting task for Cantrell. A Gallup poll of 3,000 adults nationwide taken earlier this month reported that only 63% of Americans would be willing to receive an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccine’s effectiveness will be measured not only by how well it works but by how many people agree to be vaccinated. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, has estimated that 75% to 85% of the population will need to get the vaccine before herd immunity is reached. There has always been a relatively small group of Americans who have opposed vaccinations over safety concerns.
The four new members recently elected to the Orleans Parish School Board will shake up the system and chart a new direction for an organization that has been ruled in large part by outside influences since Hurricane Katrina.
Representing a vast number of New Orleans families, this quartet will function as the School Board’s voting majority with the clear ability to pass or eliminate any policy they deem necessary. They will also have to find better solutions to major issues such as school financing, equity, perpetually low-performing schools and how to bring high-quality schools to every neighborhood.
Incoming District 5 board member Katie Baudouin will represent Central City, the Garden District, the Irish Channel and other neighborhoods above Canal Street. She said her highest priority is helping schools students and families get through the pandemic. “I want to work with schools to develop a plan to measure any learning loss so we can help our students continue to learn and grow,” said Baudouin. The policy director for Councilman Joe Giarrusso’s District A office and mother of a charter school student, she would like to serve on the policy, property, budget and finance committees. The Bureau of Governmental Research recently issued a detailed report on how to better fund NOLA Schools.
LGBT leaders were ecstatic when Dr. J.C. Romero, an openly gay educator, won a seat on the Orleans Parish School Board last Saturday. Romero defeated two-term board member Leslie Ellison, who frequently spoke out against gay rights. LGBT community members believe they will not achieve “full citizenship” until gay candidates are elected to the Louisiana Legislature and the New Orleans City Council. Chief of staff at Einstein Charter Schools and adjunct professor at Delgado Community College, Romero is the city’s third gay-identified elected school official, following in the footsteps of two former Orleans Parish School Board presidents Thomas Robichaux and Seth Bloom. Robichaux and other LGBT attorneys provided free services on Romero’s behalf.
Criminal justice reform is an idea whose time has come.
City Council President Jason Roger Williams won the election for Orleans Parish district attorney Saturday because the 71,889 voters — especially millennials — yearned for the kind of reform that Williams was offering. New Orleans now has the unique opportunity to become America’s foremost leader in developing a new model for criminal justice. Williams was an excellent candidate who was able to bring his institutional knowledge to the race. His message was right on point. Surrounded by a solid campaign team, Williams meticulously executed a well-thought-out plan that branded former Judge Keva Landrum as a flawed prosecutor unable to enact additional reforms. Despite her well-funded efforts, Landrum was never able to shake that yoke.
Williams’ candidacy also drew enthusiastic support from criminal justice reform advocates around the country who hoped that if Williams’ proposed operational style was successful, it could be replicated in other cities.
Williams understood the minds of the voters.
Louisiana Second Congressional District Rep. Cedric Levan Richmond, who recently became the highest ranking Black staff member to join President-elect Joseph Biden’s administration, was introduced to politics at a very early age. Richmond was just 5 years old in 1978 when his mother, Maple Richmond Gaines — a dedicated New Orleans public school teacher — would wake him and his brother Sidney Jr. before dawn to accompany her to the picket line, where the United Teachers of New Orleans were striking for higher wages and better working conditions. Richmond would hold up a sign while his mother, the strike leader, made sure no cafeteria workers or other early arrivers entered the school building. “Cedric’s father, Sidney Richmond Sr., was an entrepreneur and very involved in the community,” Richmond Gaines said. “Although he died when Cedric was 7 years old, he left an impression on Cedric about the importance of community service.”
Richmond’s stepfather, Ulis Gaines, was an electrical contractor who imparted a similar message, Richmond Gaines said.