This voter education guide is published primarily as a resource and does not constitute an endorsement of any candidate or proposition by ANTIGRAVITY Magazine.
Welcome, readers, to the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. This is the ANTIGRAVITY voter education guide, a companion to your November 3, 2020 election ballot.
Since 2014, we have published and lovingly crafted voter guides as a service to our readers, first in collaboration with our friends at the New Orleans Harm Reduction Network, then separating to create and publish the guide with ANTIGRAVITY at the helm. Our most consistent position through all the years? That no aspiring politician has earned our endorsement. Therefore we review candidates with the mentality that we ought to elect the people who grassroots movements might successfully push and pressure, to lessen suffering among those most likely to suffer. In other words, we vote for who we most want as our opponents.
This guide was written by a team of eight people, including members of the ANTIGRAVITY editorial staff. Our core team benefitted from the support of a broader network of helpers and an even broader network of consultants. We sought insight from friends, family, friends’ families, family friends, neighbors, their friends and neighbors, felons, local organizers, policymakers, professionals, assessors, wonks, wingnuts, polemicists, picketers, small business owners, petty thieves, charismatic street waifs, and the many people who contacted us unprompted to give us a piece of their mind.
We pored over national media, local media, and social media. We attended virtual forums. We got phonebanked (a lot). Our research included (but was not limited to) public records, campaign finance reports1We consulted nola.com’s database and publicly available campaign finance reports. We cross-referenced, did additional research on donor identities, and requested additional records when necessary. When you see references to how campaigns were financed (or who donors are) throughout this guide, these are the sources to which we are referring, unless otherwise specified., court filings, and meeting minutes. We surveyed candidates running for positions in the legal system2Aside from that survey, we did not contact any candidates personally for comment on any matters., asking the questions dearest to our hearts and communities but under-explored elsewhere. Because of the large number of criminal legal system races, for the first time we made a concerted effort to interview attorneys, particularly public defenders, who answered a survey on the condition of anonymity.
This guide is not produced by or affiliated with a political party or organization—in fact many of us have no faith in electoralism whatsoever, but are deeply invested in this document as a way to dissect and map power and control. We used these specific values to guide us:
Local politics impact us most, and vice-versa. We prioritize issues that involve New Orleans, surrounding areas, Louisiana, and the Gulf region. We reject the influence of post-Katrina opportunism and pandemic-era austerity at all levels of government and the private sector.
Any analysis of power ought to center the needs and experiences of the most vulnerable among us—those most subject to bodily and institutional violence and neglect. We seek to promote justice, dignity, and autonomy for historically punished and exploited populations like Black people, indigenous people and people of color, people with disabilities, poor people, queer and trans people, immigrants with and without documentation, youth, elderly people, women, unhoused people, people who use drugs, people who earn income in informal or stigmatized industries like sex work, currently or formerly imprisoned people, and people most affected by climate crisis.
We write this guide as unapologetic utopians: we refuse to let the scarcity, limitations, and horrors of our present dystopia limit our imaginations.
It looks like this could be the last fair, free, and open election in the United States. But then again people have always faced formal and informal disenfranchisement, whether based on their status as property owners, their race, gender identity, race AND gender, disability (particularly if under some form of conservatorship), access to documentation (impediments can include poverty, citizenship status, arrest history), being currently or formerly imprisoned, access to childcare and free time, residency in the nation’s capital or one of its island territories, living situations and intimate partner violence, closed poll locations, intentional and targeted misinformation campaigns, the court system deciding election results, susceptibility to the novel coronavirus, and the existence of the caucus, delegate, and electoral college systems. So that’s the caveat on the doomy “last free, fair, and open election” forecast.
We live in a country where the mainstream media is generally incapable of holding elected officials accountable even in the face of flagrant lies. We live in a country where some of those elected officials, including those in the highest offices, are propelled by an industrial-strength blend of greed, impunity, malice, and incompetence. We live in a country where people are starting to notice that we have (and have always had) concentration camps. This year over 200,000 Americans died as a direct result of a mismanaged pandemic that exposed the total devaluation of human life in favor of consolidation of wealth. Some elected officials—at every level—openly sympathize with or endorse fascist ideologies, fascist groups, and fascist acts of violence. Even though a lot of people stayed inside all year, the police kept killing at the same rate as usual, kept killing Black and brown people, and used experimental chemical weapons against those who protested.
Using this ballot you will vote on national and state level races. You’ll vote for candidates vying for positions in our civil and criminal legal systems. On the same ballot where you cast your vote for president, you will also have your say on school board membership, amendments to the state constitution, all the way down to items that impact individual districts in this city. Even the most local ballot items can be microcosmic of national struggles, trends, and reckonings. At the end of a year in which “prison abolition” became a phrase published in papers of record, locals have taken on the question of legal system reform, evidenced by the Flip the Bench slate, the People’s DA Coalition, and by an abundance of community forums.
We too have been grappling with the question of reform. We’re going to vote—that this is a voter education guide might have tipped you off. But we won’t be fooled or pacified when we submit our ballots. We know what’s coming and already in progress: austerity. We know what happens at moments like this: opportunism and historical revisionism. One public defender we spoke to put it best:
All of the candidates that I do not want to see elected are establishment candidates supported by Democratic machines in New Orleans. There are many people who would profit off of their being elected. It is also not lost on their backers that this could be a watershed year of candidates being elected on platforms of criminal justice reform, and already several of these establishment candidates are copying their opponents’ progressive talking points. Don’t vote just off image. Don’t vote just off rumors. Do your research and look at what the candidates are promising and what they actually stand for.
We also don’t know what happens at moments like this, and that’s a place to find hope. We live for the unexpected, the beautiful surprises. We live for the solidarity demonstrated by people looking out for one another when abandoned by the State, people putting their bodies on the line to blockade evictors and deporters. We live for even temporary reclamations of public space, for acts of bravery and spontaneity even in heavily managed, permitted protests. We live for people creating possibilities of new ways to exist in relation to each other, new ways to address harm. We live for things we can’t yet imagine.
Mariame Kaba says hope is a discipline. We must practice this discipline to keep caring for ourselves and each other, to stay mobilized, to stay agile, critical, and responsive. Without hope our imaginations are destitute, we cannot see or access our own power, and honestly life is just intolerable. But take heart: wherever there has been oppression there has always been resistance, the kind that isn’t governed by election cycles. We happen to be in an election cycle right now. And the ruling class isn’t nearly as terrified of us as they should be. Let’s change that by any means available and necessary.
If you are registered and don’t care to vote, you can find someone who is currently incarcerated, on parole, undocumented, or otherwise disenfranchised from voting, but wants their opinions heard. You can vote for their interests.
We suggest you bring a photo ID to the polls, but if you do not have one you can still cast a ballot by signing a voter affidavit which vouches for your identity. The secretary of state audits all voter affidavits after the election to ensure that you are who you say you are.
If you have a disability, you are entitled to receive assistance to cast your vote. If your assigned polling place is not accessible, you can vote at the nearest polling place with the same ballot or at the Registrar of Voters Office.
The makeup of the ballot, including names of candidates and texts of propositions, as well as information about how, where, and when to register and vote is based on information provided by the Louisiana Secretary of State and the City of New Orleans website. For info on what your ballot looks like, as well as information about disability and voting, go to the SoS website, voterportal.sos.la.gov.
Joseph R. Biden, Kamala Harris (Democrat)
Jo Jorgensen, Jeremy Cohen (Libertarian)
Donald J. Trump, Michael Pence (Republican)
Brian Carroll, Amar Patel (American Solidarity Party)
Jade Simmons, Claudeliah Roze (Becoming One Nation)
President Boddie, Eric Stoneham (C.U.P.)
Don Blankenship, William Mohr (Constitution Party)
Brock Pierce, Karla Ballard (Freedom and Prosperity)
Tom Hoefling, Andy Prior (Life, Liberty, Constitution)
Gloria La Riva, Sunil Freeman (Socialism and Liberation)
Alyson Kennedy, Malcolm Jarrett (Socialist Workers Party)
Kanye West, Michelle Tidball (The Birthday Party)
Bill Hammons, Eric Bodenstab (Unity Party America)
Voting for Donald Trump versus Joe Biden is literally choosing the difference between shooting unarmed protesters to kill (tacitly approved by the former) versus shooting them in the kneecaps (brilliant reform offered by the latter). We aren’t going to run down the full list of atrocious things Trump has said and done. It’s tiresome; you’re familiar. The man is an egomaniacal kleptocrat and racist, who has used his presidency to consolidate power and wealth. He has spent the entirety of the pandemic alternately mocking global safety precautions and routinely spouting misinformation like someone who watches Fox News for eight hours a day, which he does.
The alternative choice, your Diet Pepsi to the incumbent Diet Coke, is former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris (who, lest we forget, called herself “top cop”). It also feels tiresome and rote to talk about how mediocre the Biden ticket is. What is Biden’s platform even? He believes in climate change and will rejoin the Paris Accord (the lowest hanging fruit) but will NOT ban fracking.
It chafes a bit that this is the guy we got instead of Medicare for All, student debt relief, and a Green New Deal. But in retrospect the chaotic democratic primary looks like a fever dream… It was tempting to get lulled into the idea that victory might go to the nice old Jewish man who just wanted us to be able to go to the doctor.
Biden is a hollow figurehead for the Democratic Party (which would be considered right-of-center in many other countries, certainly not a force of meaningful opposition) and an embodiment of a desire to return to “civility,” “normalcy,” or the “before-times.” That desire is naïve at best and a liberal form of MAGA at worst. Plus, if you’ve been paying attention at all through the pandemic, going back to normal just ain’t happening. Let’s not forget Biden’s normalcy was an administration that oversaw a record number of deportations and thousands of deaths by drone bombing.
Enough about Biden, but speaking of drones:3And people who seem a bit strange and doddering, leading you to wonder with concern “where is the family…won’t somebody who cares about this man please intervene?” Kanye West somehow made it on this ballot, and though we know next to nothing about what kind of policies he supports, he did recently release “Nah Nah Nah,” which he calls the “theme music” for his campaign. The hook is “send the drones in.”
With the election looming, Trump seems to be feeling the walls closing in (he could face serious legal trouble if he leaves the White House). He’s abandoned the dog-whistles in favor of a bullhorn to spew mask-off fascism, encourage voter suppression and violence from his supporters at the polls, and lay the groundwork for refusing to cede power.
Are there really any undecided voters at this point? Is anyone using the ANTIGRAVITY voter guide at risk of voting for Trump?
SUMMARY: Check the box for Biden… or not… you live in Louisiana and the electoral college exists. We aren’t accelerationists, we don’t want Trump to win; we’re just not here for the bullshit. Hurry up and move on down the ballot. There’s a lot more to do.
Beryl Billiot (No Party)
John Paul Bourgeois (No Party)
“Bill” Cassidy (Republican)
Reno Jean Daret III (No Party)
Derrick “Champ” Edwards (Democrat)
“Xan” John (Other)
David Drew Knight (Democrat)
M.V. “Vinny” Mendoza (Independent)
Jamar Montgomery (No Party)
Dustin Murphy (Republican)
Adrian Perkins (Democrat)
Antoine Pierce (Democrat)
Melinda Mary Price (Other)
Aaron C. Sigler (Libertarian)
Peter Wenstrup (Democrat)
Bill Cassidy is seeking reelection for his second six-year term in the Senate. While perhaps not as well-known nationally as his counterpart, Muppet Sith Lord John Kennedy, Cassidy is a problem all the same. The two have teamed up on such classic escapades as trying to strip 21 million Americans of their health insurance, vehemently defending alleged abuser Brett Kavanaugh (Cassidy himself was one of the purveyors of a baseless conspiracy theory that a Democratic cabal was puppeteering Christine Blasey Ford to sabatoge Kavanaugh), and attacking safe legal access to abortion every chance they get.
Did you know Cassidy is a doctor? Yeah, like a real one. Hard to believe from a guy who’s fallen in line so obediently behind his party’s anti-science stance in the midst of a pandemic. In the early months of COVID-19, Cassidy led bipartisan efforts to curb the virus, but he’s more recently defended Trump’s superspreader rallies. In August, he was seen at a political event shaking hands and taking photos without a mask. He tested positive for the novel coronavirus the next day.
Clearly Cassidy prioritizes his own political prosperity over the lives of his constituents. After refusing to renew the arguably insufficient unemployment stimulus which kept 30 million out-of-work Americans afloat during the spring and early summer, Cassidy turned around and asked the president to suspend all taxes on big oil for a year after COVID-19 is over (whenever that might be).
Cassidy needs to go, but despite the sizable list of challengers, that’s going to be a tall order. The most realistic contender is Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins. A young Democratic upstart, Perkins touts endorsements from big party names, including Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, and John Bel Edwards.
As mayor, Perkins enrolled Shreveport in a universal basic income pilot program (sort of, it was a public/private partnership—one of the most disgusting three word phrases in existence—this “UBI” program was funded in part by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey). Perkins was proactive on COVID-19, issuing a mask mandate ahead of the statewide one. His police department—under direction of a chief he appointed—recently garnered national attention after four officers were indicted for their roles in the death of Tommie McGlothen Jr., a Black man with a known mental condition. Perkins acknowledged responsibility for his role in the deadly mishandling of the situation, but has taken little action beyond a pledge to improve police training procedures.
Perkins’ senatorial campaign is centered around expanding health care and protecting people with preexisting conditions. He also talks about education reform and automatic voter registration for all Americans. He wants to raise the federal minimum wage, but not by a fixed amount—instead suggesting a fluctuating wage that would adjust annually to the economy.
Baton Rouge native Antoine Pierce could be the dark horse candidate in this race, running on a progressive platform including Medicare For All, universal basic income, eliminating student debt, and legalizing marijuana. He currently serves on Governor John Bel Edwards’ advisory board for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and has been endorsed by the Yang Gang.
Derrick “Champ” Edwards ran for Senate in 2016, but garnered less than 3% of the vote. A year later, he ran for state treasurer with more success, making it to the run-off before falling short. He’s a lawyer and an accountant. His platform includes providing pandemic relief funding for small businesses, growing affordable housing, and creating free college tuition.
The rest of the ballot is rounded out by candidates representing a varied array of backgrounds, niche platforms, and/or negligible political experience. Marine veteran Beryl Billiot ran against Cassidy last time around. He’s caps-lock “PRO LIFE, PRO GUN,” and according to his website, “refuse[s] to debate social issues at this time.” Reno Jean Daret III is a retired New Orleans teacher who would allow people who use drugs to legally purchase drugs if they agreed to wear an ankle monitor. And if that isn’t galaxy-brained enough for you, he would also curb illegal immigration by issuing everyone in the country federal “door-to-door IDs” that would have to be presented anytime someone even makes a purchase. Just say you want everyone microchipped and go, jeez.
SUMMARY: Take your pick between Perkins or Pierce. From an electoral standpoint, the goal would be to put Cassidy in a run-off. Perkins is likely better positioned to beat him, ultimately, due to the big-name Dem endorsements. Unfortunately, this one’s going to be a bit of a reach. No Black person has won a statewide election in Louisiana since 1887.
U.S. Representative 1st Congressional District
Lee Ann Dugas (Democrat)
Howard Kearney (Libertarian)
Steve Scalise (Republican)
Congressional District 1 covers a patchwork of the suburban, rural, and coastal areas and includes all of St. Tammany, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard Parishes, the eastbank of Jefferson Parish, parts of Uptown New Orleans, and parts of Tangipahoa, Lafourche, and Terrebonne Parishes. It is about 80% white.
Republican Steve Scalise is the incumbent. He was first elected to Congress in 2008 and rose quickly to become minority whip, the second highest-ranking Republican in the House. He goes on Fox News a lot, rants about scary mobs, scary socialists, and compared Nancy Pelosi visiting a hair salon to Marie Antoinette. In other words, he’s Trumpy in a way that’s feigned and slobbery. He’s vocally pro-oil, has repeatedly sponsored anti-carbon tax resolutions, rejected efforts to limit CO2 emissions, voted to expand offshore oil drilling, and even pushed bills that limit the federal government from purchasing “non-petroleum based fuels.” To hell with a coast when you’re getting damn near a half a million dollars to do Big Oil’s bidding.
Scalise once gave a speech on the floor of the House saying, “My great-grandparents came here from Italy and I’m proud of that.” In the same speech, he demonized migrants as drug traffickers and terrorists and called for limits on immigration. He supports a border wall. He has demanded the reduction of refugee resettlements, and supported Trump’s racist, Islamophobic travel bans. These policies have resulted in the lowest resettlement rates in the history of the modern refugee program. The Council on American-Islamic Relations recently said these types of efforts are “part of the ongoing Trump administration effort to maintain systemic anti-Black racism and white supremacy.”
This is not a fluke, this is who Scalise is. After he spoke at a convention hosted by the white supremacists of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) in 2002, he defended himself by saying it was an accident. Plausible? No. Scalise infamously identified himself to a Times-Picayune reporter as being like David Duke “but without the baggage.”4Which makes about as much sense as trying to blame violence in the streets on peaceful protesters, while completely ignoring police brutality and white nationalists convicted of killing protesters. Oh wait, he did that too. Jeez, why would the Gambit endorse this guy?
Democratic challenger Lee Ann Dugas is a bit of a longshot. Her Facebook page, “Dugas 4 Congress,” has fewer than 200 likes at the time of publication. She hasn’t filed a campaign finance report (Scalise has raised about $26 million). She’s got some ideas, though! Dugas is a person with disabilities who served in Desert Storm and survived chemical exposure, which has put her focus on the environment. “Climate change is number one,” she says. “I’ve done over 85,000 hours of research in the last four years. And do you know that [in] the Mississippi River, if it was done and dredged properly, we could sink turbines, and it would furnish electricity from Baton Rouge to New Orleans?” Some of her other ideas include a national minimum wage of $15 an hour, the reunification of families separated at the border, and support for renters during the COVID-19 eviction crisis. Dugas has been endorsed by International Women’s Organization, Louisiana Democrats, the New Orleans Coalition, and the Forum for Equality.
Howard Kearney is a central-casting libertarian. He works in computers, lives in an exurb, and is so fed up with “our freedoms being taken away with every bill passed”—especially freedoms for clumps of cells, as one of his main priorities is “the right to life including full protection of the unborn.” In one interesting twist though, this Baptist minister writes, “Regardless how I feel about personal drug usage or abuse, one thing is certain; it is a health issue not a criminal issue.”
SUMMARY: Few candidates could be worse than Scalise, and the bar is low. But Lee Ann Dugas seems great, though we are always given pause by the tragic implications of military service (both for those who serve and victims of imperialism everywhere). Dugas may have an unknown track record, no campaign money, and very little chance of winning this seat, but Steve Scalise has got to go.
U.S. Representative 2nd Congressional District
Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste (Independent)
Glenn Adrain Harris (Democrat)
Colby James (Independent)
Cedric L. Richmond (Democrat)
David M. Schilling (Republican)
Sheldon C. Vincent Sr. (Republican)
Congressional District 2 includes all of St. James Parish and portions of Ascension, Assumption, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Jefferson, Orleans, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and West Baton Rouge Parishes.
Incumbent Cedric Richmond is one of only four co-chairs of the Biden presidential transition team, setting the table for a substantial position in the administration should Biden win. Richmond, for his part, claims he wants to stay in Congress, where he’s been influential. He chaired the Congressional Black Caucus from 2017 to 2019 and was rumored to be in the running for speaker of the house two years ago.
Richmond has been a consistent advocate for abortion and women’s rights. He has advocated for the release of prisoners from halfway houses and prison camps over coronavirus concerns, and has been fighting for prison and criminal legal system reform throughout much of his tenure, such as introducing legislation that would roll back solitary confinement (though not abolish it).
But a scathing report in The Guardian last year documented Richmond’s blind eye to Cancer Alley, which his district is gerrymandered into. Seven of the ten most air-polluted census tracts in America are in his district, according to the EPA’s National Air Toxics Assessment report, yet he had neither spoken about the issue on the congressional record nor mentioned air pollution in news releases from the start of his tenure until the time of the report’s publication. Richmond had, however, taken $128,750 from chemical companies at the time of the Guardian story, as well as $279,050 from oil and gas interests. When two elderly residents from Reserve asked Richmond to write a letter on their behalf about a plant that emits a known carcinogen into their neighborhood, he told them, “There have been letters.” This was a lie, according to the Guardian article, which also reported that the same chemical company, via a lobbying firm, had paid Richmond’s campaign $2,500.
Also on the environmental front, Richmond broke with Democrats and voted for the Keystone XL pipeline. He voted to allow offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic and for environmental deregulation of natural gas export centers.
Colby James is a political newcomer and military veteran. His campaign website is centered around criminal legal and education reform. He would introduce federal investment in individual children via a “baby bond.” He also supports taxation of the ultra wealthy, Medicare for All, a congressional committee on reparations, and a congressional racial wealth and equity analysis.
Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste is a New Orleans native perennial candidate and grassroots organizer with Take ‘Em Down Nola. Batiste elevates the platform of the Poor People’s Campaign. For years, he has been a vocal advocate for economic equality, while speaking against racism and oppression.
Sheldon C. Vincent Sr. previously ran for school board and judge. He is the CEO of Hercules Construction LLC, a Navy veteran, a landlord, and a background actor. His campaign slogan is “Dads Matter & Grandpa Too” and he is a vocal supporter of corporal punishment.
SUMMARY: Richmond, James, or Batiste. If Richmond lands a position in a future Biden administration, let’s hope a supporter of Medicare for All and climate action will replace him.
Associate Justice Supreme Court, 7th Supreme Court District
Sandra Cabrina Jenkins (Democrat)
Piper Griffin (Democrat)
Terri Love (Democrat)
The Supreme Court in Louisiana elects seven justices by district for ten-year terms, with the longest-serving justice serving as chief justice. With Chief Justice Bernette Johnson retiring, her seat in this district—which comprises most of Orleans Parish and parts of a few Jefferson Parish Westbank communities—is up for grabs. It’s worth noting that although Black people make up about 30% of Louisiana voters, due to the way the districts are gerrymandered, there is only one Black judge, constituting 14% of the court. The districts are set to be redrawn after the 2020 census, and there has been a push to address this disparity. All three candidates in this race are Black women and Democrats, setting them apart from the majority of the bench.
Piper Griffin, a judge in Division I of Orleans Parish Civil District Court, is endorsed by groups including the Independent Women’s Organization, the Forum for Equality, the Alliance for Good Government, the AFL-CIO, Voters Organized to Educate, Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, and the Black Organization for Leadership Development. When she’s in the news, it’s often for good reasons. In the Entergy astroturfing scandal, Griffin ruled that a City Council vote approving a new Entergy plant in New Orleans East was void: the Open Meetings Law was “undermined” by an Entergy subcontractor hiring actors to fill the meeting room and keeping ordinary members of the public out. In 2018, Griffin temporarily blocked an anti-Black, misogynoir policy banning hair extensions at Christ the King Parish School in Terrytown after it was challenged by the families of two Black girls who were punished.
Sandra Cabrina Jenkins, a judge on the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, which represents Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines parishes, is also seeking the seat. After working as an assistant district attorney in Orleans Parish and working on the staff of the Fourth Circuit Court, she spent about 15 years in private practice handling criminal law and other matters, as well as representing poor defendants in federal court and state appellate court. She’s on the board of Operation Restoration, which supports women and girls impacted by incarceration, and previously served on the boards of the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, the Alliance for Affordable Energy, and the Greg K. Monroe Foundation, supporting teachers and kids in the New Orleans and Detroit areas. This year, Jenkins dissented from a ruling that a judge must reconsider a ruling throwing out a 2011 murder conviction on the basis of new DNA evidence, saying the judge provided “adequate legal and factual support” for overturning the conviction (rival candidate Terri Love was on the other side, joining the majority opinion). In her replies to ANTIGRAVITY’s candidate survey, she largely demurred on questions about sentencing and drug use (saying, for instance, that she’s not familiar enough with supervised drug consumption sites to comment on them and that there are “many layers” to the issue of drug decriminalization, which she doesn’t support across the board). In response to a question about decriminalizing sex work, Jenkins said she didn’t think Louisiana was “ready” for that, and that otherwise she would “take no position on the issue.”
Terri Love, who also serves as a judge on the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, is the third candidate for the seat. As chief deputy city attorney for the City of New Orleans during the 1990s, she was the lead author of the City’s first domestic violence ordinance. She was elected to a judgeship on the Orleans Parish Civil District Court in 1995 and to the Fourth Circuit in 2000, winning reelection unopposed in 2004 and 2014. She’s a certified instructor for civics for adults at the Louisiana Center for Law and Civic Education and is on the boards of the Amistad Research Center and the Family Justice Center.
SUMMARY: Based on Griffin’s recent decisions, she’s likely to be the least harmful. Jenkins seems better than Love, although both represent the status quo.
PSC District 1
William Boartfield Jr. (Green)
Allen H. Borne Jr. (Democrat)
“Big John” Mason (Republican)
Kevin Pearson (Republican)
Richard “Richie” Sanderson II (Republican)
John F. Schwegmann (No Party)
Eric Skrmetta (Republican)
The Louisiana Public Service Commission is an “independent regulatory agency dedicated to serving the public interest by assuring safe, reliable, and reasonably priced services provided by public utilities and motor carriers.” It wields way more power than is adequately discussed, and it affects every single person in the state. More simply, these people determine how much utility companies are allowed to charge for their services, and their arm stretches wider than you might think. They determine pricing for electricity, water, natural gas, telecommunication, even towing companies. It’s a quietly powerful position, often leading to higher roles in state government, like becoming the governor (Huey Long, Kathleen Blanco, Jimmie Davis, and John McKeithen have all taken this path). The districts are also very large, with “each of the five commissioners represent[ing] more people than a congressman.” You can check out the map of the districts here.
It’s a role where careerist politicians can cook and solidify allegiances because it’s a commission that allows the private companies it’s supposedly overseeing to make campaign contributions. In Louisiana, it’s legal for utility companies to pour money into the candidates they think will grant them the best deals and look out for their interests the most. Utility companies often operate as monopolies in a given area (think Entergy, Sewerage & Water Board) because the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure for these services is expensive, and competition isn’t exactly feasible.
But when companies are able to operate as a monopoly, and those monopolies are allowed to finance the campaigns of the people regulating them, well, you can guess some ghouls would jump at the chance to exploit that. A Fox 8 investigation from 2013 showed that over the course of four years, “$1.5 million raised by commissioners, at least $1 million—about two-thirds—came from the regulated industries and interested parties, such as attorneys, lobbyists and consultants.” It’s a huge conflict of interest that’s entirely legal and entirely fucked up.
The decisions the PSC makes affect the environment as well as every single person using any sort of utilities. In 2016, they agreed to sell Cleco, a Pineville-based utility company, to foreign investors for $4.9 billion. The sale went through on the stipulation that they would not raise rates until 2020, and guess what, that is this wretched year. Now all of Cleco’s customers, nearly 290,000, are at the whims of a utility company with no workaround because Cleco has a monopoly in the areas it provides power.
Another important thing to understand about the PSC is the role it plays in solar energy, and to understand that, we have to understand net metering. Net metering allows for people who have solar panels to sell their unused energy back to the grid. This makes utilities cheaper in general, and the more solar energy the better for the environment. However, in 2015, the PSC—chaired by none other than current incumbent Eric Skrmetta—put a cap on net metering exceeding anything above %0.5, one of the most restrictive policies in the country. But wait, there’s more! In 2019, in a move Skrmetta also voted yes on, they gutted solar power even further, making it so that customers were buying energy from the grid at retail rates but selling back the energy generated from solar panels to the grid at wholesale rates. We were going to try and use a metaphor to describe this, but there aren’t many real-life instances in which you would ever buy something at retail pricing then return it for wholesale pricing because that makes no sense. These policies affect the most energy efficient homes the most, and it provides little incentive for people to invest in the renewable energy Louisiana so desperately needs.
So let’s talk about Eric Skrmetta. Skrmetta has held the office since 2009, and we urge you to name search him in that investigation on campaign financing. He’s in it up and down, notably for receiving the highest amount of contributions from the utility companies he regulates. He came under fire during his 2014 reelection bid for similar reasons when an email revealed Skrmetta was urging solar companies to not support his opponent in exchange for perks. He’s a slimy dude selling out the people of Louisiana and their futures to line his pockets.
For these reasons, there are a lot of contenders, mostly Republicans in favor of deregulation, vying for the seat (and for all you “ain’t dere no more” voters, that is indeed John F. Schwegmann, former PSC Commissioner and former CEO of Schwegmann’s supermarkets). It’s not worth going into all of them because many have similar talking points: deregulation, promoting competition, eliminating corruption, transparency in the office. Most favor competition, letting the free market decide, letting the people actually have a choice in their providers. This approach will make a ton of sense to many people in the state given the monopolization and corruption the office is known and basically crafted for, though an ethical free market, particularly considering the astronomical costs of entry to the energy sector, is impossible.
William Boartfield Jr. is the youngest candidate in the race, running as a member of the Green Party, and he’s fighting for all the things the PSC in Louisiana needs to be fighting for right now. His website notes that he’s in favor of “publicly owned utility cooperatives as a free market alternative in Louisiana.” He wants to fight monopolies like Entergy and Cleco. He wants to expand publicly-owned utility cooperatives that help protect rural communities and put power back in the hands of local municipalities. He also wants to expand the use of solar panels and reinstate market rate net metering. He thinks there are beliefs on both sides that work and don’t, and it should be less about partisanship and more about what works. He was shouted out in a past voter guide for trying to run for mayor of Gretna when he was 18. He might be a longshot in this race, but he’s the only one really taking into account the absolute necessity to shift to renewable energy, immediately.
SUMMARY: Boartfield. We don’t have m(any) years left to make different decisions.
Judge Civil District Court, Division E
Dianne Alexander (Democrat)
Omar Mason (Democrat)
Incumbent Omar Mason currently presides over family court matters in Division E, although he’ll reportedly move to more general civil matters if he’s reelected. Before he was a judge, he was in private practice, including “representing business clients in the gaming industry and defending others against toxic tort claims.” The latter is a weird way of saying he defended companies being sued for asbestos poisoning. He’s endorsed by organizations including the AFL-CIO, Independent Women’s Organization, Forum for Equality, and Alliance for Good Government. In response to an IWO survey, Mason says he supports legislation that “defers the filing fees for domestic abuse protective order filings.” But this is his only mention of changing any processes, and the rest of his selling points amount to a continuation of what he’s already been doing, like treating clients with respect. That’s where the bar is, folks!
Dianne Alexander was a former classmate of Mason’s at Loyola Law School. She has worked for the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, as clerk of court for Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, in private practice at a local firm, and as assistant district attorney for the Orleans Parish DA’s office. She emphasizes the need for judges to understand “the needs, the culture, the perseverance, the sociology” of the community and has also said in a New Orleans Tribune interview that she’ll work to move through the court docket more efficiently, and almost nothing else of substance.
Both candidates received donations from multiple law firms around the city, including some of the same ones (big-brained lawyer move alert).
SUMMARY: There’s nothing particularly exciting or incredibly damning about either candidate. Mason defended corporations accused of asbestos poisoning; Alexander prosecuted for the DA’s office. Take your pick.
Judge Civil District Court, Division F
“Chris” Bruno (Democrat)
Jennifer M. Medley (Democrat)
This race is particularly messy, fueled by a real estate vendetta. This race came into the spotlight when Jennifer Medley’s campaign tried to take out an ad during a Saints game calling incumbent Chris Bruno a “deadbeat dad” who didn’t pay his child support. The full text of the ad is more dramatic, and worth reading. The ad was blocked when Bruno took out a temporary restraining order against Medley.
But there’s a twist: the ad was funded by SDT Productions, the production company of Sidney D. Torres, locally reviled reality TV star and don of the private security detail doling vigilante “justice” in the Quarter. Bruno ruled against Torres in civil court on the Frenchmen property that Torres was trying to evict Vaso from, going as far as siccing ATC on the club to shut them down. It was a messy real estate dispute, one that would supposedly “get bloody.” According to campaign finance reports, $36,000 has been poured into Medley’s campaign by different Torres-owned properties, his associates, and his mother. There are now accusations that Torres circumvented campaign finance rules by donating $100,000 to Medley, who then donated that $100,000 to her own campaign. This means that the majority of Medley’s campaign is financed by Torres, by an incredibly wide margin.
Bruno has been on the bench for 11 years and is endorsed by lawyers over Medley 73% to 17%. He also claims he “helped set health guidelines for the courthouse, which include temperature checks at the door, plexiglass in courtrooms and staggered hearings.” His opponents say he wields his power in his favor, citing the 30-minute approval time on the restraining order he obtained as an example.
Jennifer Medley is the daughter of former Judge Lloyd Medley, and so far her campaign has been eclipsed by the above (legacy politicians pepper this race so much that it’s overseasoned even by New Orleans standards). She’s been a lawyer for 18 years and served as an ad hoc judge on juvenile court. Her website doesn’t really list what her campaign goals are. It’s hard to say what would make her better or worse for this role, especially given the campaign tactics thus far and the affiliation with the person funding them. If she actually has a solid vision for this role, it’s been completely overshadowed.
SUMMARY: The theater involved in this race reflects poorly on both candidates, but Medley has offered even less faith than Bruno. Plus, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t love to see Sidney Torres waste some money?
Judge Civil District Court, Division G
Robin Giarrusso (Democrat)
Schalyece Harrison (Democrat)
Robin Giarrusso has held her seat as Civil District Court Judge since 1988, and this is the first election in which she’s facing an opponent. She received the highest approval rating from a poll put out by the New Orleans Bar Association across any of the judicial races, with 86% of the vote. She doesn’t have much to say, presumably because she hasn’t had to run a campaign since 1988. Her brand is experience, and for sure she has a lot of it—if she wins this election it will be her last, as she reaches Louisiana’s constitutional age limit of 70.
During her tenure, Giarrusso sided with then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu against city workers regarding his “Great Place to Work” initiative (seemingly a nod to the also-deceptively-named Right to Work law governing our state), which basically would have made it easier for managers to fire people. While we wouldn’t argue that the City is well-run, we’re de facto pro-worker and would love to have insight into Giarrusso’s ruling—but she didn’t explain her reasoning. When Entergy sued City Council over receiving a lower profit rate and a million dollar fine (a fraction of what they owe us), Giarrusso recused herself due to being Councilmember Joe Giarrusso’s mom (his dad was a magistrate).
If you’ve been keeping up with the Kennedy High School grade-changing scandal, you know that Judge Giarrusso has been overseeing the class action lawsuit brought by half of the graduating class of ‘19—who found out last minute they weren’t actually graduating. She let Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) off the hook, which you might agree with because New Beginnings (the charter school that ran Kennedy) seems clearly at fault, having doctored grades to improve the school’s overall score. Or you can disagree (like we do), because OPSB is charged with ensuring that charter schools follow the law, and because someone must be held accountable. By their very nature, charter schools can evade accountability. New Beginnings may do just that, because while they still exist as a nonprofit, since July they haven’t actually been running any schools. For a suit in which dubious recordkeeping is the whole problem, that move jeopardized the student records necessary for resolution. Now OPSB is fighting the deposition of Superintendent Henderson Lewis, perhaps emboldened by Giarrusso releasing them as defendants. So in retrospect, that decision doesn’t seem to have prioritized the dignity of students who experienced this painful disruption at a pivotal moment in their lives. Of course the charter school was going to be uncooperative and dodgy!
Hollygrove native Schalyece Harrison is a civil and tax attorney. She’s also an administrative hearing officer for the City of New Orleans, a position that deals a lot with code enforcements, including short-term rental violations, which she compared to managing a docket. Harrison says that she’s practiced on “both sides” of eviction court, having represented tenants and landlords. One thing we wish more people understood is that sometimes both sides do not deserve equal merit, and also one plus negative one equals zero. She recently ran to be judge of First City Court (which hears evictions), but didn’t make it to the run off. When we evaluated her as a candidate in that race, we’d been optimistic at her stated devotion to serving the community she’s from, and her stated compassion for single moms facing eviction. But we noticed that she had flip-flopped on cash bail, plus on a Know Your Vote LA scorecard she indicated opposition to trauma-informed and restorative justice approaches to the law. Confusing! Also during that race, Harrison proposed setting up satellite courts in the Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans East, a concrete proposal that might lessen the burden of attending court. When asked if she thought that the eviction court should have remained closed through August 24, she said she was “unable to comment on issues of policy and law.” Her answers from the rest of this interview aren’t especially promising, often evading responsibility, and commenting that landlords shouldn’t be forced to accept payment plans from their tenants.
Giarrusso is extremely well-liked by her colleagues, but we can’t follow her reasoning, don’t always agree with it when we can, and are sick of cozy incumbencies and local royal families/legacy politics (is that punishing the mother for the sins of her son?). We can’t get a read on what Harrison actually believes in, which doesn’t instill much faith that she’d move the court in a better direction.
SUMMARY: We, too, are pretty unmoved. But we’re inclined more toward an untested challenger with a few good ideas than toward letting a judge ride out her term limit, leaving no path for accountability by way of another election. So, Harrison.
Judge Civil District Court, Division I
Michael J. Hall (Democrat)
Elroy James (Democrat)
Lori Jupiter (Democrat)
DeWayne Williams (Democrat)
With Judge Piper Griffin departing the seat to run for a spot on the Louisiana Supreme Court, four lawyers are vying for the Division I judgeship.
Michael Hall runs his own law practice specializing in family law and also provides liability defense for the Regional Transit Authority, including traffic accidents. He’s also served as a mediator in family court for the past seven years. He previously worked in medical malpractice defense, professional liability defense and insurance defense, and “Asbestos/Environmental Litigation” at the law firm Weiss & Eason (which says on LinkedIn it provides “experienced defense counsel for major corporations in the practice area of environmental, toxic tort, personal injury, medical malpractice, contract, premises liability, [and] transportation litigation.”) He was a founding partner at the firm Shorty, Dooley & Hall. He offers the standard judicial candidate promise to run his courtroom with “consistency, efficiency and effectiveness” and work to provide more help to “assist citizens who lack the necessary resources to gain proper access to the justice system,” including through the legal self-help clinic and law school clinics.
Elroy James is on leave from working as an assistant attorney general, a job where he’s won big tax verdicts on behalf of the state. He’s also worked as a private tax lawyer. James might be better known for his role in the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club: He’s the current president of the club, which has mourned a great number of COVID-19 deaths. James was the Zulu King in 2012. He’s vowed to restore faith in justice by providing “equal justice to all people.”
Lori Jupiter has worked as a research attorney at Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal and later for state Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, after working early in her career for Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, a legal aid organization. She’s been endorsed by the AFL-CIO and the Independent Women’s Organization. In addition to being a lawyer, she’s also a birth doula and a yoga instructor and serves on the Women’s Wellness Planning Committee at Ochsner Hospital, assuring (presumably while in downward dog) that her courtroom “will be a place of peaceful interchange between attorneys and myself.”
DeWayne Williams is a partner at the law firm Aaron & Gianna and says he has experience in “a vast range of areas” of the law. He’s also the cofounder of Infinite Blessings, a nonprofit focusing on local youth. As a single father, he says he’s always included family law cases in his work.
SUMMARY: There are four experienced lawyers vying for this seat. But Jupiter sounds like she also has compassion and diversity of experience outside the courtroom, which we hope would help justice prevail (as much as the law allows).
Judge Civil District Court, Domestic Section 1
Bernadette D’Souza (Democrat)
LaKeisha Jefferson (Democrat)
New Orleans designated this court for domestic/family law cases in 2012. Bernadette D’Souza inherited quite the docket when she was elected that year. She previously practiced family law and represented survivors of intimate partner violence at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS) for 18 years. That background has been an asset to protecting survivors who appear without knowing their rights or having representation, which D’Souza estimates to be around 70% of the people who appear before her. If elected, D’Souza wants to continue to fight the lack of representation plaguing the people who appear before her by working with volunteer attorneys.
Along with colleagues, D’Souza implemented a program that offers three mediation sessions in child custody cases before going to trial. Couples pay fees according to their income, and people who can’t afford to pay are assigned a mediator from SLLS at no cost. It doesn’t appear that D’Souza started that program to lighten her workload—it seems like she is actively seeking ways to put fewer people behind bars. “The child support law as enforced by the District Attorney’s office requires parents—mostly fathers—to be incarcerated for non-payment of child support,” She responded. “This policy is damaging to families and does not provide a solution. I brought the TCA [Total Community Action] program on-site at the Court to help these parents, predominantly men, who are struggling to pay child support because of the stigma of former incarceration, an economy damaged by COVID-19, and other issues.”
D’Souza also helped create a self-help desk, where a pro bono attorney can offer guidance on navigating forms and procedures for people who can’t afford representation. If you are lucky enough to have never been in family court, that might not seem like a big deal. But the existence of a family court self-help desk with a pro bono attorney was the crucial difference between staying trapped in an abusive marriage and winning an annulment, for one of us5who did not appear before D’Souza.
Our survey asked judicial candidates what they would ask City Hall for in terms of the judicial fund, and D’Souza responded that she would expand those resources and create new ones to provide educational, therapeutic, and practical support such as rental assistance and job training. Unfortunately, there is some funding that needs to come from the state—we also asked candidates about accessibility measures for people with disabilities. D’Souza informed us that the building, which was built in 1957, “is antiquated and does not serve those with disabilities well.” She says that for nine years, she and her colleagues have been advocating for modifications to that building.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, intimate partner violence has skyrocketed worldwide. Civil District Court was open for emergencies during the stay-at-home order, and emergencies include temporary restraining orders. Though our legal system overall was administratively insufficient for protecting victims, D’Souza was on call and signed extensions for protective orders that were set to expire. Even before the Civil District Court had a public plan ready for reopening, D’Souza was creatively planning to redesign hearings in the interest of reducing risk of exposure. We asked survey respondents how the pandemic would impact their approach to sentencing. Since this court deals with civil matters, sentencing only becomes relevant when someone violates a court order or fails to pay child support. D’Souza’s response again indicated her preference against sending people to jail, particularly “given the current situation of the pandemic.”
In June, Court Watch NOLA released a report saying that judges were routinely failing to order abusers to give up their guns—but D’Souza was noted as an exception. In our survey, we asked about career aspirations. “I will work to develop a fuller system-wide response to the policy I have been implementing to retrieve firearms from perpetrators of Domestic Violence,” D’Souza responded. Her focus on weapons offers an insight to why D’Souza feels called to do her work. “God spared my life when my client was gunned down in my presence outside the Gretna courthouse 20 years ago,” she told us.
D’Souza is challenged by LaKeisha Jefferson, a family lawyer who has prosecuted domestic violence cases for 12 years with the city attorney’s office. Like D’Souza, Jefferson has ties to SLLS (as a contract attorney in Hammond). She has also served as a staff attorney for Project SAVE, a partner of the New Orleans Family Justice Center and a ministry of Catholic Charities. Her main argument against D’Souza seems to be that she doesn’t move through the docket quickly enough, a common critique levied at incumbents.
During the campaign, a friend of ours received a text push poll, appearing to be from Jefferson’s campaign, testing opposition messages including the idea that D’Souza is “biased against men.”
SUMMARY: Bernadette D’Souza.
Judge Criminal District Court, Section A
Dennis W. Moore (Democrat)
Laurie A. White (Democrat)
Laurie White loves to position herself as a crusader for the dispossessed, “a champion of reform, a compassionate leader and committed to fairness.” But she’s simply a wannabe celebrity with a tendency toward paternalism and the power to wield the law at will.
Let’s start with the good things she says she’s done. She and Arthur Hunter, a candidate in this election’s DA race, began reentry court in 2010, where the goal is to have “‘lifers’ in prison to assist with the rehabilitation of newly sentenced prisoners.” In the program, they learn vocational skills like welding, carpentry, plumbing, and horticulture, among others, so that once they are out of prison they can more easily find a job and ease back into natural life. They can also qualify for early release if they complete the program.
But let’s talk about how this plays out, actually. The people who qualify to even enter this program must be “non-violent, non-sex offenders who receive a sentence of 10 years or less.” Prison staff then “select life-sentence inmates they trust to do the teaching,” making it a program afforded a lot of discretion by those in charge of the prison, which is not great when the people in charge of prisons are power-hungry sadists.
White also claims she’s a valiant crusader against the DA’s office run by the notorious District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro (whose misdeeds are discussed at greater length in our comments regarding the district attorney race). And it’s true, she definitely does attack him and his office. And he attacks her back. It’s a game, and they both play it, turning the courtroom into a theater, one-upping each other at the expense of people’s lives. She claims she “took prosecutors to task” for issuing fake subpoenas, but also didn’t stop an arrest issued on a fake subpoena.
She claims that she’s a champion of reform, boasting of her compassion, but is known for doling out harsh and unnecessary sentences. In 2015, a man broke into her courtyard and got into a physical altercation with her husband (who is an oil and gas investor, by the way) and was initially charged with misdemeanor counts of trespassing and simple battery, but those were later upped to felony charges. White admitted to wanting the charges upped, saying “I would like to see [Joshua Stemle, the man charged with the invasion] prosecuted fairly, for a felony, and I’ve made that quite clear. The NOPD said, ‘This is it, this is the way we’re treating it.’ And I said, ‘This is ridiculous.’” When judges wield their power to seek felony charges for personal reasons, some might say it undermines the legal system. We’d add that it reveals its true nature.
This isn’t the only time White has appeared to use her judicial power inappropriately. She’s known for holding people in contempt of court with little provocation. This is noted by comments from current attorneys we surveyed, and evident in a very public dispute with an ADA in which she “barred [him] from ever bringing his cellphone into her courtroom in the future” after a name-calling back and forth went down over text, which led Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Scott Crichton to scold the two, regarding their behavior as reality-show-esque. And it is. It’s childish at best, wildly irresponsible, even reprehensible at worst.
Her campaigns, as you might have guessed, are not the cleanest. In 2007, when running against Juana Marine Lombard (who is on this ballot for magistrate section judge), White went on the attack, saying that Lombard conflated her case numbers, compared her to a failed former DA, and said she should not have testified at her ex-husband’s trial where she discussed how his substance abuse problems affected his bipolar disorder. For someone who champions reform, who was granted $1.7 million to expand the reentry program to include substance abusers, this apparent exploitation, disdain, and distrust of drug users is worrisome. In this current race against Dennis Moore, White said Moore is “riding on the coattails of a movement, hoping he’ll be acknowledged as a public defender and can go in as a progressive.” This contradicts what Moore says though, which is that White actually encouraged him to run when she initially said she wouldn’t be seeking reelection. He said, “I went directly to her. She said that she was not running, and said based on our conversations that I actually would be a fit.” It’s hard to give up power once you’ve had it for so long.
White is, and always has, been in this for political gain. She’s changed parties more than once, sometimes at suspiciously opportune moments, and we have trouble taking her statements at face value. State records show “White was registered as a Republican from March 11, 1987, until January 31, 2000. She registered as a Democrat prior to running for Criminal District Court and switched back to the Republican Party after her November 2016 defeat for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal. She then re-registered as a Democrat in March 2019 before qualifying for re-election.” Note that one of these changes in parties was in November of 2016, and one attorney of five years opines that it’s because White thought she would be elected to become a federal judge. But White has also addressed this shift herself, saying “I’ve always been elected as a Democrat. During a time frame, I became a Republican after a bitter loss, when the Democrats turned their back on me.” Seems weird to admit that you’d change your entire belief system because some people hurt your feelings, but damn if that ain’t honest!
The attorneys we surveyed are unanimous on this one. Nobody came out in favor of White, characterizing her as unstable, harsh, liable to fly off the handle, and mean. A lawyer with five years personal experience said that Judge White drug tests every defendant that comes before her, even if they aren’t before her on drug charges. If they test as having used drugs, she sends them to jail or Odyssey House, regardless of individual circumstances. This is why we call the system a dragnet. It is destabilizing and punitive for the sake of being punitive. This is what makes people lose their jobs, homes, parental rights, and increases their contact with the criminal legal system, which corresponds with worse health outcomes: lower life expectancy in a system that disproportionately punishes Black people and people of color. Per noted scholar and prison abolition organizer Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “racism, specifically, is the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.” Unchecked judicial discretion brings to mind and perhaps illuminates the critique of the criminal legal system, raised by post-structuralists6See: Michel Foucault, entire canon., anarchist scholars7Too numerous to name, start with Emma Goldman., and that system’s victims, that in a sense all judges are executioners.
Dennis Moore has been a public defender and a private criminal defense attorney. He’s handled personal injury, real estate, civil litigation, and domestic law. He’s been a staff attorney for the Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana. He claims he’s for reform, but it seems like he’s on the mild side of that spectrum, saying he’s for reforming the bond system, but still thinks it’s necessary at times to have money bail (multiple bondsmen donated to Moore’s campaign). In a candidate forum, Moore said that he thinks prosecutors should fear consequences or possible disbarment for the harmful and illegal actions they have and do take against defendants. His platform includes expanding reentry court, expanding the drug court program, and working technology into the court to make it more efficient. While reviewing his campaign donations we also spotted STR robber baron and live-in boyfriend of newly elected First City Court Judge Hutabarat Mark El-Amm. White’s campaign was also funded by real estate interests along with established law firms (and a curiously generous landfill company). Point is, Moore’s not looking to overhaul the system, but he also isn’t Laurie White.
SUMMARY: Vote against Laurie White. Dennis Moore.
Judge Criminal District Court, Section D
Graham Bosworth (Democrat)
Kimya Holmes (Democrat)
Graham Bosworth is part of the Flip the Bench slate and has been a temporary judge for Section D in the past. Multiple public defenders praised Bosworth’s command of the law and his respect for defendants and their rights. He’s talked the progressive talk, expressing skepticism about cash bail and saying he wouldn’t impose harsher sentences on people convicted in his court for opting for a trial. Bosworth told WGNO that “judges should be arbiters of equity for historically underrepresented communities.” From 2005 to 2010, he worked in the Orleans Parish DA’s office, but he’s since switched sides, working as a contract lawyer for the public defender system in Jefferson Parish and doing some private criminal defense and civil work. He’s also done what his website describes as “work for real estate development companies in the Greater New Orleans area.” According to campaign finance reports, Pres Kabacoff donated to Bosworth’s campaign.
Kimya Holmes, too, is a one-time prosecutor for the Orleans DA’s office. She later spent a decade at the Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana and vows to “uphold the constitution to ensure due process and the timely administration of justice.” She’s also the president of the Krewe of Themis, which broke off from the Krewe of Nyx after Nyx captain Julie Lea’s infamous “All Lives Matter” social media post. On the whole, she is a more cautious reformist than Bosworth, appearing skeptical of a radical bail overhaul and advocating instead for smaller changes like pre-sentencing reports (to understand convicted people’s motivations) and use of drug court, which is opposed by harm reductionists, Physicians for Human Rights, and often are harsher on defendants who use drugs than traditional court.
SUMMARY: Graham Bosworth.
Judge Criminal District Court, Section E
Derwyn Bunton (Democrat)
Rhonda Goode-Douglas (Democrat)
This seat is up for grabs since Keva Landrum vacated it to run for DA. Derwyn Bunton is the chief of the Orleans Public Defenders Office, a position he’s held for 11 years. The public defenders we surveyed all spoke highly of Bunton, painting him as a career-long advocate for criminal legal system reform, who is dedicated to fighting for the underprivileged in our city.
Bunton has been outspoken against the Louisiana criminal legal system’s funding structure, wherein fines, fees, and bail paid by defendants is the primary means of keeping the system afloat. Bunton would see this punitive feedback loop disrupted, and the justice system publicly funded by the state instead. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bunton publicly advocated for a moratorium on arrests for misdemeanors and nonviolent charges and urged the court to take meaningful action. His office compiled a list of over 200 currently incarcerated people they believed should be released for the sake of public health, delivering it to the court and Department of Corrections. His issues with incarceration are not limited to this health crisis, however, as for years he has been outspoken against over-incarceration and the way it disproportionately affects Black and low-income people.
Bunton has been criticized for his decision to have the OPD office temporarily stop accepting certain felony cases in 2016, as a means to draw attention to the underfunding of their department. Was Bunton sacrificing people’s wellbeing and right to representation for a political stunt? One could make the argument, but it’s more complicated than that, according to Bunton. “Louisiana spends nearly $3.5 billion a year to investigate, arrest, prosecute, adjudicate and incarcerate its citizens,” Bunton wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “Less than 2 percent of that is spent on legal representation for the poor.” And yet the public defender’s office estimates it represents as much as 85% of criminal cases in Orleans Parish. In practice, this means that public defenders not only face massive and sometimes untenable caseloads, they also simply do not always have access to the resources they need to properly defend their clients. In response to the survey we sent out, Bunton largely evades the more difficult questions regarding decriminalization of sex work and drugs, saying he’s “unclear whether the rules allow me to weigh in on legislation like this specifically, but I will say decision makers and stakeholders should keep all options on the table and be creative” for multiple answers.
Bunton’s opponent, Rhonda Goode-Douglas, represents a stark contrast. Goode-Douglas built her career as a prosecutor in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. She’s endorsed by Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman. That about wraps it up.
SUMMARY: Derwyn Bunton.
Judge Criminal District Court, Section G
Lionel “Lon” Burns (Democrat)
Nandi F. Campbell (Democrat)
In a September video forum, the two candidates for judge of Criminal District Court Section G shared contrasting visions of the current and future states of the criminal legal system in New Orleans. Nandi Campbell called the court system bloated and inherently racist, bringing to task unnecessarily high and often groundless bond settings, the prioritizing of profit over evidence-based charges, and the way in which passing the buck between various arms of the system perpetuates our dysfunctional status quo.
Lionel “Lon” Burns, for his part, repeatedly leaned hard into his webcam, as well as into the effectiveness of the courts and bail systems as they stand now. Viewers also learned how much Lon Burns loves to refer to himself in the third person. At his behest then: Lon Burns does not seem to understand what “innocent until proven guilty” means. Lon Burns has no problem with the onus of responsibility for funding the criminal legal system falling primarily on defendants. Lon Burns allegedly assaulted an ex-girlfriend, but was acquitted.
Lon Burns proudly touts his 22-year career working both sides of the fence, as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney. However, as an attorney, Burns was suspended from practicing law for one year after he was caught sending a paralegal to act as attorney in his place in a Jefferson civil trial, then lying to the court about it. As a prosecutor, he was convicted of planting evidence in a criminal trial (he later appealed the conviction and avoided jail time, but was still found guilty of failing to properly disclose evidence to the defense).
In her responses to our survey, Campbell provided concrete solutions she would implement as judge to take on the systemic problems she sees in our criminal legal system. She said she would routinely seek alternatives to incarceration whenever the statute did not require mandatory jail time. She would work to reduce the high number of individuals sitting in jail solely due to the fact that they are unable to pay a bond, by defaulting to releasing people on their own recognizance except in matters where they posed a violent threat or had a history of missing court appearances. She stated explicitly that she does not believe individuals should be jailed for crimes of survival or poverty, and is in favor of legislation for safe drug consumption sites. She speaks about promoting transparency in her courtroom, by creating a newsletter that would update families on the status of their loved ones’ cases. Finally, Campbell says she will not be afraid of calling out misconduct or ineffectiveness. She would set politics aside and hold prosecutors, police, and defense attorneys accountable as necessary.
Among the attorneys we surveyed, Campbell was the unanimous selection for judge in Section G. Speaking about Campbell’s work as a defense attorney, a public defender of four years told us that Campbell “sees her clients as people, and she knows them and their families and their neighborhoods.” The public defender said Campbell “fights to make sure everyone is treated as more than just the worst thing they have ever done.” Of Burns, a 13-year attorney who has practiced alongside Burns told us, “Lon Burns should not be a judge. Lon Burns should not be a lawyer.”
SUMMARY: Nandi Campbell, and it’s not even close.
Judge Criminal District Court, Section K
Stephanie Bridges (Democrat)
Marcus DeLarge (Democrat)
Charles “Gary” Wainwright (Democrat)
Stephanie Bridges served on the board of the New Orleans Council for Community and Justice, which provides community resources like diversity training and free expungement clinics. She filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2014 to keep her organization afloat from post-Katrina expenses. Her website lists her campaign goals vaguely, the most fleshed out goal being to expand reentry court. In a forum on September 29, her answers didn’t inspire much enthusiasm either. In her introduction she stated, “There are two types of people who want to create change: those who want to tear the system down completely, and those change-makers who choose to work within the system; I am the latter.” She has no dreams of real reform; she talks vaguely of equality and efficiency.
Marcus DeLarge’s campaign doesn’t talk at length about policy either. He seems to be very involved with his church and very committed to his family. He was an ADA at one point then switched over to criminal defense, establishing his own firm. He’s a board member at Homer Plessy School, and he’s a mock trial coach, mentor, and donor at St. Augustine High School. He says that he will uphold the law in all cases and work to reduce inequality. He also notes that his father, uncle, and many cousins have all worked in city government, which feels like a possible driving force behind the campaign. He says, “It is my time and my turn to carry on the family tradition and serve the citizens of New Orleans,” which might give some explanation as to why his campaign doesn’t feel as cause-driven.
Charles “Gary” Wainwright has been a criminal defense attorney for 30 years and cites that fact repeatedly. His campaign points emphasize his independence and his experience, noting that he’s only able to run for one term because of his age and therefore isn’t running for careerist reasons. But wanting to finish your career in law as a judge could be seen as careerist, and the age term limit also means that if elected, he couldn’t be held accountable in subsequent elections.
In the same forum that Stephanie Bridges attended, Wainwright focused heavily on the war on drugs. When asked about how he’d solve the case backlog, he answered, “I would aggregate all of the drug cases, and I couldn’t throw them into the garbage, but I would basically throw them into the garbage.” He also says that when the DA’s office takes too long to process cases, he’s going to let people go home on electronic monitoring (after 120 days) until the DA figures out how they’re going to proceed because people have the right to a speedy trial.
Wainwright’s policies are by far the most progressive amongst his contenders, but there are definitely some red flags. In 2012 he had his law license suspended for 18 months for a few different charges, the main one being not returning seized assets to a client. These are the choices we have.
SUMMARY: Wainwright has better policies.
Judge Criminal District Court, Section L
Angel Harris (Democrat)
Franz Zibilich (Democrat)
No criminal court judge has lost a bid for re-election here in more than 40 years. We hope that streak ends now. Judge Franz Zibilich’s judicial career is archetypical of the machinery of harm that permeates the criminal legal system. Our survey of attorneys also exposed a pattern of his pervasive racist and sexist behavior. Zibilich’s interpersonal and legal conduct intersect and mirror each other, forming a troubling and familiar story: abuse of power comes as no surprise.
Prior to his election in 2011, Zibilich practiced law for 26 years. Along with his private practice, he worked in the City Hall Law Department, briefly serving as chief deputy city attorney. During his time at City Hall, he was often called to defend the NOPD when officers were accused of excessive force—including one of the officers involved in the post-Katrina Danziger Bridge shootings.
On the bench, Zibilich has exhibited “a pattern of racial disparities in sentencing,” according to Know Your Vote, which is a sister organization to Voice of the Experienced, a statewide prisoner advocacy group founded and led by formerly incarcerated people. “For example,” they said, “he has been seen to sentence Black men to maximum sentences, but does not always do the same for white men.” A civil rights attorney, who has been practicing for almost a decade and has previous experience in criminal defense, said of Zibilich: “Inappropriate with women, even on the record. It’s well known in the courthouse that pretty, caucasian-looking attorneys get better results and treatment in front of him.”
Describing patterns of intense sexual intimidation, unequal treatment, and petty, vengeful conduct, the attorneys we consulted provided statement after statement on Zibilich’s behavior. To be clear: our survey of these attorneys merely asked what issues were important to them, who they preferred in each race, and why. We did not specifically inquire about Zibilich’s practices, nor did we ask any followup questions of anyone. All of these accounts were offered without provocation. Every attorney who weighed in on this race favored challenger Angel Harris, and about half of them added scathing remarks about Zibilich. One lawyer who has been practicing for around seven years kept it brief: “Franz Zibilich is a sexist creep and an awful judge.”
Another, who has been practicing in Orleans Parish Criminal Courts for five years, also spoke to Zibilich’s decidedly unequal approach to justice: “Terrible record and comportment as judge. Abusive to defendants.” That same attorney said that Zibilich favored prosecutors “constantly,” and directed us to the complicated and dramatic case from 2016 where Taryn Blume, a young woman working as an investigator for OPD, was charged with false impersonation of an officer. Then-Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli faced scrutiny for his vendetta-like antics8He and his blood rival/current District A incumbent judicial candidate Laurie White were once chastised for “reality-show behavior” by the state’s highest court., and during one hearing about whether Blume should be prosecuted, Zibilich was called as a witness.
The New Orleans Advocate reported that Zibilich testified about “an incident in which he considered filing a formal complaint against Napoli after the prosecutor left the courtroom cursing, but said he decided against doing so to avoid harming Napoli’s career.” That does seem like a fairly brazen admission9And far from the only time we found Zibilich openly admitting that his decisions benefit prosecution, using methods like excluding critical testimony., and the lawyer who pointed us to this case described it as “coddling,” elaborating on the incident to which Zibilich referred: “Napoli, when not given everything he wanted, screamed ‘Fuck this!’ or something like that while slamming the door to Zibilich’s court.” Then, according to the attorney, then-Assistant District Attorney Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue10Yes, that Cannizzaro—in yet another instance of the incestuous New Orleans political elite who fill the ranks of the City’s punishment bureaucracy, current (but not for much longer!) DA Leon Cannizzaro’s daughter climbed the ladder from ADA to deputy general counsel for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s office. went to his chambers and “begged him to not do the reasonable thing by getting Napoli sanctioned.” By Zibilich’s own testimony, he was swayed. The attorney we surveyed, who has been practicing for five years, concluded, “[Zibilich] will sanction a public defender or punish their client because he simply doesn’t like their argument. But a prosecutor can literally scream ‘fuck you’ in his court while having a tantrum and avoid any accountability. That is just a taste of the imbalance.”
Zibilich’s apparent dislike for defense attorneys has also been reported in the Advocate (in a story that referred to other allegations that the judge “plays favorites”). In 2015, Zibilich fined criminal defense attorney John Fuller for being late to court, denied Fuller’s motions in his absence, and held him in contempt. By Fuller’s account, Zibilich’s office had been informed that Fuller had other cases on the docket but would be in attendance. Who suffered from this unprofessional conflict? The defendant, who faced up to 20 years in prison for marijuana possession. This incident perfectly illustrates the banal evil of Zibilich’s courtroom. Perhaps scenarios like these are part of the judge’s renowned efficiency—his very campaign platform. Zibilich has been named most efficient judge on the bench by the Metropolitan Crime Commission for years. In criminal court, host to low-income defendants represented by overworked public defenders, Zibilich’s breakneck pace should only earn accolades from the type of people who exclusively care about the trains running on time.
In a series by The Lens, Zibilich praised the infamous Judge Frank Shea’s speed, too, and acknowledged his influence: “80 percent of the way I manage my docket came from him.” 11Zibilich’s father, the late Robert Zibilich, was a New Orleans defense attorney and a classmate of Shea’s at Loyola.Shea’s M.O. was described by another attorney in the same interview as “give people unfair trials and get them out of here.” Zibilich waxed nostalgic about the notoriously racist, sexist judge, describing him as “really attuned” and a believer in the Constitution. And in the classic parlance of apologism: “it was a different era.” Zibilich’s reminiscences seem to ooze with romanticism of that objectively less fair era: “These were all white men. Entirely different culture. They could bring you in their chambers and talk however they wanted to talk until the advent of women lawyers.”
This, too, was borne out by our responses from attorneys, one of whom aptly described Zibilich as “old school.” That same attorney, who has been practicing for five years and has personal experience with several candidates on this ballot, said “He’s also a very well-known sexual harasser of attractive women attorneys who practice in front of him. He will tell women that they have the best legs in the building, make jokes about having a threesome in chambers, etc.” The attorney also said of Zibilich: “Female attorneys put up with it because he will do special favors and rule in your favor if you are one of his favorite female attorneys, but that’s a really sick situation—that’s how he knows he can get away with it.”
Perhaps another insight into Zibilich’s “efficiency” has to do with his penchant for plea bargains, which are supposed to be a negotiation between prosecution and defense on a level playing field in the interest of pursuing speedier and more complete justice for victims. But the criminal legal system is designed for punishment alone and does not center the needs or wellbeing of victims or survivors of alleged crimes. So that’s not actually how it works at all. An article by the ACLU explains how plea bargaining in practice pressures defendants and their representation to “succumb to coercive tactics like evidence suppression and pretrial detention,” take a plea, and “begrudgingly accept a conviction with lifetime consequences.” The alternative—asserting your constitutional right to a trial—can cause you to “face certain retribution.” In 2012 the Supreme Court noted that plea bargaining had basically replaced the criminal legal system altogether—“over 95 percent of all state and federal convictions” arise from plea bargains, “with minority defendants receiving disproportionately worse offers.”
Three separate accounts from attorneys we surveyed described Zibilich’s participation in what the ACLU calls a “cheap backroom shakedown.” One said, “I have watched him force defendants to trial just to make them plead guilty in a way that is totally unjust.” Another commented, “he sees absolutely nothing wrong with pressuring people to plead guilty by threatening to raise their bond, withhold appointment of a public defender, or sentence them to the maximum sentence if they go to trial.”12We were unable to find a source that tracks rates of plea bargains in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, but found corroborating examples in the media. And a third added: “more often, he is seeking to keep his case count low by forcing pleas or indicating that he will ‘tax’ a client by giving them more time if they choose to go to trial, rather than take a deal.”
Now that you’ve gotten a sense of the man’s character, you may agree with us that it’s a little on the nose for his challenger to be named Angel. A particularly impressive stand-out on the Flip the Bench slate, Harris moved to New Orleans to become a public defender over a decade ago.
She has been a felony trial attorney with the Calcasieu Parish Public Defender’s Office, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, a staff attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and was senior counsel at the Justice Collaborative, a star-studded (well, stars of the legal reform world) organization that provides legal support to organizers. Harris has given commentary and been published in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, 1A, and the Roland Martin Show. She has also authored briefs, according to her campaign website, “filed in state and federal courts around the country—from post-conviction release petitions to school desegregation.” Harris is endorsed by the Independent Women’s Organization.
Harris responded to our legal system candidate survey, and while Zibilich didn’t (not for lack of an opportunity—we sent it to all legal system candidates), his answers to a League of Women Voters survey supplemented our understanding of his values as espoused in his career. On the question of money bail—a hot topic this election cycle—Zibilich said, “The current bail system works.” His only caveat was that he wishes judges had even more discretion when it comes to setting bail, and were not checked by the legislature. Harris responded on our survey that the criminalization of poverty is the most pressing social issue right now, and that money bail plays a big role in that. “The sad reality is,” she said, “that our current bail system creates unequal access to justice based solely on an individual’s economic status.” She points to excessive bail as creating a “cycle of poverty producing harsher outcomes for indigent defendants and disproportionately impacting communities of color.” And in her response to our question about judicial discretion, she correctly observed that “judges have tremendous discretion,” including “setting bail, sentencing and making evidentiary rulings” along with setting the tone of the courtroom. Harris says she will use the massive discretion afforded judges to “prioritize the right to pretrial release and reducing exorbitant fines and fees.”
To our question about career aspirations, Harris offered a holistic vision of public safety, saying she aspires to “help create a system that contributes to the health and well being of the entire community.” That intention is evident in her work—she co-founded the Black Womxn Lawyers Collective to provide continuing legal education courses13Attorneys are required to complete a certain number of hours of CLEs each year. using a “comprehensive intersectional framework rooted in advocacy with and for women, children and communities of color taught by Black women lawyers.”
Regarding the pandemic and its impacts on the courtroom, Zibilich said he holds appearances via Zoom and will “follow the guidelines as set forth by our governor, the mayor of New Orleans and the LA Supreme Court.” However, an attorney told us that Zibilich has been “refusing to wear a mask in his courtroom.” To our survey question about the pandemic’s impact on how the candidate would conduct their courtroom, Harris replied: “The health of the community will be my priority during the pandemic, so I will implement protocols to ensure that individuals are not being put in unhealthy environments when they enter into the courtroom. I will also prioritize the release of individuals who are a part of vulnerable populations.” Her understanding of social vulnerability surpasses that of any other candidate we evaluated. In response to our survey question about which accessibility measures a candidate would take to ensure safe and equal access to the court, Harris—unique among all respondents—immediately acknowledged the existence and importance of disabilities other than those that are visible and mobility related. In addition to “priority seating, sign language interpreters, accessible microphones,” Harris said she will also be aware of “accessibility issues related to mental health and trauma.”
Another survey question that we saw many candidates misinterpret, evade, or skip altogether was about ICE. We asked: “What protections are you able to offer litigants at risk of harassment, capture, or deportation by ICE? What protections do you feel they deserve?” Harris was one of the very few to directly respond, and if we handed out scores her response would earn high marks: “I believe ICE should have limited access to criminal courtrooms,” Harris said. “Individuals should not be afraid of harassment, capture or deportation while they are handling their criminal court cases.”
Among the more esoteric items on our survey is a question about jury nullification, which is a little-known but constitutionally-guaranteed option for jurors in which they can, per ACLU, “vote against convicting criminal defendants under laws that the jurors believe are unjust.” Though this is a simple yes or no multiple choice question, many respondents abused the “other” option to not answer at all. Some said no. Harris said yes. We don’t know what Zibilich’s answer would be, but based on his stated desire to have a monopoly on discretion in his courtroom, we have a pretty good guess. And we have heard tell of his jury handling—an attorney we surveyed told us that Zibilich is known for “curtailing jury selection, limiting the amount of time each side has to explore jurors’ opinions.” 14We were unable to find documentation to support this. We wondered, if it’s true, is that why his campaign website has warm testimonials from jurors? That it’s a quick and painless experience for them to carry out their civil duty, once selected? It is very strange and we haven’t seen that on a campaign page before.
Would Harris’ docket clear as fast as Zibilich so efficiently clears his? Doubtful. We asked respondents to describe their role in the courtroom when it comes to people knowing their rights. Harris said that her role would be to ensure that parties who appear before her understand all their rights—“especially when it comes to entering into plea agreements. Many defendants simply go through the motions when it comes to entering pleas.” Can the contrast between these two candidates get any sharper? Harris said she would take time to ensure “that individuals fully understand the implications of entering a plea of guilty and the collateral consequences of having a felony conviction on their record.” It sounds like Harris knows her enemy. She elaborated: “I would also ensure that counsel has adequate time to consult with clients and will not rush counsel during meetings with their clients.”
As stated in our introduction to this guide, our loyalties lie with the people society treats as most disposable—including people who use drugs and sex workers. Thus, our survey has a number of questions on how the candidate would treat those, the most vulnerable among us, because (as an oft-misattributed and possibly apocryphal popular adage reminds us) that is the true measure of a society. Harris aced our question about decriminalization of sex work, saying not only that she supports decriminalization but that “we need to spend more time examining the increased incarceration rate of women and girls in New Orleans.”
We also asked: “When someone feels that their drug use is disrupting their life, do you think that issue is best addressed by the police, a doctor, or someone else?” Harris’ response was “doctors and community-based programs.” Good, we like that. Remember, this guide was originally started by those nice people handing out clean syringes and Narcan in the park. She also responded positively to our question about supervised consumption sites.
Harris gave us pause only once on our survey. We asked candidates if they were in favor of decriminalizing drugs, and Harris said yes (we like that part) and that instead the focus ought to be on “the underlying issue which in many cases is drug addiction and how to help individuals deal with drug addiction.” Most of you would likely not find that response objectionable at all. But we don’t jump from supporting decriminalization right to the assumption that all people who use drugs are doing so chaotically, in a way that might require intervention of some kind for their survival or the safety of those around them. Any person can have a non-disruptive relationship or a chaotic relationship with any drug, and that’s their business. Drugs exist. People do them. A lot of you do them. If decriminalization isn’t an issue that affects you, that likely has more to do with your race, class, zip code, or your drug of choice 15Scheduling is arbitrary—we all know that alcohol claims more lives than mushrooms, but the psilocybin lobby isn’t quite as powerful as big liquor or big tobacco. than concepts like moral superiority or strength of will.
But that’s it. That’s the one fine point. 16Other than, of course, that we would rather the criminal legal system be abolished altogether, which candidates for the criminal legal system generally do not come out in full-throated support of.
We are grateful to the attorneys who spoke with us—though their accounts are offered here anonymously, it takes bravery to speak up against established, successful abusers. A common reactionary refrain to allegations of sexual harassment is that those accusations ruin people’s lives. But again and again the world has shown us that survivors speak their truths at great risk, only to be disregarded and discarded, watching as their abusers thrive, ascend, and continue to act with impunity. Power and control play out in individual lives with the same strategies and dynamics by which institutional harm is perpetrated. People who repeatedly harm in the ways that Zibilich is alleged to should not have access to institutional power. We hope that this document might encourage more people to speak up, and speak openly, about Zibilich’s conduct, so that the truth may be known. And we hope against hope, hoping because it is our discipline, that those accusations are heard and considered, that those who speak will be protected and respected, and that there will be consequences.
SUMMARY: A lawyer of four years put it succinctly: “Angel Harris is a brilliant legal thinker, and she would be a great judge in any section.” She is also challenging a judge who appears to have a history of sexual intimidation. “It is one of the worst kept secrets at Tulane and Broad and it needs to fucking stop.” We agree.
Magistrate Magistrate Section, Criminal District Court
Juana Marine Lombard (Democrat)
Stephen “Steve” Singer (Democrat)
Magistrate Court handles first appearances for certain criminal and civil matters. The court is incredibly important, as it is the entryway into the criminal legal system for many individuals. At first appearances, the Magistrate Court judge sets a bail amount. Though there’s standard practices that determine bail amounts for given charges, and in some cases the DA may suggest a bail amount, it’s ultimately the magistrate judge who decides on the amount.
Simply put, the bail system in New Orleans is a dumpster fire rooted in racist and classist policies and practices. According to a 2018 report by the Vera Institute of Justice, in New Orleans, Black people are arrested at two and a half times the rate of white people, and 85% of people arrested are too poor to hire a lawyer, let alone pay bail. If unable to pay bail, people end up sitting in jail without being found guilty, awaiting the outcome of their case. They are likely to lose their job, are unable to support their family, and could lose their housing. According to the report, “most arrests and detention do not lead to a conviction… the only incarceration most people end up serving is the pretrial detention they suffer because of the requirement that they pay to gain their freedom.”
The money bail system contributes directly to the swollen incarceration rate in New Orleans, particularly of Black people, while funding the system that continues to persecute them and costing taxpayers millions to jail people who have not been found guilty of any crime.
So, again, this is a critical ballot item, and luckily it’s pretty cut and dry. Juana Marine Lombard served five years as a magistrate commissioner (a position that effectively holds the same powers and responsibilities as judge, but is appointed rather than elected). Two public defenders we surveyed who practiced in front of Lombard during her tenure as commissioner said that she often set bonds above the recommended amount and operated as if people were guilty by default.
While serving as the Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner, Lombard led the task force that raided eight French Quarter strip clubs in January of 2018. Ostensibly designed to root out human trafficking, the raids did not produce any trafficking cases. In the wake of the raids, the clubs shut down—two of them permanently—putting hundreds of strippers out of their jobs. Incidentally, a hefty portion of her campaign contributions, according to public records, came from operators of other drinking establishments in the French Quarter—including Kirkendoll Management, the company behind Penthouse Club, which wasn’t raided at the time.
The dancers took to the streets in protest, joined by allies and other Bourbon Street workers. They accused Lombard and the police of a thinly-veiled attempt at Disneyfying Bourbon Street by attacking the night-life in what quickly revealed itself to be a farcical operation. It’s certainly possible Lombard was acting part in a calculated scheme to shift Bourbon into a more family-friendly tourist destination at the expense of the workers and businesses. But signs indicate that she’s whorephobic as fuck—doesn’t believe sex work is work and doesn’t support the dignity and autonomy of sex workers. “Sex trafficking” raids have been a lazy way to try to earn political capital for decades (see: the advent of the ATF; Waco, QAnon, etc). At a press conference after the raids turned up no signs of sex trafficking, Lombard said that “Prostitution in and of itself is sex trafficking.”
A year earlier, she’d been sued by three different strippers for trying to enforce an age limit ordinance on the occupation (the ordinance was found to be unconstitutional and Lombard was prohibited from enforcing it). More recently, Lombard’s official campaign Twitter account bizarrely retweeted an article about a Texas teen who broke the world record for the longest legs. So, if you’ve been keeping up, Lombard is in support of long legs, but not a woman’s right to use those legs to support herself financially.
Stephen Singer has also been deep in the New Orleans criminal legal world for decades. But Singer represents a contrast from his opponent. A public defender and Loyola law professor, Singer helped rebuild and restructure the Orleans Public Defenders office in the wake of Katrina (before the storm, the city did not even have a full-time PD program). Fifteen years later, the public defenders we interviewed still speak highly of Singer (one public defender of 13 years shared a story of being held in contempt of court—Singer arrived to back them up with a toothbrush in his pocket, ready to go to jail if necessary).
Singer is running for Magistrate Judge on a platform of ending cash bail and has been endorsed by Flip the Bench. Lombard has been endorsed by Mayor Cantrell and John Bel Edwards, for reasons that probably have nothing to do with the fact that the bail bond industry produces over $6 million a year in profit, a million of which it pumps back into the courts (in fairness, it also helps fund the Public Defenders Office! Which is a terrible way to fund that office! $227,000 gets split three ways between the PDs, the DA’s office, and the sheriff’s office).
SUMMARY: Stephen Singer and his toothbrush. It may be a longshot considering all the support and money Lombard has behind her, but what a win it would be.
District Attorney Criminal District Court
Arthur Hunter (Democrat)
Keva Landrum (Democrat)
Morris Reed (Democrat)
Jason Williams (Democrat)
When District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro announced he would not seek reelection, we danced in the streets, but only because we can’t dance on his grave yet. He was a prosecutor, then a judge, and was elected DA in 2008, running on a platform of reform and alternatives to imprisonment—a cautionary tale about campaign promises. He leaves behind a shameful legacy, even by the abysmal standards of our criminal legal system.
Whether Cannizzaro was using fake subpoenas, or taking every opportunity to keep wrongfully convicted people tied up in court cases, his pièce de résistance was acting unethically. Not to mention unlawfully, if you’ll remember his litany of Brady Violations (withholding potentially exculpatory evidence, i.e. evidence that could be helpful, from the defense). He notoriously punished investigators who dared push back against his love affair with prosecutors and rewarded prosecutors who sought hard time for non-violent offenders. A true trailblazer in just how predatory a DA can be, he jailed crime victims, specifically survivors of rape and intimate partner violence.
In the end, Cannizzaro was nothing if not a tireless advocate for mass incarceration, promoting dehumanizing and debunked theories of criminality, and opposing decarceration in the interest of public health during the pandemic. Cannizzaro treated imprisoned people like they were plague rats rather than human beings trapped in an ever-worsening disease vector, facing a life-sentence that no judge decided. (For even more coverage of his misdeeds, he earned many, many critical mentions in this publication and the Appeal.)
A quick primer on what this office does. The DA office sets the rules for how cases will be prosecuted. Will the death penalty be sought? How long will a person sit in jail before being charged? How much will they charge for bail (judges set bail but the DA’s office can make aggressive suggestions)? Will they continue habitual offender sentencing rules? The material conditions for the people moving through the carceral system are heavily dependent on who the DA is and what their practices are.
Louisiana’s habitual offender laws often cause people to be locked away for life regardless of the severity of their charges. By mere virtue of falling into the system multiple times (which is a feature, not a bug, of said system), people end up sentenced to life in prison. Additionally, Louisiana is one of 28 states where the death penalty is still legal. Prisons, and the free labor they provide, are an extension of slavery. Louisiana is the incarceration capital of the world, and our next DA will determine what the future of incarceration looks like here.
The People’s DA Coalition is a group of “more than 30 organizations of formerly incarcerated residents, crime survivors, people who were wrongfully convicted, and families with incarcerated loved ones” who are working to shift the course of incarceration in New Orleans and Louisiana. The current DA’s office and their predecessors exploded incarceration rates and have killed and destroyed countless people, families, and communities with their “tough on crime” agendas. The People’s DA Coalition is not making an endorsement, but they have been shaping much of the conversation around this race, asking candidates to make progressive, transformative commitments for the office.
“Progressive prosecutors” and “progressive DAs” haven’t always played out the way reformists had hoped. Over the last few years, it’s been tried in other cities and the results have been disappointing (though novel to discover how tepid the politics of someone raised by the Weather Underground can really be). The idea of a progressive prosecutor is an oxymoron. Still, you play with the cards you’re dealt.
This is the quintessential “electing your enemy” ballot item, per this guide’s intro. At the end of the day, the DA’s office represents the State, not the people. So here’s the real question for voters in this race: do you want to maintain the legacy espoused by Connick, and then Cannizzaro, by electing Keva Landrum? Or do you want to vote with the “progressive DA” movement and elect Jason Williams?
Morris Reed is on the ballot, but doesn’t seem to be running much of a campaign.
Arthur Hunter is a former cop and former judge. He launched reentry court with Laurie White, a program we’ve already discussed in this guide17Refer to our remarks for Criminal District Court, Section A to learn why reentry court is more of a political stunt than a meaningful reform. In the feedback we received from attorneys, they note that while Hunter isn’t the worst, he’s also not fit to be DA. One lawyer of 5 years told us that Hunter would often blow up plea deals that the DA didn’t believe were harsh enough. Another attorney of eight years noted that he was very stubborn in regards to sentencing, saying he wouldn’t allow non-jail sentences for crimes of violence (including second degree battery and some instances of robbery). All of the attorneys who weighed in for us agreed that Hunter is better than Landrum. But as one lawyer of 5 years put it, it’s unclear how anyone could consider him a viable option.
In response to our survey questions, Hunter said that he will never work with ICE, and that if the Louisiana legislature passes laws for funded and supervised drug consumption sites, he will be in favor. He says he’s in favor of decriminalizing sex work, but not in favor of decriminalizing all drugs—only marijuana. He says he will only seek bail if a person is violent or a flight risk. He also said he is against the death penalty—to us. But in a forum put on by the People’s DA Coalition, Hunter refused to commit to not seeking the death penalty. Hunter has also not committed to getting rid of habitual offender laws. He claims that he’s against arresting material witnesses a la Cannizzaro, but in at least one instance he signed off on a warrant to have a victim of domestic abuse jailed.
Hunter is not the only candidate to have jailed material witnesses. Keva Landrum has issued at least 14 material witness warrants, two of which were victims of crime. Landrum has worked closely with DA Cannizzaro for some time, building a name for herself as next in line for the tough on crime regime. The actions she’s taken as a prosecutor demonstrate her commitment to the predation of the people in exchange for political gain. She’s received the largest amount of donations among these candidates, some from prominent former cops, the coroner, and lots of lawyers. She’s also been endorsed by Cantrell, and recently the Times-Picayune, The Advocate, Nola.com, and the Gambit (which should really just count as one endorsement). Everyone just fell in line for Cannizzaro’s self-selected successor. Way to speak truth to power, y’all!
In response to our question regarding what the candidates believe to be the biggest issues facing us as a society, Landrum responded “violent crime” (though it has been on the decline, its use as a bogeyman is still pretty effective). She claims she’s in favor of bail reform, but not specifically ending money bail. She claims that she won’t prosecute for simple marijuana possession, but back in 2008 when she was interim DA she was accused of upping marijuana charges to felonies in order to appear tough on crime. Landrum supports working with ICE and the police in order to ensure the safety of people moving through the courts. We judge working with ICE and the police to have the inverse effect on safety.
Every single attorney who offered their opinions to us on Landrum had awful things to say about her. One attorney of four years told us she’s unable to admit that the criminal legal system isn’t keeping people safe, and she has no imagination to move it in another direction. Another lawyer of 10 years notes that she’s taken on reform language during her campaign—another tactic she borrowed from her mentor Cannizzaro—but as a judge she is notorious for imposing high bonds and long sentences, routinely following the lead of prosecutors. Another attorney of five years said that while Landrum claims she’s for reducing the jail population, they have never seen her grant a bond reduction in the five years they’ve worked in front of her. Every single lawyer who gave us feedback on Landrum said she absolutely shouldn’t be DA.
Jason Williams has been running for this position for years, and he’s who the attorneys we consulted unanimously came out in favor of. Williams ran for DA in 2008 on a platform of being “smart on crime” rather than “tough on crime.” He’s the only candidate who has committed across all platforms and forums to not seek the death penalty and to not use multiple billing laws. He’s been openly critical of the DA’s office, both for their day-to-day operation and for keeping people in jail during the pandemic. Williams introduced legislation to slow expansion of surveillance technology, and has laid out a policy for reforming the way cases are screened, as well as policy for reforming the bail system.
In his responses to our survey, Williams outlined a detailed plan for expanding services for sexual assault survivors, saying that he wants to have a restorative justice-based model because he thinks it has the capacity to help people heal. He agrees with decriminalizing sex work and drugs, and says that all drug dependency should be treated by medical professionals, not jail. He talks about addressing the school-to-prison pipeline. However, Leslie Jacobs, a big name ed-reformer, has donated to his campaign, which raises our eyebrows considering how swift and harsh punishment is in many charter school models.
In response to our question about the biggest issues we’re facing as a society, Williams answered “mass incarceration.” This is a stark difference from Landrum’s answer “violent crime,” and to some extent, all that really needs to be said.
SUMMARY: Jason Williams might be a careerist who prioritized his political ambitions over taking strong positions during his time on council. But he did defend Lil Boosie, and he is the most progressive person in the race for DA.
Judge Juvenile Court, Section A
Kevin Guillory (Democrat)
Clinton “Clint” Smith (Democrat)
Marie Williams (Democrat)
Kevin Guillory has briefly worked as a defense attorney but mostly worked as a prosecutor. He’s spent the last seven years as an ADA. A juvenile justice forum that he and the other candidates attended, hosted by Platform for Youth Justice, put out a platform that emphasized above all else making sure that children are treated like children—that they’re being given care and empathy rather than punishment. Guillory said there wasn’t a single point of the platform he disagreed with, and focused on unchecked trauma that children face, saying he wants to team up with the DA’s office to make community programs that keep kids out of the courts. He’s run for judge three different times, twice for criminal court and now for juvenile court, noting during his 2016 run “It’s always been a dream of mine, once I went into law, to work my way to judge.” Seeking judgeship no matter the precise circumstances of the court or the defendants doesn’t feel incredibly genuine in intent. One public defender said that he seems to really believe in systemic reform. But we think being an ADA under Cannizzaro puts a damper on that claim.
Guillory is the only candidate in this race to respond to our survey. In it, he says he wants to educate parents about a process they might not understand, hopes that low-level infractions won’t be prosecuted at all so they won’t end up in his courtroom, and is in favor of diversion programs. He also said that he will never work with ICE and will dedicate court resources to helping “justice-involved individuals who need help in navigating the labyrinthine immigration process.” He also noted that while he doesn’t “condone” drug use, he would be in favor of funded and supervised consumption sites in order to reduce overdose deaths and spread of disease.
This is Marie Williams’ eighth judicial run, and she is no stranger to election controversy. During her 2014 election bid she claimed her opponent offered her a job in exchange for her dropping out of the race. During her 2016 would-be election bid, she was disqualified for not filing her taxes. During her 2018 election bid, she falsely claimed to help start a nonprofit group. Her website lists her goals, which boil down to efficiency and developing programs and services to help kids stay out of the courts, but she also seems uninterested in questioning the norm. In the juvenile justice forum, when asked about judicial bypass she said, “I would not feel comfortable making that decision on my own,” saying she’d need to consult a health care professional. This isn’t a promising answer.
Clint Smith’s campaign is focused on trauma-informed decisions and finding solutions other than jail. His website notes that he wants to change the way court functions, making it a point of intervention rather than a gateway to incarceration. In the juvenile justice forum, he talks about eliminating all unnecessary fees and wanting to establish programs that connect the court and the juvenile justice center so that kids are being redirected rather than incarcerated. When asked about judicial bypass and special immigrant status cases, he notes that he has to follow the law, but would review each case individually. It’s of note that his son, also named Clint Smith, is a writer and educator who focuses a lot on the carceral system and the school-to-prison pipeline. He used to be the host of the podcast Justice in America which tackles different issues in the carceral system, including one episode with the incomparable Mariame Kaba on prison abolition. Now, we are not our parents, and parents are not their kids, but there is a picture of the two together on Clint Smith Sr.’s campaign website, which feels like an indication of at least some sort of correlation in ideals.
SUMMARY: Guillory or Smith. They both seem to have a trauma-informed approach and say they hope to keep kids out of their courts as much as possible.
Judge Juvenile Court, Section F
Ranord J. Darensburg (Democrat)
Tenee Felix (Democrat)
“Niki” Roberts (Democrat)
Niki Roberts has been a prosecutor for the DA for 12 years. More than one attorney we surveyed said that she’s bad with kids, charging them as adults whenever possible. Her website gives little insight into her platform beyond respecting people’s time and overcoming obstacles and other vague platitudes that don’t address the specific issues of juvenile court.
Ranord J. Darensburg is a licensed attorney and social worker. He’s worked as a public defender and as pro tempore judge of juvenile court. He’s worked to eliminate discretionary fees and cash bail in OPJC, and he wants to improve the use of technology in the courts. In the Juvenile Justice Forum, when asked about how he’d handle judicial bypass and special immigrant status cases, he says he will follow the rule of law. This isn’t a particularly promising answer, especially considering the laws surrounding abortion in Louisiana (which you can read about later in the guide), and especially considering the rise in fascism and the authority of agencies like ICE.
Teneé Felix, a public defender with more than a decade of experience, is part of the Flip the Bench slate. She says she wants to make incarceration the rare exception, and wants kids to be treated like kids, a priority multiple public defenders echoed in praise of her. Every public defender we surveyed who weighed in on this race picked Felix. In the Juvenile Justice Forum, she emphasized community programs rather than court programs as a preventative measure to keep kids from interacting with the legal system. She is totally supportive of a judge’s role being able to grant judicial bypass, saying “to the extent that I can do that as a judge, I will do that.” She then mentioned seeing a child being taken by ICE on an order from juvenile court and said she would never do that. The contrast in the answers to this question between the two candidates who attended the forum is crucial.
Both Darensburg and Felix answered our survey, and there are some notable differences. Felix is in favor of ending money bail, reducing sentences, ending youth incarceration, eliminating jail time for non-violent crimes, and restorative justice approaches rather than jail time. She’s in favor of having a parent navigator position in order to make sure parents understand the process. Felix says that to the extent possible, she will keep ICE out of her courtroom and will work with local groups to figure out how to better protect kids at risk of deportation.
Our survey asked candidates what they feel are the pros and cons of diversion programs. Felix responded that they shouldn’t be used if there’s insufficient evidence in the first place, and if they’re used then the court shouldn’t be involved at all. Darensburg’s answers were more brief and more by the book. In response to our question about how the pandemic might impact his sentencing, he said “My first priority is sentencing is adherence to law and the United States Constitution,” while acknowledging that the pandemic has created “new challenges in how to administer tough consequences that protect the public and also take into consideration the safety and health of the youth.” His “tough consequences” brand is certainly not shared with Felix. To his credit, Darensburg is in favor of making his courtroom an arrest-free zone for ICE (per our survey).
SUMMARY: Teneé Felix.
Judge Municipal and Traffic Court Division A
Meghan Garvey (No Party)
Paul N. Sens (Democrat)
For years this court has been ballooning under the weight of mounting tickets, license suspensions, and too many judges. Law enforcement, the court system, and the DA prosecutors continue to inflate their budget year after year on the monies obtained through this racket. Thus, a key component of true criminal legal system reform in this city has to include dismantling the system that criminalizes through traffic violations.
In Louisiana, if you can’t pay or fail to pay a traffic violation, your license can be suspended or a warrant issued for your arrest. The court and DMV have no obligation to notify when a license is suspended. So even if no warrant is issued, if a person gets pulled over for a routine traffic stop, only to discover that their license is suspended, they may find themselves in jail. For people living paycheck to paycheck, covering mounting fines and fees—plus bail if they are arrested—may be insurmountable or a pathway to crushing debt. It does not at all contribute to the health and safety of our communities to have a jail full of people being held on minor traffic violations, risking their jobs and housing security, unable to take care of their family—and now, increasing their risk of exposure to a deadly virus.
This broken system is not entirely the fault of incumbent Division A Judge Paul Sens; it’s been there longer than him, but he’s done nothing to change it. Instead, he hired damn near his whole extended family and leaned all the way into the bloated corruption.
Paul Sens has been accused of domestic abuse and nepotism. In divorce filings, Sens was accused of physical violence and spousal rape18Ann Garvey Sens, plantiff vs. Paul Sens, initial filing, and he accused his ex-wife of physical violence as well.
In 2012, he came under investigation by the City’s inspector general for how rampant the nepotism in his office runs, at the time having employed 18 of his family members, and extending perks to Marlin Gusman’s wife. He’s held his position since 1997, and in that time has done little to improve how bloated it is or the massive backlog plaguing municipal court. There’s no reason to believe that he would improve this court because he’s had more than 20 years to do so.
His opponent, Meghan Garvey, is part of the Flip the Bench slate of judges. She’s a public defender of 15 years who got her start after Katrina helping people who were lost in the system with no access to the courts. Garvey also helped write a bill that would raise the age from 17 to 18 when it comes to charging someone as an adult. She’s running on a platform of having more experience than the people in office. Instead of a court run by nepotism, she offers less bureaucratic disaster, and fewer fines. In accordance with the values of the Flip the Bench slate, Garvey is trying to decriminalize poverty.
In response to a question from our survey regarding the decriminalization of drugs, Garvey notes that while municipal court only oversees marijuana, she wishes New Orleans had more supportive living resources, going on to say “I believe in harm reduction always. Public policies and laws should be based on the greater good of all and not on puritanical fantasy.” She wants regular court audits and transparency in how the office is being run. In all of the attorney feedback we got, Garvey was extolled, and consistently recommended over Sens.
SUMMARY: Meghan Garvey.
SCHOOL BOARD RACES
After Katrina, Louisiana and New Orleans school board races have been dominated by contributions from people with huge amounts of money such as Michael Bloomberg, the Walton heirs, Laura and John Arnold, Laurene Powell Jobs, and locally Leslie Jacobs and Jay Lapeyre, among others. They use their money as levers in small races. It has been extremely effective in advancing the agendas of the richest people in the world at a very local level in New Orleans. At core this agenda blames teachers for the impact of societal failures on students—a convenient stance for billionaires who have profited handsomely from societal structures remaining as they are. It also seeks to destroy the power of teachers’ unions and destroy the local community’s democratic control of schools. Recently, billionaires have ramped up efforts to incorporate more Black and brown people in privatization schemes, calling it equity. You can hear this sentiment from many of the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) candidates that are endorsed by pro-charter PAC Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).
Campaign spending on corporate education reform is organized through clusters of allied nonprofits and PACs. They are legally separate but functionally the same. DFER is a PAC that was started by hedge fund managers but has two sister nonprofits, Education Reform Now and Education Reform Now Advocacy (ERNA). The sister nonprofits funnel donations from donors and other charitable foundations to be used in elections. In this election so far, the Louisiana branch of Education Reform Advocacy Now has amassed $500,000 to spend on candidates willing to promote school privatization. Jim Walton has personally contributed $150,000. ERNA has given DFER $24,000 which is trickling down to direct campaign contributions to candidates.
What does this mean for the kids and parents and teachers of New Orleans? It means we have a deeply decentralized all-charter system with lots of unelected school boards; and when there’s a problem the blame gets shifted around like a slippery eel. It means charter boards that don’t effectively monitor their schools. It means lots of shenanigans have occurred and while many get reported, a relentless focus on a positive narrative (also funded by billionaires) keeps us from connecting the dots. It means great, courageous teachers with real training, good credentials, and lots of experience are regularly fired because they threaten upper management who have no training or weakened credentials—because real training and credentials aren’t required in charter schools. And teachers who speak up for kids or their co-workers have no protection because teachers’ unions have been gutted by an atomized system. It means random assignments of kids to schools in an opaque process that leaves questions about it being gamed. It means the most vulnerable kids are shifted around as school after school is closed in the name of accountability. It means nobody is really making sure free and appropriate education is being delivered to kids with special needs. It means a network of nonprofits funded by billionaires cannibalizing functions of public schools. Billionaire investment in accountability schemes ensures the creativity of New Orleans’ kids is left to wilt on the vine. Everything is cut and narrowed to fit standardized tests and standardized curricula—making the promise of “autonomy” and “innovation” a lie.
The public school population in New Orleans is about 77% Black and 9% white, while the racial makeup of the city as a whole is 60% Black and 34% white. This means white voters have a disproportionate say in the matter of educating Black kids in New Orleans, despite often not sending their own kids to public schools—an artifact of New Orleans’ white population resisting the desegregation of the 1960s. When white kids do attend New Orleans public schools, they are generally clustered in schools with de facto or explicit selective admissions.
The elected Orleans Parish School Board is charged with overseeing the running of the school district. It hires the superintendent, deals with budgeting and facilities, sets policy, determines enrollment processes, sets guidance for discipline, and has the power to make its formula for distributing money to its schools different from the state’s formula. It is the boss of the central office (recently renamed NOLA Public Schools). In 2018, the provisions of Act 91 restored OPSB and central office control over most schools in the district (after Katrina most Orleans schools were put into state receivership under an entity called the Recovery School District), but it also stripped power from the elected board giving more power to the superintendent and charter organizations run by unelected boards. The elected board has the power to override the superintendent’s decisions about approving or rejecting charter applications, but needs a 2/3 majority to do so. The elected board has the power to grant or rescind Local Education Agency (LEA) status to charters (a status that makes charters their own mini-school districts) and is charged with making sure that all charters granted this status follow all applicable state and federal laws tied to LEA status. Currently, it can be argued that the sitting board is not holding charters to their LEA responsibilities. The elected school board is also responsible for making sure the central office is holding charters to the terms of their contracts. The elected board can also decide that it wants the central office to directly run schools instead of farming out operations to unelected, undemocratic charter boards.
All current incumbents running for re-election (with the exception of recently appointed Grisela Jackson) have presided on a board that has promoted the proliferation of charter schools and their unelected boards, failed to exercise vigorous oversight of those charters, and has largely refused to directly run schools. In essence, they have participated in destroying democratic and community control of New Orleans’ public schools.
Member of School Board District 1
John A. Brown (Democrat)
Patrice Sentino (Democrat)
District 1 covers a large part of New Orleans East and all of the Lower 9th Ward.
Incumbent John Alan Brown, Sr. is a New Orleans native with 30 years experience in New Orleans schools. On the board since 2015, he counts his push to require a parent representative on charter boards and his efforts to make charters stop picking up kids so early in the morning as his big achievements. He served two terms as the board president and then got a bonus round as president after fellow board member Leslie Ellison’s past anti-gay statements created public furor and forced her to abandon her effort to become president of the board. However, Brown’s support helped her to keep her position as vice-president. As a sitting board member Brown has been a party to the lax oversight of charter schools, refusal to directly run schools, and the shady business of renewing the superintendent’s contract a year early. This board also allowed the closure of one of the few charters that was actually doing a good job with special education. There is some small (but so far ineffective) pushback against school closures. Brown voted unsuccessfully against yanking the charters of Coghill (one of only a few schools with unionized teachers) and Craig schools. Perhaps sensitive to the strength of emerging public sentiment, Brown’s campaign website says he wants to conduct a study about the notion of OPSB directly running schools—a tepid position at best.
Brown has contradictory endorsements from United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO) which is pro-union, and DFER which is decidedly in the anti-teacher union camp and supports school privatization and punitive teacher evaluations. DFER was started by hedge fund managers and works in close alliance with two non-profit sister organizations (ERN and ERNA)—one of whom directly funnels dark money into elections to promote candidates who will support charters and public school privatization. DFER and Stand for Children were Brown’s largest campaign contributors in previous campaigns. In this campaign, John Brown’s ed-reform financial backers are DFER and charter crusader Leslie Jacobs and her family.
Patrice Sentino was born in Chicago, but attended and graduated from New Orleans public schools. Her background is primarily in social work and addiction services. She’s an assistant professor at SUNO and she is also the CEO at the Center for Hope Children and Family Services. She works a lot with families regarding trauma and addiction and has experience working with kids in the justice system. Like many other candidates in the OPSB race, Sentino wants kids to be able to go to high-performing schools and wants to expand high-performing schools—but doesn’t dig into why that promise still hasn’t been fulfilled by charters over the last 15 years. She’s a big supporter of trauma-informed practices and social-emotional learning and has actual policy around this in terms of addressing mental health in the classroom. She’s expressed some qualified support for direct-run schools but doesn’t discuss any structural issues with an all charter system. When pressed on how to actually implement policy in a decentralized school system, she stresses building relationships with the schools. Overall, she seems to really care about the emotional well-being of students, but is perhaps a bit naive in how it practically works in an all charter system.
SUMMARY: Hard to call—maybe… Sentino?
Member of School Board District 2
Ethan Ashley (Democrat)
Asya M. Howlette (Democrat)
Eric Jones (Democrat)
Aldine Lockett (Democrat)
Chanel M. Payne (Democrat)
District 2 covers the bulk of Gentilly, St. Roch, Upper 9th Ward, and parts of New Orleans East.
A bunch of contenders are running, perhaps sensing incumbent Ethan Ashley’s weakness after losing his bid for state representative. He lost despite big spending from pro-charter billionaire funded and DFER-allied Education Reform Now Advocacy. As a sitting board member Ashley has been a party to the lax oversight of charter schools, refusal to directly run schools, and the shady business of renewing the superintendent’s contract a year early. This board also allowed the closure of one of the few charters that was actually doing a good job with special education. There are some small but so far ineffective pushback against school closures. Ashley voted unsuccessfully against yanking the charter of Coghill, one of only a few schools with unionized teachers (but did vote to yank Craig’s).
Beneath language about justice and equity, you will find a striving politician who has repeatedly taken jobs that get funding from the Walton Foundation (Walmart heirs) and that promote its pro-charter, privatization of public education stance. Most recently, Ashley is listed as co-founder of School Board Partners, an offshoot of Education Cities—an organization that was dedicated to promoting charter schools. School Board Partners bills itself as anti-racist training for school board members, but its origins and funding sources (Walton Foundation, Dell Foundation, Arnold-funded City Fund) suggest an underlying agenda of spreading the gospel of school privatization nationwide by calling it “the portfolio model”—a billionaire funded concept that aims to get districts to “treat all schools like charter schools.”
Ashley is from California and has a law degree from Howard University. He helped pass a $15 minimum wage for New Orleans Public School employees—but since it doesn’t apply to charter employees very few people got the benefit. In candidate forums, he says he firmly supports “parental school choice”—coded language for school privatization. He’s said he thinks the central office should be prepared to directly run schools (though he carefully didn’t mention for how long) as a “part of balancing our portfolio”—a stance aligned with his billionaire-funded nonprofit. When asked about special education in New Orleans, he said we need more resources to “scale up”—implying schools have been doing a good job with special education when arguably they have not. Ashley, despite working for the Anti-Defamation League, helped nominate Leslie Ellison and cast the deciding vote to install her as vice-president of the board after public uproar about her past anti-gay statements.
DFER has contributed $2,500 to Ashley’s current campaign. Other local supporters of corporate education reform have also chipped in: former Senator Mary Landrieu (who sits on the board of National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and is a paid consultant to DFER’s Education Reform Now); Merritt Lane; New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) board member and brother of Leslie Jacobs, Stephen Rosenthal (and his wife, Sandy Rosenthal); former US attorney Kenneth Polite (also on the board of NSNO); and Ashley’s wife Arielle McConduit.
Asya Howlette, if she’s not pretending, appears to be deeply ignorant about the history of education in New Orleans and how the billionaire-funded organizations she benefits from and participates in have shaped the current educational landscape. She’s surrounded by a billionaire-funded Teach for America bubble—she’s both a TFA and TNTP (an offshoot of TFA) alum with a masters degree in education created specially for TFA and TNTP alums. The Gates Foundation is TNTP’s largest patron ($43 million+) and the Walton Foundation is TFA’s largest patron ($142 million+). Howlette was also local board president of the TFA alumni association for people of color. Howlette is from Colorado and is Director of STEM and 7th and 8th grade assistant principal at a New Orleans charter school where the CEO is also a TFA alum. Even Howlette’s relationship with math is tied to billionaire influence. She’s a consultant for Illustrative Mathematics—a nonprofit founded by the creators of the often confounding, definitely controversial Common Core math. Illustrative Mathematics is funded by the Gates Foundation (almost $9 million) and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative ($2.5 million).
Howlette has cited a concern about lack of performing arts schools and concern about supporting kids with special needs—“We don’t have enough veteran teachers, enough qualified people, enough people who are of and from our community.” Ironically, these are all problems either created or exacerbated by the organizations (and their backers) she is a part of—thousands of experienced Black teachers were fired after Katrina and replaced by teachers, many of them TFA, who were mostly white and largely inexperienced. At the Indivisible forum, she asserted that the structures of governance of schools don’t really matter—that getting enough local Black and brown folks into leadership is what’s important. She goes on to describe many of the problems caused by an all-charter system (high teacher turnover, disjointed special education) without any apparent awareness of the cause. She said she doesn’t have a problem with teachers wanting to unionize, but had not encountered teachers wanting to unionize at her school and implied bad leadership would be the only cause of teachers wanting to unionize.
It looks like Howlette is tapping into TFA networks for fundraising—her biggest donors so far are San Francisco venture capitalist Arthur Rock, a lifetime director of TFA’s board, described on Teach for America’s website as (along with his wife) “two of Teach for America’s greatest champions” and Leadership for Educational Equity, a political nonprofit spin-off of Teach for America. Some of Howlette’s campaign materials have the same formatting as Jamar Wilson’s (who’s running in District 7)—perhaps reflecting that both are being advised by TFA’s Leadership for Educational Equity. Well over half of her donations are from out of state.
Eric “Doc” Jones has been lurking around the New Orleans education scene for a long time and got a small moment of media attention while inserting himself into the merger of Landry and Walker High Schools back in 2013. He uses a self-bestowed honorific and has worked as a political operative for Teach for America BESE (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) member Kira Orange Jones in each of her campaigns. He was recently in the media again because he resigned from the Coghill board after e-mailing staff not to give Fs to students (in direct violation of BESE policy) and mismanaging school money. He claims a long background in education in many roles.
In the OPDEC forum, he opposed closing schools and advocated providing resources instead. He also supported giving more voice to teachers and parents and supports a full return to direct-run neighborhood schools. However, on the Indivisible forum, he backpedalled his full support of direct-run schools. While many of his stated positions are laudable, his relationship with Kira Orange Jones and his history at Coghill leave us skeptical that he is acting with sincerity and integrity.
Aldine W. Locket, III at one point said he was dropping out of the crowded District 2 race but then started showing up in candidate forums. He has a small presence on Facebook and Twitter but does not appear to be vigorously campaigning. Lockett’s LinkedIn profile shows he’s been the principal of several New Orleans schools and has lots of experience testing students and working for companies that make their money testing students. He got a doctorate in educational leadership from Argosy University, a for-profit university that went into federal receivership in 2019 and was then shut down. At the OPDEC forum, his biggest concerns were for students’ progression during the pandemic and how the portfolio model of New Orleans school might interfere with that progression. On the Indivisible forum he expressed support for direct-run schools. Lockett has not filed a campaign finance report.
Chanel Payne is from New Orleans, and grew up and attended public schools in District 2. Her campaign site says she has more than 15 years’ experience teaching in classrooms. She created and runs CMP Educational Consulting which is a tutoring service that has “a special emphasis on African-American students and educators in urban schools/districts.” She’s “earned her Ed.D. and M.Ed. in Educational Administration from Texas Southern University and a B.A. in Print Journalism and Alternative Certification from Southern University at New Orleans.”
In an interview with NOLAed, she supported parents having the option of direct-run community schools in order to provide more stability and cohesion for students. She is one of just a few candidates that seems to understand that there are problems with using school performance scores and grades as a measure of school quality. Instead of closing struggling schools and turning them over to new operators, she urged district level support—sending in the most experienced and qualified staff to promote best academic practices and good school culture. She describes herself as not being anti-charter or anti-traditional schools. She says she wants what’s been proven to work best for the education of children. She’s also endorsed by UTNO.
SUMMARY: Chanel Payne has solid experience and no funding tied to billionaire education reformers.
Member of School Board District 3
Philip C. “Phil” Brickman (Republican)
Olin Parker (Democrat)
District 3 covers Lakeview, parts of Gentilly and Mid-City.
There are two terrible choices for school board for District 3. Do you want someone who uses words like “justice, purpose, kindness, joy, and integrity” to distract from support of undemocratic governance and punitive accountability measures? Or do you want someone who doesn’t try to hide his privatization of public schools agenda under a bunch of kumbaya talk?
Any chance at getting a decent candidate for the district was removed by Melissa Carollo, the finance and operations director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, when she sued and ousted community activist Kevin Griffin-Clark—the only Black candidate who was running in the District 3 race. Carollo’s lawyers in the case both work for law firm Barrasso Usdin Kupperman Freeman & Sarver—law firm of Steven Usdin, who is also the brother-in-law of Sarah Usdin—the outgoing board member for the district. Carrollo also used to work for Sarah Usdin at the pro-charter, gate-keeper nonprofit NSNO. Since both Sarah Usdin and her campaign fund have contributed the maximum allowable amount to Olin G. Parker (her largest donations to OPSB candidates so far), we suspect that the lawsuit was brought to increase Parker’s chances at succeeding Usdin.
Phillip C. Brickman is the only Republican running for OPSB. He holds typical Republican viewpoints about charters and corporate education reform—in other words, he likes them. This is expected as the concept of “parental choice” originated in right wing, white supremacist fears of integration in the 1950s.
Brickman is from New Orleans and is a lawyer. He heads up a Republican PAC that makes endorsements in greater New Orleans political races. In a NOLA.com interview, he’s depicted as a charter school enthusiast who thinks OPSB hasn’t been closing schools fast enough. Like most other candidates running for school board, he wants to expand successful schools—presumably meaning more A-rated schools. He doesn’t address problems with the state rating system—like how standardized tests (which track socio-economic status more than anything else) drive school ratings. He wants to pare down the number of charter operators but increase the number of schools they run.
Brickman has one notable corporate education reform donation: $1,000 from investment consultant Luis Zervigon, brother of District 6 candidate Carlos Zervigon and board member of the RosaMary and Keller Foundations—both foundations have supported education reform financially.
A two year Teach for America stint makes up the extent of Olin G. Parker’s in-classroom teaching experience. He was also a data manager for TFA (though his campaign materials studiously avoid mention of his TFA past). Most recently he worked for former state Superintendent John White (also a TFA alum) and was charged with overseeing accountability for all Louisiana charter schools and private schools that accept vouchers. Multiple scandals related to lack of oversight of voucher and charter schools have erupted under his watch. Parker also received training from The New Teacher Project—an offshoot of Teach for America. Both organizations are part of a billionaire-funded effort that effectively weakens teacher qualifications and training. Their recruits supplanted thousands of fired veteran teachers (who were mostly Black) after Katrina and currently keep adding poorly trained teachers to the New Orleans system.
His wife, also a TFA alum, is a principal of a KIPP charter school—a network noted for its harsh, controlling discipline (even causing the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to recommend that OPSB reject KIPP’s bid for a new school. OPSB approved it anyway). Questioned at the Step Up for Action Forum, Parker claimed he was neutral about charter vs. direct-run schools. He excels at making bland statements that don’t reveal much about his positions. He wants an A school in every neighborhood, but never explores any underlying problems or inequities with the rating system itself, nor does he seem to consider that for 15 years, charter schools have been aiming to be A and B schools and not quite getting there. He acknowledges that length of experience is important for teacher quality without examining his own participation in TFA and its role in flooding New Orleans with inexperienced teachers. He’s focused on pay as a means to retain teachers, not job quality or stability or freedom from punitive evaluation measures. He says he wants to push all charters to provide gifted and talented services and funnel more money to schools with higher amounts of low-income kids and English language learners. He wants a racial equity plan put into place but has no interest in examining larger systemic causes of inequity in the school system.
Parker’s complicity in oversight failures that led to the scandals like the one at John F. Kennedy High School means his presence on the school board would be a classic example of failing upward, an unfortunate but perhaps unsurprising consequence of following corporate business models in education.
Parker is endorsed by UTNO and DFER which is perplexing. UTNO’s interests are opposed to the anti-teacher union interests of DFER. We can only speculate that Parker is skilled at disguising his true motivations. His background strongly implies that he is most closely aligned with DFER’s interests.
Parker is tapping into TFA networks and many ed reform connections for fundraising. Donors include: DFER, Teach for America spin-off Leaders for Education Equity, Goldring Foundation board members Alan and Diane Franco (daughter of billionaire liquor magnate William Goldring), TFA alum and OPSB member Sarah Usdin (and founder of billionaire funded gate-keeper organization New Schools for New Orleans) and her campaign fund, BESE member James Garvey, charter crusader Leslie Jacobs and her brother Steven Rosenthal, Joe Aluise (TFA alum, treasurer for TFA BESE member Kira Orange Jones, husband of the head of KIPP New Orleans), Maxwell Daigh (TFA alum and OPSB’s current director of High School Accountability), Eva Kemp (former DFER Louisiana director and education policy advisor to former senator Mary Landrieu), Steven Hales (local doctor and board member of New Schools for New Orleans), Erin Bendily (former state assistant superintendent), Jay Altman (board member of many billionaire funded education non-profits), and Andy Kopplin (former senior advisor to TFA founder Wendy Kopp).
SUMMARY: None. At core, we think they both support the same harmful policies.
Member of School Board District 4
Leslie Ellison (Democrat)
Jancarlo “J.C.” Romero (Democrat)
Winston “Boom” Whitten Jr. (Democrat)
District 4 covers most of Algiers, Bywater, and part of the French Quarter.
Incumbent Leslie Ellison is a real estate agent, owns an educational consulting company, and is a church administrator. She dabbled in charter board governance between 2010 and 2012 when she was board member of the for-profit run, perennially rated D and now-closed Milestone SABIS charter academy. Ellison tried to oust her opponents from the race by challenging their residency and tax status. The cases went to court on appeal and both candidates were able to remain in the race. As a sitting board member Ellison has been a party to the lax oversight of charter schools, refusal to directly run schools, and the shady business of renewing the superintendent’s contract a year early. This board also allowed the closure of one of the few charters that was actually doing a good job with special education. There is some small, but so far ineffective, pushback against school closures. Ellison voted unsuccessfully against yanking the charter of Coghill—one of only a few schools with unionized teachers (but did vote to yank Craig’s). On the board since 2012, Ellison recently tried to become board president, but was blocked from her bid when public outcry over her history of anti-gay bigotry became too loud to ignore. She’s been very outspokenly homophobic. She went before the Louisiana Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee to say that she would not accept the anti-discrimination language in the charter renewal contract that includes same-sex relationships. She was in favor of a bill that would allow exclusion of gay students from charter schools. She says that she does not believe in the separation of church and state, and also believes that being gay is a choice. She actively works to undermine and cut protections from gay teachers and students.
Like most OPSB candidates, Ellison wants to increase the amount of high performing charters—but fails to examine why this goal has been so difficult to achieve over the past 15 years. Her failure to self-reflect is especially galling given her involvement with the closed Milestone SABIS charter.
Her past campaign contributors have included Republican millionaires Lane Grigsby and failed gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone; Laitram president, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) board member and Ayn Rand devotee Jay Lapeyre, Laura Arnold (wife of former Enron hedge funder and destroyer of pensions John Arnold), charter crusader Leslie Jacobs and her brother Steven Rosenthal, OPSB member Sarah Usdin (also founder of billionaire funded gate-keeper organization New Schools for New Orleans), Louisiana Charter Schools in Action PAC, OPSB member Ethan Ashley, former OPSB member Ben Kleban, and Family Research Council Action PAC—labeled a hate group by Southern Poverty Law Center for “defaming LGBTQ people.” PAC spending on her past campaigns has included Louisiana Federation for Children PAC and Louisiana Federation for Children Action Fund—both associated with Betsy DeVos, Black Alliance for Educational Options PAC (funded by billionaires), and Stand for Children Louisiana IEC PAC (funded by billionaires).
In comparison, current campaign contributors are scant but include: charter crusader Leslie Jacobs and brother NSNO board member Stephen Rosenthal, and Susan Rosenthal (same address as Stephen).
J.C. Romero is a born-and-raised New Orleanian whose parents emigrated here from Nicaragua. He attended public schools throughout his childhood and is a budding politician who freshly sits on several charter boards. Romero describes himself as being not 100% for charters and occupying a middle ground between his two opponents. He advocates parent voice and youth engagement and finding ways to make it easier to navigate the current decentralized school system, but seems to have given little thought to how the system itself could change. In an interview with NOLA.com, he said he wants to expand seats at A rated schools—perhaps ignoring that most A rated schools are selective in some way or another. He also wants to focus on “new schools with more diverse options, such as those that focus on STEM programs”— an approach that ignores systemic issues such as all students getting more arts instruction. Despite the arts being one of New Orleans’ great strengths, students are being starved of the arts by a charter system beholden to high-accountability testing.
He is endorsed by Sarah Usdin—outgoing school board member and founder of billionaire funded gate-keeper organization New Schools for New Orleans—making us suspect he just wants to cheerily stick band-aids on big system problems. Romero’s contributors include some of the lesser known reform supporters: Former school board member Seth Bloom, TFA alum and former TFA employee Jonas Chartock, and doctor and New Schools for New Orleans board member Stephen Hales.
Winston “Boom” Whitten, Jr., a teacher with 20 years experience in various capacities in education, was raised in Algiers, attended public schools in Algiers, and has a degree from SUNO. In candidate forums, Whitten strongly advocated for more direct-run neighborhood schools, re-centralizing functions of the district and stronger oversight of the central office and charter schools in general. He argues that neighborhood schools will allow more parent and neighborhood participation because the current system makes it hard for low-income parents to get involved when their kids attend schools in distant parts of the city.
He wants to eliminate the current OneApp system of enrollment. He wants to foster more empathy and neighborhood and parent engagement when making changes to the current system. It’s refreshing to hear Whitten use the word empathy in his campaign, because it really, truly is the fundamental basis of great teaching. He’s a strong supporter of teachers unions and is endorsed by United Teachers of New Orleans.
SUMMARY: Winston “Boom” Whitten, Jr. He’s not tied to corporate ed-reform and calls for community-led systemic change.
Member of School Board District 5
Katherine Baudouin (Democrat)
Grisela Jackson (Democrat)
Antoinette Williams (Democrat)
District 5 comprises a large part of Uptown (Warehouse District, Garden District, Central City).
Katherine Baudouin appears to be from Lafayette with family ties to New Orleans. At candidate forums she said she wants to increase private spending on public schools in order to fix inequity—ignoring that a lot of private money is already being spent, comes with strings attached, and gets doled out to people or networks with connections to rich people. A more democratic, equitable way of funding schools would be through proper taxation.
When asked about New Orleans’ problem with teacher retention, Baudouin only addressed teacher pipelines and teacher networking—ignoring factors like lack of job stability or punitive teacher evaluations that make the New Orleans system such an unpleasant place to work. Pumping out more teachers doesn’t mean you’ll be able to keep them. She also wants to focus on growth scores and improvement of school culture and wants to see schools constantly striving. She wants to prioritize “school leadership pipelines” and serve as a connecting point for charter board members. She wants the central office running schools only when “absolutely necessary” and thus seems pretty committed to the current charter status quo. These positions are consistent with her endorsement by pro-charter PAC DFER.
She’s made campaign donations to Republican state rep Stephanie Hilferty (one of the sponsors of the legislation that weakened democratic control of OPSB) and Democrat but Republican-supported state rep Aimee Freeman (herself a recipient of pro-charter PAC largesse). She worked for former Councilmember Stacy Head before her current job as director of policy for City Councilmember Joe Giarrusso III (son of Judge Robin Giarrusso).
Baudouin’s pro-corporate education reform financial backers include: Pro-charter, anti-teacher union PAC DFER; BESE member James Garvey; charter crusader Leslie Jacobs; her brother Stephen Rosenthal and his wife Sandy Rosenthal; real estate developer Roger Ogden; her boss, former board member of punitive KIPP New Orleans and Councilmember Joe Giarrusso; and doctor and billionaire funded gate-keeper organization New Schools for New Orleans board member Stephen Hales.
Incumbent Grisela Jackson was appointed by the board in June to fill the spot vacated by Ben Kleban and is now running for re-election. She’s from Puerto Rico and came to New Orleans when she was eight. She attended and graduated from local public schools. She’s now owner and CFO of an engineering company. She helped start Crocker Arts and Technology in 2008 and served on the board throughout the life of the school. It was closed by BESE in 2013 due to poor academic ratings and was taken over by Ben Kleban’s New Orleans College Prep—where she now also serves on the board. That school, Lawrence D. Crocker College Prep currently has an F rating and is in danger of being closed once again.
At forums, Jackson supports trauma-informed approaches like everyone else. However, she said that they actually used these techniques at Crocker Arts and Technology and never suspended or expelled any student (we confirmed this in the state data)—an impressive feat at a time when so many other charter operators had higher punishment rates. According to state data, when former school board member Ben Kleban’s CMO (charter management organization) took over Crocker, suspensions increased.
Her platform page is very vague, but at candidate forums she advocates for job stability for teachers in New Orleans, something sorely needed in a decentralized system, though offering few specifics on what she envisions. She says she’s “not opposed to direct-run schools, not opposed to charter schools, not opposed to educational options for our community.” She acknowledges the sorry state of special education in New Orleans and wants to fix it with more funding and training, but is not specific on how. She also acknowledges that people are getting tired of the constant churn of closing schools. She says she’s a believer in certified teachers, but doesn’t address how letting charters run schools allows a bunch of inexperienced, untrained, uncertified teachers in the classroom. She offers qualified support for unions: “There is a place for unions to advocate for teachers” and supports working with legislators to amend Act 91 to increase authority of elected school board members.
Antoinette Williams is from New Orleans and attended New Orleans public schools. She’s studying politics and education at Xavier and is about to graduate. She interned at the New Orleans Public Schools’ central office.
She’s the youngest person to run for OPSB and cites her status as a student as being what makes her uniquely qualified to understand how OPSB decisions about COVID-19 affect students. In candidate forums, she pointed out that our current system says it’s about choice but simultaneously takes that choice away by not providing direct-run schools—so she favors having both direct-run and charter schools. When asked about teacher retention, she said she fully supports unions (she’s endorsed by UTNO). She objects to the lack of job stability for teachers and the inadequacy of one-year contracts. She also seems to have a clear understanding of the relationship between the elected board and the central office. No noted ed-reformers in her campaign donations.
SUMMARY: Antoinette Williams. She offers full-throated support for teachers and isn’t backed by ed reformers.
Member of School Board District 6
David Alvarez (Democrat)
Erica Martinez (Democrat)
Carlos L. Zervigon (Democrat)
District 6 includes parts of Uptown along with Carrollton, Hollygrove, Gert Town, and parts of Broadmoor.
David Alvarez is from Baton Rouge and ran for a school board seat in 2016 against Woody Koppel, losing narrowly despite being handily outspent by out-of-state billionaire interests. Alvarez advocates evaluating what’s going in schools from the perspective of community outcomes and not just narrow rubrics based on standardized tests. He’s one of a few candidates questioning the value of the state’s grading system for schools and has proposed coming up with alternative measures specific to New Orleans schools. His campaign page has detailed priorities, including shifting back to neighborhood schools. It’s also clear that he actually understands the way the current charter system works and has concrete ways to address it.He currently works as Program Director at LA Voz de la Comunidad and is the President of Evaluation Insights. He has also been a teacher and a counselor.
In candidate forums, Alvarez says the non-traditional system we have is much more expensive than a centralized system. He’s not against charter schools, but points out that a decentralized system comes with increased costs and less voice. Re-centralizing services will restore economies of scale. He strongly supports teachers’ unions and collective bargaining and is endorsed by UTNO.
Alvarez says he wants policy that puts the interests of children, parents, teachers and community first instead of a blind allegiance to the concept of school autonomy. Like most of the other candidates, he advocates trauma informed practices but specifies that they should be done holistically and should also work to remove the trauma caused by the structures of the school system itself (such as labeling schools as failing and shutting down struggling schools). He points out that the supermajority voting requirement in Act 91 is deeply undemocratic and that a devotion to “autonomy” in schools is a euphemism for undemocratic control and not having to answer to constituents. It appears he’s put real thought into how to implement policy within the limitations of the current framework. Alvarez doesn’t have ed-reformers in his campaign contributors.
Erica Martinez is from Mississippi and moved to New Olreans around 2016. She’s the program director and college success coach at College Beyond—a nonprofit that coaches students through college. College Beyond is an outgrowth of recently departed school board member Ben Kleban’s New Orleans College Prep CMO (a CMO whose two remaining schools have an F rating). One of College Beyond’s major funders, Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC), is part of the elaborate shell game that shuffles money from the Gates Foundation, Walton Foundation, and other billionaire funders from nonprofit to nonprofit. Opponent Carlos Zervigon was a founding board member of College Beyond and his family’s foundations have also funded College Beyond.
In candidate forums, Martinez says she wants to focus on trauma informed practices and make sure “all students have access to a quality education”—code for charters and parental choice schemes. One of her main suggestions is for schools to utilize more services from nonprofits. Her passion about trauma-informed practices is clear, but short on specifics—except perhaps advocating for more social workers in schools. She also doesn’t acknowledge how the structure of New Orleans’ school system itself contributes to trauma. She avoided saying she’d support any direct-run school options in the Step Up for Action forum.
Martinez said she liked that charter schools are able to innovate, but if they aren’t able to provide excellence, they should be shut down. It sounds like she favors an all-charter system, but with more oversight and didn’t say exactly how to achieve that oversight. When asked about teacher retention, she talked only about teacher pipelines and made no meaningful comments about retention. She did however say that “unions should walk alongside teachers.” In forums, her suggestions are vague and convey only a surface understanding of the New Orleans educational landscape. When asked about Act 91, she said she thinks the big reason people in New Orleans are upset about charters is because they are mistaken—they think charters are for-profit instead of nonprofit; they confuse New Orleans charters with charters out of state that get absolutely no oversight. In response to a question about increased spending on administration, she avoided discussing high salaries for administrators by pivoting to calling for more transparency in teachers’ salaries, saying they should be public information—perhaps not realizing that they already are (via public records requests).
Her campaign donations don’t seem to have any ed-reform influences, aside from her donations from her co-workers.
Carlos Zervigon ran for state representative last year and lost. He is a New Orleans native who attended public school and graduated from McMain, going on to receive degrees from Tulane and UNO. He was a teacher at Ben Franklin High School. He’s been on the boards of Audubon Charter and Ben Franklin High School and the fundraising nonprofit that benefits NOCCA . His mother is known for her philanthropy and his grandmother is known for her civil rights activism. Through this line, he is the great-grandson of Coca-Cola magnate A.B. Freeman and because of this connection sits on the boards of two philanthropic foundations—the RosaMary Foundation and the Keller Foundation. The RosaMary foundation has been a significant funder of Teach for America Greater New Orleans and gate-keeper organization New Schools for New Orleans. The Keller foundation has also donated money to one of DFER’s nonprofits—Education Reform Now (DFER is a pro-charter, anti-teacher union PAC).
Zervigon has a good understanding of the mechanisms of the New Orleans school system and sees many of its problems, but also tends to be an apologist for post-Katrina reforms, perhaps because his foundations have helped pay for them. As the 2019 DSA voting guide describes him, “Zervigon is heir to a legacy of liberal capitalist contradictions.”
In candidate forums, he’s said he likes school choice because he claims it has expanded so many options. However, this ignores that most New Orleans charters have been based on no-excuses, high test prep models. Zervigon’s perspective may be narrow since all of his personal experience with the system—where he has taught, where he has served on boards, where he has attended schools—has involved selective schools that existed before the big charter takeover. He says he supports teachers being certified and is OK with teachers’ unions, although it’s hard to reconcile his stance with his family’s foundations’ financial support of anti-union Teach for America and Education Reform Now. That financial support helped fuel a proliferation of whiter, less experienced teachers.
Zervigon says he supports re-centralizing coordination of special education services and proposes a hybrid model of “citywide access and community schooling,” indicating he is open to the option of some direct-run schools. He’s one of a few candidates that thinks that the state grading evaluation system needs to be restructured or eliminated.
Like almost every candidate in the OPSB races, he advocates trauma-informed practices. But in candidate forums he goes further, saying he is aware of the problems and racist implications of no-excuses discipline that has proliferated in New Orleans schools and blames it on white charter operators swooping in after Katrina. However, he then claims that these operators are no longer running schools despite KIPP—noted for its harsh behavior control—being one of the largest current operators in New Orleans. He does not support the requirement for a board supermajority to approve or reject the closing of schools in Act 91 and thinks it should be changed—he acknowledges that it is undemocratic and has racist implications. This position may be a recent progression, because we remember his support of Act 91 during his run for state rep.
Because of his familial connection to people of power and means (with cousins in the Freeman and Wisdom families), he is able to command substantial financial support, including many ed-reform supporters. Donors include pro-charter, anti-union DFER, BESE member James Garvey, Jay Altman, doctor and New Schools for New Orleans board member Steven Hales, Bricolage board member H. Merritt Lane, III, former board member of Collegiate Academies Diana Lewis, Steven and Sandy Rosenthal, Sarah Usdin’s campaign, cousin Andrew Wisdom, Zervigon brothers and mother Mary Zervigon, and Andy Kopplin (former senior advisor to TFA founder Wendy Kopp).
SUMMARY: David Alvarez. He’s a strong supporter of teachers, has a thoughtful platform and isn’t connected to ed reformers.
Member of School Board District 7
Kayonna K. Armstrong (Democrat)
Nolan Marshall Jr. (Democrat)
Jamar Wilson (Democrat)
District 7 covers Treme, 7th ward, part of Gentilly, and part of Algiers.
Kayonna Armstrong is from New Orleans and attended local public schools and has degrees from Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College19This section has been updated from the original version, which stated Armstrong attended SUNO.. In the Step Up for Action forum, she said she wants to foster more community engagement. Armstrong is a strong advocate of direct-run schools because she thinks the current decentralized system isn’t effective or adequate. Direct-run neighborhood schools, she asserts, make sure that families have a right to send their kids to school in their neighborhoods. Like most candidates, she wants quality schools in every child’s neighborhood. She also says that OneApp—the current school enrollment system—is based more on chance and not the choice that was promised to parents. Her platform page lists that she’s in favor of removal of OneApp, and stronger support for teachers’ unions. She was an organizer with Step Up Louisiana and has worked in classrooms in varying degrees, but not for long periods of time.
Nolan Marshall Jr. is from New Orleans and has been on the board since 2012. He attended a public elementary school but a private high school. He also attended Loyola and UNO. Before retiring, Marshall ran a family photography business. As a sitting board member, Marshall has been a party to the lax oversight of charter schools, refusal to directly run schools, and the shady business of renewing the superintendent’s contract a year early. This board also allowed the closure of one of the few charters that was actually doing a good job with special education.
Marshall recently pushed a non-binding resolution to let teachers work from home during the pandemic, but managed to sound completely self-serving in the process, “Having a daughter that is a third generation teacher at one of the schools and being of age where I’m particularly at risk made me more sensitive to this issue” he told NOLA.com. When Leslie Ellison’s anti-gay bigotry blocked her attempt to become president of the board, he delivered some decidedly undemocratic sentiments, urging the public to “not get involved.”
In the Urban League candidate forum, Marshall repeatedly said he wants to focus on kids and not get into discussions about teachers and governance structures. He said listening to kids and what they need and then providing it is the way forward and, “We’re close as a district to doing that.”
There is some small but so far ineffective pushback against school closures. Marshall voted unsuccessfully against yanking the charters of Coghill (one of just a few schools with unionized teachers) and Craig schools.
We wonder about the closeness of the relationship between charter crusader Leslie Jacobs and Marshall, because she filed campaign finance reports for him in 2013 and 2014. He’s endorsed by UTNO and DFER (a pro-charter PAC) which is confusing because DFER is decidedly anti-teacher union. Nolan’s past donors are a litany of folks and organizations pushing corporate ed-reform: former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, Laura and John Arnold Foundation, DFER, Stand for Children, charter crusader Leslie Jacobs and family, OPSB member and founder of gatekeeper organization New Schools for New Orleans Sarah Usdin, former senator Mary Landrieu (who now sits on the board of National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and who has been paid for consulting work for DFER’s Education Reform Now), Jay Lapeyre of Laitram and anti-teacher union Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Robert Reily of Reily Foods and advisory board member for TFA Greater New Orleans. Past PAC spending includes the PAC of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (itself heavily funded by Walton Foundation, Gates Foundation, Laura and John Arnold Foundation), Stand for Children IEC PAC (funded by out-of-state billionaires and in-state right-wing millionaires), and the Betsy DeVos-associated Louisiana Federation for Children Action PAC.
His biggest donation this cycle is from pro-charter, anti-teacher union PAC DFER, though it’s not listed on his campaign finance report (but is listed on DFER’s). Other big donors on his scanty list are Steven and Sandy Rosenthal. Steven is the brother of charter crusader Leslie Jacobs and he sits on board of New Schools for New Orleans along with having served on the boards of numerous charter organizations.
Jamar Wilson is from Georgia and he moved to New Orleans in 2015 via Texas where he started teaching through Teach for America and then ended up working for TFA. In his time in New Orleans, he’s been Assistant Principal at KIPP (one year) and Dean of Students at KIPP (since 2017). He’s also the president of ONE NOLA, an organization that is either super-underground or inactive.
His website doesn’t really list his policies very explicitly or what he hopes to change or what he really understands about the charter system here.
In candidate forums, Wilson says he supports more direct-run schools but then gets very enthusiastic about more charters on the condition they are more diverse—arts, ones specifically tied to mental health and trauma services, or tied to English language learners. He says schools need to be “open” to teacher unions; “we should be encouraging them.” He calls for looking beyond test scores and considering the whole child.
However, his positions are hard to reconcile with his Teach for America past and endorsement by DFER (a pro-charter, pro-high stakes assessments, anti-teacher union PAC) and former job as an assistant principal at KIPP—a charter school organization noted for employing the kind of discipline practices that feed the school to prison pipeline. Wilson’s involvement with these organizations without public, vocal self-examination is concerning—Teach for America helped transform New Orleans’ teaching force after Katrina, making it whiter and less experienced.
Wilson is tapping into TFA networks for fundraising: his largest contributors are DFER; San Francisco venture capitalist Arthur Rock, a lifetime director of TFA’s board, described on Teach for America’s website as (along with his wife) “two of Teach for America’s greatest champions;” and Leadership for Educational Equity, a political nonprofit spin-off of Teach for America that aims to get more TFA members into elected positions. He appears to be getting campaign consulting from TFA’s Leadership for Educational Equity as well—some of his campaign materials have the same design as Asya Howlette’s in District 2 (she’s also getting support from LEE). Less than 20% of his donors are from Louisiana—most come from out of state.
SUMMARY: Kayonna Armstrong because she’s not tied to billionaire influences and has worked in local grassroots education efforts.
CA NO. 1
(ACT 447, 2019 – HB 425) – Relating to Declaring There Is No Right to and No Funding of Abortion in the Louisiana Constitution
Do you support an amendment declaring that, to protect human life, a right to abortion and the funding of abortion shall not be found in the Louisiana Constitution? (Adds Article I, Section 20.1)
This has been a hell of a year for abortion access in the South. From the SCOTUS case June Medical Services v Russo to pandemic-related clinic closures and limitations, the promises of Roe have been tenuous for increasingly more Louisianans.
Amendment 1, the Louisiana “No Right to Abortion in Constitution” Amendment would add the following language to the Louisiana Declaration of Rights: “Nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” First and foremost, very little in this state protects the right to an abortion, constitution aside. This language includes no exception for rape, incest, or health of the parent. This amendment does nothing material immediately but, if passed, would: give politicians increased control over Louisianans’ decisions about our bodies and futures, deny Louisianans’ legal right to abortion, make it harder to protect abortion access in the future, and essentially stop the clock by blocking future proactive policies expanding access to care. This amendment jeopardizes the health and well-being of people already struggling to access health care, especially Black and brown families and people living in rural areas.
In a state of about one million people who could get pregnant at any given time, Louisiana boasts a meager and brave three abortion clinics. Abortion care in Louisiana is not covered by health care plans, including Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance, so poor and working class Louisianans suffer most when abortion care is restricted. And, to top it all off, the looming threat of an Amy Coney Barrett SCOTUS appointment increases the possibility of Roe being overturned (and adds to the ever-growing list of Metairie-begat crimes against humanity).
Nestled amongst the 89 (!) TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws on the books, here is a trigger law that would automatically render all abortion illegal in the event of Roe being overturned. Abortion access is already surrounded by a firing squad, poised and at the ready. Amendment 1 is a redundancy at best and an airtight seal at worst. Bottom line: If passed, this amendment immortalizes violent anti-choice forced birther bullshit in our state constitution. To learn more, visit Louisiana for Personal Freedoms coalition website.
SUMMARY: NO. Keep anti-abortion language out of our state constitution, and join the fight to protect abortion access by supporting your local abortion fund.
CA NO. 2
(ACT 368 – HB 360) – Amends Determination of Fair Market Value of Oil or Gas Well
Do you support an amendment to permit the presence or production of oil or gas to be included in the methodology used to determine the fair market value of an oil or gas well for the purpose of property assessment? (Amends Article VII, Section 4(B))
This is the result of decades of struggle between oil and gas interests and local tax assessors. The Louisiana Constitution, in its messy-ass manner, says that severance taxes are the only taxes allowed on actual oil and gas. So when local tax authorities go to assess properties that contain oil and gas wells, they are theoretically not allowed to tax a big fat juicy well any more than an old dried up dusty well. Assessors want more tax money from the more lucrative properties, obviously, and they have used varying means to do this in the past, which has resulted in drama between themselves and oil and gas companies.
Amendment 2 united those adversaries. Oil and gas companies would pay less on properties that are no longer producing as much. And they would pay more on properties that are more lucrative. The bill creating this amendment passed the state legislature with unanimous approval by representatives of both parties, and there were no comments against it during committee hearings.
One major problem: no one, not even the assessors we interviewed who are pushing this amendment, seems to know how this change would affect tax rolls. Some parishes could end up with more tax revenues, and some with less.
Sources familiar with Louisiana oil production say that linking property taxes with oil and gas value would likely benefit the industry in the long run, because oil and gas prices have historically been declining, and many older wells, if they’re still producing anything at all, are now worth much less than their original assessed value. Another source said, “Hell yes, this is going to cost the state money and local governments money.”
Importantly, the passage of this amendment wouldn’t immediately change anything. The vote only provides a legal avenue for the assessors, the oil and gas industry, and the Louisiana Tax Commission to establish the new set of rules by which assessors evaluate the wells. Any party could walk away, and the old rules would stay. Everything would depend on this process and the creation of these rules, which will apparently be a public process in July of 2021. If this amendment passes, that process ought to be watched very closely.
The way parishes currently assess the value of oil and gas wells seems to be a major nightmare that results in “non-stop litigation.” Amendment 2, which received unanimous bipartisan approval in the legislature, would allow industry and assessors to come together and make rules that should have been there all along. As sane as that sounds, there is a high likelihood that this will result in lower taxes for the oil and gas industry, especially in the long run. If there were guarantees that this amendment would not risk precious tax flow for parishes, it could be a good idea.
SUMMARY: Apologies to the local tax assessors out there trying to fight the good fight, we cannot afford to give up any more than we already have to the oil and gas industry. No on 2.
CA NO. 3
(Act 367 – HB 267) – Amends Use of Budget Stabilization Fund
Do you support an amendment to allow for the use of the Budget Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, for state costs associated with a disaster declared by the federal government? (Amends Article VII, Section 10.3(C)(3) and (4); Adds Article VII, Section 10.3(A)(5) and (C)(5))
Believe it or not, the state’s rainy day fund cannot, in fact, be used on a rainy day. Currently, a two-thirds majority of the legislature can tap into as much as one-third of the rainy day fund per fiscal year only if there’s a significant hit to state revenues—not if we have an emergency that means we have unexpected expenses. This bill would allow the legislature to use that same one-third of the rainy day funds in the event of a federally-declared disaster and to replenish the fund with federal disaster money later.
Obviously, this year the state has seen excessive cuts to revenues with oil and gas hitting negative values and major expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricanes Laura and Delta. If this had been a regular gangbuster year for oil and gas, however, our neighbors in Lake Charles would have had no access to the rainy day fund to help during their federally-declared state of emergency. Today, there’s $300 million in the rainy day fund, meaning $100 million is available if a majority of the legislature votes to use it.
This sounds reasonable, but as Louisianans, we know federal emergencies are a fairly annual occurrence for us. Would it be possible for the rainy day fund to become too relied upon to balance the books? It seems it’d be easy to tap into a rainy day fund in a state with so many rainy days. However: for our state legislature to come together to support anything in a two-thirds majority is fairly rare, and most expect this new use would only be used in large disasters, like Hurricane Laura. And remember: each year, no matter what kind of disaster the state budget faces, no more than one-third can be used per year, and those funds would be replenished with federal disaster funds later.
SUMMARY: Currently, our rainy day fund only serves as a stop-gap when income falls short, not when we have a federally declared disaster and expenses are high. This amendment would allow the legislature to spend up to one-third of the rainy day fund to respond to disasters and replenish the fund with federal aid later. Let’s use our rainy day fund for rainy days, not to bail out the state just because our fossil-fuel-dependent revenue system failed us. Yes.
CA NO. 4
(ACT 366 – HB 464) – Limits Expenditure Limit for State General Fund
Do you support an amendment to limit the growth of the expenditure limit for the state general fund and dedicated funds and to remove the calculation of its growth factor from the Constitution? (Effective June 30, 2022) (Amends Article VII, Section 10(C)(1))
This is, without a doubt, the wonkiest constitutional amendment this year. It’s introduced by Rep. Gerald “Beau” Beaullieu, a financial advisor from New Iberia, in an attempt to fix our state’s ever-disastrous budget.
Here’s the theory behind Amendment 4: each year, the state budget’s expenses are limited. That limit is created by a three-year average of personal income growth across the state. This bill would change that: if passed, the state budget’s growth rate would instead be based on a companion bill, Act 271, which would factor in personal income growth, gross domestic product, inflation, and population change—an index meant to grow the state budget more slowly. Our new expense limit would instead be the previous year’s appropriations plus this newer, more involved growth rate. The expectation is that our state budget would grow much slower using this new math, likely creating an artificially low spending ceiling for a state with endless needs and deeply suffering communities. If you truly want to get a feel for the mechanics of this bill, the PAR Guide to the Constitutional Amendments does a great job.
But let’s keep this simple: will this bill mean a less contentious state budget? In short, no. The state budget has many issues, but of more significance than the expenditure limit and growth rate is the amount of dedicated funds the constitution already names. Each year, higher education and health care take major cuts, usually because they do not have the same dedicated funding from the state that so many other line items do. In addition to not quite hitting the right nail on the head, this amendment exacerbates the problem we actually need to solve—too many constitutional limitations on the budget.
SUMMARY: This amendment may appear to solve a problem with our state’s budget, but would artificially cap expenses at a time when we need public services dearly. No.
CA NO. 5
(ACT 370 – SB 272) – Authorizes Cooperative Endeavor Tax Exemptions
Do you support an amendment to authorize local governments to enter into cooperative endeavor ad valorem tax exemption agreements with new or expanding manufacturing establishments for payments in lieu of taxes? (Adds Article VII, Section 21(O))
This Constitutional Amendment would create yet another tax exemption for industry in Louisiana. It would expand the already-horrifying ITEP (Industrial Tax Exemption Program), which is beloved by petrochemical plants for its near whole-cloth (80-100%) forgiveness of property taxes for 5-10 years of operation. Yes, we said 100% forgiveness of property taxes as a reward for accelerating climate change and poisoning the state—especially low-income Black and brown communities. The companies do not, as they claim, create tons of good jobs and they often hightail it out of the state when their incentives dry up. CA 5 proposes PILOTS or ‘Payments In Lieu Of Taxes’ directly to city governments instead of corporations paying property taxes. So instead of paying property taxes, corporations could do something like, say, build a bridge to their property or pave roads only they use.
Notably, this change was explicitly pushed for by Cameron LNG, a natural gas export facility in southwest Louisiana, in their final year of ten years of ITEP exemption. Last year, Cameron LNG paid just $32,000 of property taxes on $13 billion in property. When you consider they spent millions on lobbyists for this amendment, it becomes clear how much they’d be paying in standard property taxes. Additionally, PILOT’s upfront funding could become discretionary funds—money not necessarily tied to a community impacted or related to the businesses.
As RISE St. James points out, this amendment would give oil lobbyists a reason to ask local politicians for favors in exchange for donations. Plus, in a state that has sacrificed residents at the altar of oil billionaires for more than 80 years, it is mind blowing but at least on-brand that they want more.
SUMMARY: Absolutely not. Amendment 5 is actually evil.
CA NO. 6
(ACT 369 – HB 525) – Increases Income Limit for Homestead Exemption Special Assessment Level
Do you support an amendment to increase the maximum amount of income a person may receive and still qualify for the special assessment level for residential property receiving the homestead exemption? (Amends Article VII, Section 18(G)(1)(a)(ii))
First, it’s helpful to understand the “special assessment” mentioned in this amendment: many Louisianans are familiar with the homestead exemption, a property tax break for primary residences in the state. For those with a homestead exemption, many are also eligible for a “special assessment” that effectively freezes the assessed value of the home, meaning those eligible—seniors, some military families, and some residents with disabilities whose household income is $77,030 or less—don’t have to worry about skyrocketing property taxes. This bill would raise the allowable household income for these property tax freezes to $100,000.
Property values in Orleans Parish have been rising due to largely unchecked gentrification. However, this bill will likely only help a very small number of people: 90% of special assessments go to seniors. Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center clarifies: “The median household income for Louisiana families with a householder aged 65 or over is only $30,935 so the $77,030 income limit already protects the vast majority of homeowning seniors.” Using the Orleans Parish Assessor’s tax calculator and the median home price in Orleans Parish, this amendment would cost Orleans Parish about $4 million per year in lost revenue.
To put that revenue into context, $4 million is roughly the entire budget of the coroner’s office, or the operating cost of all NORD centers across the city. In a time when city revenues are deeply cut due to COVID-19, this would be a blow to essential services for New Orleanians.
This amendment is presented as a classic public finance balancing act: you’ll need to decide if you prefer to help a small number of seniors stay in their homes as our city continues to grow more and more expensive each year, or risk deep, damaging cuts to public services that may harm more residents. But the numbers clear things up: a yes vote would increase wealth inequality.
CA NO. 7
(ACT 38, 1st ES – SB 12) – Creates Louisiana Unclaimed Property Permanent Trust Fund
Do you support an amendment to create the Louisiana Unclaimed Property Permanent Trust Fund to preserve the money that remains unclaimed by its owner or owners? (July 1, 2021) (Adds Article VII, Sections 10(F)(4)(i) and 28)
In Louisiana, unclaimed property adds up to around $100 million at any given time. These assets are currently held in the general fund and used by the state to fund health care and education (and yes, I-49 bonds). The owner can reclaim the funds at any time, even if it’s “been spent.” If Amendment 7 passed, those assets would be put into a trust fund instead of directly to the general fund. This scenario would let the state invest the trust and spend its earnings rather than the principal. The thinking is that if everyone were to become aware of their unclaimed property and claim it from the general fund, we’d have a cash flow crisis. This is not a new problem to consider, and frankly, it’s highly unlikely to happen even with technological and marketing advances from the unclaimed property fund. This amendment isn’t merely adding one more step on the flow chart of unclaimed property; it would take a long time for the money from investments of the unclaimed property trust fund to replace the millions of dollars we’re currently receiving from this program. We need the money this program generates, plus this is likely just a power grab from the Treasurer.
SUMMARY: No. It hurts the state budget and is an overreach by the Treasurer.
PW Sports Wagering – Authorize Sports Wagering Activities – Act 215, 2020
Shall sports wagering activities and operations be permitted in the parish of Orleans?
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that states can legalize sports gambling, politicians across the country have eyed the tax revenue betting could bring in, with the encouragement of casino operators who’d likely host legal betting operations.
In Louisiana, new forms of gambling need to be approved by voters on a parish-by-parish level, and in June, Governor John Bel Edwards signed a bill to send the issue to the polls. First it was fantasy sports betting, now it’s the real thing (Donnie DeLillo could write a whole pomo Magnum O about how this inversion mirrors our reality-siphoned present).
Those in favor of the amendment say people are going to bet on sports regardless, so might as well make winnings taxable. The most optimistic among them imagine these monies going back into things like education or infrastructure, which definitely Louisiana lawmakers have given us reason to believe that’s how they’ll spend tax money. Also worth mentioning that online sports betting—which is not covered by this amendment—is a huge industry in itself, accounting for nearly $2 billion a year in national revenue. That’s just the legal online betting, by the way, so it’s really anyone’s guess how much profit this amendment would actually generate. Still, that hasn’t stopped local casinos from sending thirsty text message blasts to their employees, imploring them to vote yes. Certainly they’re doing that because they’re excited about how much money they’ll get to pass along to education and infrastructure, right?
Meanwhile, detractors worry that legalizing sports gambling will contribute to compulsive gambling and addiction. Listen, gambling is a “drug” in that it provides the same neurobiological stimulus as heroin or Hubig’s pies, and it should be legitimized and decriminalized along with every other substance or behavior people seek out (that doesn’t intrinsically harm others). People are going to do what they are going to do, and criminalizing any of it causes more problems than it helps. It’s as simple as that. Besides, nobody’s hand wringing about the stock market being legal. What’s the difference? Oh that’s right, classism.
As calls to defund the police intensified this year, abolitionists warned that mere reform wouldn’t work, in part because publicly-funded police would just be replaced by privately funded patrols. Of course, those already exist. In fact, the question of funding them is on this very ballot. Across the city, there are special security districts that pay to have private patrols on top of normal NOPD activity. Many are staffed by off-duty officers from NOPD or other police agencies; and as with regular police, data is scarce about what these patrols are doing and even whether they’re effective in reducing crime.
One study from 2013 by the City Office of the Inspector General found that such districts seem to have lower rates of property crime, but no significant difference in violent crime or murder rates. Formalized policing in the U.S. has two historic origins—one is wealthy Bostonians cutting the cost of guarding their private property by pushing the idea that a police force would help everyone (the other origin is, of course, slave patrols). That same 2013 study found that the presence of vacant houses—in other words, impoverished and neglected neighborhoods—were a “much stronger predictor” of crime than the presence of a private patrol, raising questions of cause and effect.
Police departments are notorious for lacking transparency and accountability; privatized entities, broadly speaking, have the same earned reputation. As the country wrestles with the unchecked power and reach of ordinary police officers, it is starkly regressive to bring additional, less accountable patrolling to these districts.
So should some residents pay fees for expansions of the punishment bureaucracy that are not even available to the whole city? We say no—let’s spend our money on social goods that enhance public safety, rather than providing more opportunities for police encounters (which target poor people and uphold white supremacy).
Of course we don’t think voting on parcel fees alone is a sufficient or efficient method to achieve full divestment from police and investment in community care. But it is a neat contrast to consider the Broadmoor Neighborhood Improvement District fee within the following succession of ballot options—a glimpse of what our common wealth ought to go toward instead, and what services truly fortify communities.
Lake Willow Subdivision Improv. Dist. – $300 Parcel Fee Renewal – CC – 3 Yrs.
Shall the City of New Orleans renew the special annual fee, called the Lake Willow Subdivision Improvement District fee, on each parcel of land in the Lake Willow Subdivision Improvement District, excluding Lots 1B, 1C, and 1D (which district is comprised of that area of the City of New Orleans located between Morrison Road on the north, the Lawrence Drainage Canal on the west, the I-10 Service Road on the south, and on the east by a line approximately two hundred feet west of the west line of Crowder Road), in an amount of three hundred dollars ($300) for three (3) years beginning on January 1, 2021 and ending on December 31, 2023, which fee is estimated to generate approximately $52,200 per year, to be used solely and exclusively to promote and encourage the security, beautification and overall betterment of the Lake Willow Subdivision Improvement District as determined and managed by the Board of Commissioners of the Lake Willow Subdivision Improvement District, except a 1% City collection fee, which additional security shall be supplemental to and not in lieu of personnel and services provided in the district by the New Orleans Police Department?
The Lake Willow Subdivision Improvement District, first established in 1998, has a general purpose name. But its budget shows it has a very specific function: paying for security patrols in its section of New Orleans East, bordered by Morrison Road on the north, the Lawrence Drainage Canal on the west, the I-10 Service Road on the south, and on the east by a line slightly west of Crowder Road. The district took in $50,728 in taxes in 2019, spending a total of $39,603, with $35,786 going to “security patrol.”
SUMMARY: Say no to privatized police.
North Kenilworth Improvement & Security District – $300 Parcel Fee Renewal – CC – 8 Yrs.
Shall the City of New Orleans renew the special annual fee, called the North Kenilworth Improvement and Security District (the “District”) fee, on each parcel of land in the District (except parcels owned by individuals who qualify for “special assessment” as provided in Article VII, Section 18(G)(1) of the Louisiana Constitution), which is that area of the City of New Orleans as is specified in Louisiana Revised Statute 33:9091.20, in the amount of three hundred dollars ($300) for eight (8) years beginning on January 1, 2021 and ending on December 31, 2028, which fee is estimated to generate approximately $52,800 per year, to be used solely and exclusively to promote and encourage the beautification, security, and overall betterment of the District as determined and managed by the Board of Commissioners of the District, except a 1% City collection fee, which any additional security patrols (public or private) or any other security or other services or betterments provided by the District shall be supplemental to and not in lieu of personnel and services provided in the District by the state or the City of New Orleans or their departments or agencies or by other political subdivisions?
This district spends the majority of its expended funds on security patrols in its section of New Orleans East, according to the most recent financial data available. Specifically, in 2018, it took in $52,269.37 and spent $50,448.49, including $46,002 to a local security contractor.
The district, located in an area around the intersection of Morrison Road and Malvern Drive, also spent $600 on a “Night Out Against Crime.” These events are held nationwide and tend to be subdued block parties; no data is available about their effectiveness in reducing crime or crime’s social causes.
SUMMARY: Say no to privatized police.
Lakeshore Crime Prevention Dist. – $420 Parcel Fee – CC – 4 Yrs.
Shall the City of New Orleans levy and collect the Lakeshore Crime Prevention District parcel fee on each improved or unimproved parcel located within the Lakeshore Crime Prevention District (the “District”) in the amount of and not exceeding four hundred twenty dollars ($420.00) annually, for four (4) years beginning January 1, 2021 and ending December 31, 2024, which fee is estimated to generate approximately $275,940 annually, to be used solely and exclusively to promote and encourage security in the Lakeshore Crime Prevention District, except a 1% City collection fee, which additional security and services shall be supplemental to and not in lieu of personnel and services provided in the District by the New Orleans Police Department?
The Lakeshore Crime Prevention District covers the area between Robert E. Lee Boulevard and Lakeshore Drive near Canal Boulevard. The district was created in 2004 and collected $231,560 mostly from taxes, and spent $237,153 on patrols in 2019 according to public financial data. Earlier this year, LCPD replaced Metro Security Service after 26 years when the company went out of business due to the COVID-19 pandemic, replacing them with Pinnacle Security. Guards provided by this third-party, private company are armed.
Unlike other security districts, there is no allowance for “beautification” or “overall improvements,” in this district—voters are only given the option of a privatized, secondary police presence in their community. Again, as with most security districts, there is scarce data available to demonstrate the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the Lakeshore Crime Prevention District.
A yes vote would extend the Lakeshore Crime Prevention District and the private patrols they provide for four years. A no vote would effectively dissolve the district and related activity.
SUMMARY: Say no to privatized police.
Broadmoor Neighborhood Improvement Dist. – $100 Parcel Fee Renewal – CC – 5 Yrs.
Shall the City of New Orleans levy annually a renewal of the Broadmoor Neighborhood Improvement District parcel fee on each improved parcel of land in the Broadmoor Neighborhood Improvement District (the “District”), in the amount of and not exceeding one hundred dollars ($100), for a period of and not exceeding five (5) years, beginning January 1, 2021 and ending December 31, 2025; which fee is estimated to generate approximately $170,000 annually, to be used exclusively for promoting quality of life initiatives and encouraging the beautification and overall benefit in the District as determined by the District’s Board of Commissioners, except a 1% City collection fee, and if used for additional services, such services shall be supplemental to and not in lieu of services provided by the city, the state, or other political subdivisions?
This parcel fee funds services in Broadmoor that every neighborhood deserves, so we’d be remiss to not point out that there should be a system of providing community care that doesn’t depend on residents making direct payments through parcel fees.
Broadmoor was infamously labeled as a Green Dot on the map by the “Bring New Orleans Back” Commission after Katrina. If you’re not familiar, that map was used by then-Mayor Ray Nagin and urban planners to communicate to residents that their neighborhoods were considered irredeemable after the storm (translation: that majority Black neighborhoods would be converted to “green space”).
Broadmoor residents organized to bring basic services back to the area and fight their Green Dot status. One pre-Katrina resident referred to the Broadmoor Improvement Association (BIA) as instrumental in avoiding a City buy-out if their neighborhood didn’t “prove viability” within four months.
The roughly $170,000 levied through the parcel fee supports the BIA, which has an Arts and Wellness Center offering community classes, social workers, counseling, and a food pantry. One longtime resident expressed enthusiasm about keeping the fee because they see it as supporting their library and community center.
We did hear some skepticism from a neighbor who has been participatory in the neighborhood association about how much of the fee is used for administration and salaries. Residents of Broadmoor have a good reason to want transparency—the BIA has been a stepping stone for politicians such as LaToya Cantrell and Moon Landrieu. If the BIA continues community programming and open board meetings so residents have a say, we’re hopeful about the impact of the Broadmoor Parcel Fee.
SUMMARY: Yes, renew the parcel fee.
Lake Vista Crime Prevention District – $200 Parcel Fee Renewal – CC – 4 Yrs.
Shall the City of New Orleans renew the special annual “Lake Vista Crime Prevention District Parcel Fee,” on each improved or unimproved single- and two-family residential parcel and each multiple-dwelling or apartment parcel located within the Lake Vista Crime Prevention District (which district is located within and including the following perimeter: Robert E. Lee Boulevard (interior side), Marconi Drive (interior side), Beauregard Avenue (interior side), and Lakeshore Drive (interior side), in the amount of not to exceed two hundred dollars ($200) per parcel annually for four (4) years starting January 1, 2021 and ending December 31, 2024, which fee is estimated to generate approximately one hundred fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) annually, to be used solely and exclusively to promote and encourage the security of the Lake Vista Crime Prevention District as determined and managed by the Board of Commissioners of the Lake Vista Crime Prevention District, which additional security patrols (public or private) or any other security or other services or betterments provided by the district shall be supplemental to and not in lieu of personnel and services provided in the district by the New Orleans Police Department?
The Lake Vista Crime Prevention District (LVCPD) covers the area from Robert E. Lee Boulevard to the south, Marconi Drive to the west, Lakeshore Drive to the north and Beauregard Avenue to the east. LVCPD works in concert with the Lake Vista Property Owners Association; the fundamental procreative bond between the punishment bureaucracy and the interests of the property-owning class, laid as bare as can be.
LVCPD contracts with Orleans Levee District officers to provide secondary patrols to their area. Earlier this year, just outside of the LVCPD area, an Orleans Levee District officer shot and injured two people after responding to a car doing donuts near the University of New Orleans Lakefront Arena. Weird, we thought cops loved donuts, we do-nut know why a situation like this, professionally handled, would need to escalate into an officer discharging a lethal weapon.
A log of all the district’s calls and activities is available on the LVCPD website. But how much can one really learn when looking at data curated by a private police force that at best reflects what the patrols chose to consider criminal? We would call this a performance of transparency.
The majority of this district’s expenditures for 2019 paid for their contractual relationship with the Orleans Levee District according to recent financial statements.
SUMMARY: Say no to privatized police.
The deadline to request an absentee by mail ballot is October 30 by 4:30 p.m. (voterportal.sos.la.gov)
The deadline for a registrar of voters to receive a voted mail ballot is November 2 by 4:30 p.m. (other than military and overseas voters).
Early voting for this election began on Friday, October 16 and runs through Tuesday, October 27 (excluding Sunday, October 25) from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
For Tuesday elections, polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. A person in line at 8 p.m. is allowed to vote.
1300 Perdido Street, Room 1W24
New Orleans, LA 70112
225 Morgan Street, Room 105
New Orleans, LA 70114
Chef Menteur Voting Machine Warehouse Site
8870 Chef Menteur Highway
New Orleans, LA 70126
Lake Vista Community Center
6500 Spanish Fort Blvd.
New Orleans, LA 70124
Smoothie King Center
1501 Dave Dixon Dr.
New Orleans, LA 70113
FURTHER READING AND RESOURCES
New Orleans DSA Voter Guide
Includes Jefferson Parish races.
Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana
Detailed analysis of the constitutional amendments on the ballot.
People’s Hospitality Audit
Compiled by members of the New Orleans hospitality industry.
League of Women Voters
Includes candidate surveys.
Saturday, December 5
All images courtesy of the public domain