District A candidates offer up varied solutions to citywide drainage problem

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All six City Council District A candidates prepare for Tuesday night’s forum presented by Step Up Louisiana (Claire Byun/cbyun@nolamessenger.com)

By Claire Byun

All six City Council District A candidates have varied solutions on the citywide drainage problem that plagues several Uptown neighborhoods.

Nearly 100 people squeezed into the Nazareth Baptist Church in Hollygrove on Tuesday to hear all six District A candidates discuss four main issues: potholed roads; a lack of community schools; increasing the city’s minimum wage; and the citywide drainage problem. The forum was presented by Step Up Louisiana, which works to build political power to fight for education and economic justice.

Moderators asked candidates how they will improve drainage in an area habitually flooded after heavy rains – like much of the city. Some candidates argued for legislative action resulting in drainage improvement funding, while others urged the community to help themselves first.

Drew Ward, who unsuccessfully ran for the District A seat four years ago, said he occasionally digs out catch basins to prevent standing water. But that solution isn’t necessarily the best solution for Hollygrove, given it’s history of how large developments and infrastructure changes divvied up the neighborhood.

Rather than digging new basins, Ward said Carrollton has to be put back together – as it was originally created – for the century-old drainage system to work.

“You’re now an island that cannot drain, so it has to be put back to the way it was for it to work,” Ward said.

Step Up Louisiana urged the District A candidates to adopt the group’s three-point plan, which includes increasing the minimum wage to $!5.

Joe Giarusso, former president of the Lakeview Civic Improvement Association, said city leaders should prioritize funding drainage improvements while demanding money from the state.

As elected leaders, Giarusso said it’s up to City Council to demand fair funding from the Legislature to not only fix sewerage troubles, but to improve the current drainage systems before they get any worse.

“The city needs to try and make that a priority,” he said.

While the state has control of funding, the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board should be held accountable for any drainage issues in the city, candidate Aylin Maklansky said. If elected, Maklansky – who has worked as District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey’s legislative director – hopes to be put on the council’s Public Works committee so she can hold those agencies accountable.

Maklansky said she would work toward coastal restoration grants that could be used for drainage improvements, as well.

“In the future, I will make sure District A has a comprehensive plan for drainage to make sure Orleans Parish – not just District A – has the funding they need,” she said.

Three candidates took a more community-oriented approach to drainage relief. Toyia Washington-Kendrick, assistant principal of Esperanza Charter School, encouraged Carrollton neighbors to take drainage problems into their own hands rather than waiting for the city to clean up. The simplest solution, she said, is to clean clogged catch basins around the neighborhood.

Washington-Kendrick said the second solution, which won’t cost billions of dollars, is to keep the pumps operable and manned. Bringing state funding into the mix hasn’t proved useful in the past, Washington-Kendrick said, so residents should “start with their own neighborhoods.”

“We keep talking about the money aspect and the legislative aspect, but that’s what we’ve been doing for plethora of years and it’s not working,” she said.

Dan Ring, a food service industry distributer, said he’d meet with each neighborhood to find out where the most problems lay and, if elected, form a coalition to meet with city administration and “keep their feet to the fire.” Ring also encouraged people to keep their focus on the drainage problem at all times, and not just when it rains.

If elected, Ring said he’d keep his eyes on the city’s drainage troubles even when skies are blue.

“These politicians that are in place right now aren’t getting the answers,” he said.

As for Tilman Hardy, founder and CEO of nonprofit CORE USA community development firm, the solution lies in organizing against elected leaders who have failed to fix the city’s drainage. Hardy urged the community to organize a protest against the Sewerage and Water Board, against City Council and even against the state legislature to let those in power “know we’re watching.”

Instead of standing around when project money “mysteriously disappears,” Hardy said citizens need to protest against city administration until the streets are fixed and standing water is removed. To get the most done, Hardy said, residents have to become a squeaky wheel.

“They don’t have to respond to you, because you’re not the squeaky wheel,” Hardy said. “Get together, and I’ll lead you.”

District A candidates go up for election on Oct. 14, along with mayor several other council seats.

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