VOTER EDUCATION GUIDE FOR NEW ORLEANS ELECTIONS SATURDAY, DECEMBER 5


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 ANTIGRAVITY voter education guide for the December 5 election. This is your companion to a ballot featuring runoffs between candidates who failed to meet the threshold for victory in the November 3 election, along with a seasonal cornucopia of millage propositions, a constitutional amendment, and a fee renewal. Runoff elections are traditionally low turnout elections and, cynically, some politicians bank on low turnout (and low information voters) when they’re scheduling ballot items.

Since 2014, we have published and lovingly crafted voter guides as a service to our readers, first in collaboration with the New Orleans Harm Reduction Network, then separating to work under the ANTIGRAVITY banner. Our most consistent position through all the years? That no aspiring politician has earned our endorsement. We review candidates with the mentality that we ought to elect the people that 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.

We are releasing this voter guide at the onset of early voting per the demands of our readers. But news relevant to this ballot, worthy of consideration, has been developing up to the very moment of publication (and will continue to do so). While it is not feasible for us to keep updating this guide (we have this little side project called ANTIGRAVITY Magazine, it’s a monthly thing, you should check it out) we encourage you to keep yourself abreast of post-publication happenings.

This guide was written by a team of five people, including AG 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, neighbors, organizers, librarians, lawyers, loiterers, professors, policymakers, wonks, wingnuts, polemicists, small business owners, and the many people who contacted us unprompted to give us a piece of their mind.

Though this guide rests on the broad shoulders of our main election guide, it also includes additional research and updates on events that have occured in the intervening days. We pored over national media, local media (mostly the Lens), and social media. We watched virtual forums. We received curious push-polls. Our research included but was not limited to public records, campaign finance reports, court filings, and meeting minutes. And for this guide, more than ever before, we looked to the foundational literature forged in and born from resistance movements past. Because while the news cycle seems relentless, with novel viruses and crises appearing by the hour, nothing about how these events are being produced is new. Those who have come before us have faced hardship as vicious (and crueler still) as what we face today. Some survived, some were silenced, some perished. Many wrote. We encourage you to utilize our local library system to explore the vast body of literature of which our mentions represent only a small part.

This voter education guide was not produced by a political party or organization—in fact many of us have little faith in electoralism. We are invested in creating this document as a way to dissect and map power. We used these 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, pandemic-era exploitation, and 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, not just by the State but also by mainstream progressives. 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.


Approach this election as though the powers that be are banking on your ignorance, your disinterest, and your fatigue from the harrowing November vote. Let that replenish your energy and renew your civic engagement.

An assessment of where we are and how we came to be here: in the November election, alleged sexual assaulter and architect of mass incarceration Joe Biden was elected president with big tech-connected, punitive former attorney general Kamala Harris as his vice president-elect. This outcome inspired widespread celebration—and sure, why not celebrate the humiliation of a fascist? Plus, for the “we need more female prison guards” crowd this was a big win for representation, Harris being the first Black and first Asian vice president-elect. Gotta take the wins where you can, we suppose.

Yet the victory also signaled a return to the conditions that produced Trump, with a few new features: a retrogressive SCOTUS for at least a generation, countless lives lost to institutional neglect and abuse, immeasurable trauma inflicted on immigrant children, Black people, health care workers, and enough other populations to fill the pages of our longest issues. It remains to be seen what world we will inhabit come January 20. For now, emboldened Nazis and their uniformed allies fight anti-fascists in the streets, hospital beds continue to fill, and we all need some money. Also, Trump has not actually conceded the election and appears to be doing as much damage as he can in his remaining time, or setting stage for a coup, or both.

Our local elections yielded mixed results. Though New Orleans said NOPE on an anti-abortion trigger amendment, we were outvoted by our surrounding parishes, in yet another setback for bodily autonomy. Abortion will always exist whether or not it is legal. The courts and politicians merely decide how expensive and deadly this routine medical procedure will be. Because this specific battle in the ongoing culture wars is such a cash cow for anti-choice politicians, it will continue to dominate the headlines, particularly when SCOTUS, with its new demon-out-of-Metry, inevitably reconsiders Roe v Wade. Educate yourself on how this issue was literally manufactured in the ‘70s to foment division, create think-of-the-unborn-children fronts for segregationist alliances, and raise funds from evangelicals. Educate yourself on the legacy of mutual aid that has always coalesced in response.1Suggested reading: The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service by Laura Kaplan. Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination, by Alondra Nelson.

In our criminal legal system races, the Flip the Bench slate saw only two victors. However, for the first time in over 40 years, a sitting criminal court judge lost to a challenger: Angel Harris ousted Franz Zibilich, an accused serial sexual harasser and mass incarceration enthusiast. Of his loss, Zibilich, who was endorsed by Mayor Cantrell, said “The White male is extinct almost in this city” from elected office. Relaxing his esophagus to allow for a bit more dusty old racist foot, he elaborated: “clearly the majority of voters in this city don’t care about qualifications or experience.”

Attorney and world record-setting twerker2Though she doesn’t appear in this article, we have seen Insta footage of Ms. Campbell participating in this glorious event. Nandi Campbell also won in a landslide victory against her opponent Lon Burns. We don’t know why the rest of the slate was less successful. It seemed like that group of public defenders had momentum, cohesion, some name recognition and (for the most part) were actively campaigning—but who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of voters; and incumbency, like inertia, is a powerful force. So is money.

What we want you to understand is that the most exigent issues of our time are on this ballot—the representatives who will vote on relief packages, legal system candidates who will determine who lives and dies, the school board members who will address our apartheid-esque school system, propositions put forth by a mayor hellbent on pushing austerity, and a constitutional amendment with echoes of colonialism.


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.


PSC District 1


Allen H. Borne Jr. (Democrat)
Eric Skrmetta (Republican)

This race comes down to voting out an exploitative and opportunistic incumbent, Eric Skrmetta. Skrmetta is notorious for taking campaign contributions from the utilities companies he regulates and approving some of the most restrictive solar energy policies in the country. Skrmetta has been able to mostly avoid widespread public scrutiny because the Public Service Commission (PSC) operates in the shadows. Most voters don’t know what the PSC is or who is on it, but the five members of it “make decisions worth billions and billions of dollars and they do so with very little oversight.” Eric Skrmetta has taken full advantage of this and of the people of Louisiana, and needs to be voted out.

Allen Borne Jr. is a Democrat from New Orleans who received 25% of the vote against Skrmetta’s 31%. Borne has raised concerns about Skrmetta’s campaign contributions, and Skrmetta has responded, “It’s a bogus issue. I’d like to see Mr. Borne talk about what he actually would do as a Public Service Commissioner since all he wants to do is alleged personal attacks.” But Borne’s campaign website does outline what he plans to do as a PSC Commissioner, and pretty thoroughly. His website says that he has pledged to refuse campaign contributions from the monopoly utilities he regulates, and his campaign finance report backs up this claim. He also wants to limit campaign contributions from utilities companies across the board. Borne says he supports net metering that promotes solar energy use and wants to expand internet access to the many places in the state that don’t have it. His website demonstrates in-depth knowledge of the role and the decisions that the PSC has made. His policies are by and large better than Skrmetta’s, and Borne seems invested in undoing some of the damage Skrmetta has done to the commission and the state.

SUMMARY: Allen Borne Jr.


Judge Criminal District Court, Section K


Stephanie Bridges (Democrat)
Marcus DeLarge (Democrat)

On November 3rd, Stephanie Bridges received 38% of the vote, while Marcus DeLarge secured 36%, setting up a run-off between the two attorneys. In a September forum, Bridges touted herself as the candidate who will work within the parameters of the existing system to affect change, as opposed to someone who wants to tear it down. In an election where progressive talking points were popular among many candidates for criminal justice positions—even those whose records, under the most cursory scrutiny, betrayed these points as hollow pandering (looking at you Laurie and Keva)—Bridges’ choice to lean into the status quo of a justice system with one of the highest incarceration rates in the country seems like a rickety spot to hang her hat.

Bridges has been mostly brief and abstract about how she would practice on the bench, but she did commend the city council’s recent resolution discouraging judges from imposing court fines and fees on defendants, saying she would assess fees based on the person’s ability to pay. She also championed Laurie White and Arthur Hunter’s re-entry program, and would encourage it for folks passing through her courtroom. Check out our November 3 guide for a breakdown on why this program is little more than a “progressive” Trojan horse hiding exclusionary stipulations and free prison labor.3Speaking of Trojan horses, we’d love to see the rig inside the box truck Bridges has driving around town adorned with campaign signage and blasting music. It remains unseen how this GOTV strategy will impact the critical “people sitting on their stoops on St. Claude” bloc. Bridges’ endorsement of this program feels like a solid summation of her platform—looks OK at first glance, but amounts to a lot more of the same.

Unfortunately, Marcus DeLarge isn’t going to set fire to the establishment either. He comes from a family of local politicians, and his brother is NOPD brass. His campaign site lays out a first 100-days plan that contains a hair more substance than Lorem ipsum copy. He says he would mandate implicit bias training to ensure equity and accountability in his courtroom, but we think he could save some time by asking his cop brother how much accountability those trainings translate to.

DeLarge received a large donation and endorsement from Cedric Richmond. He’s also endorsed by the Independent Women’s Organization (IWO) and Voters Organized to Educate. Bridges has been endorsed by Karen Carter Peterson and the Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD). Both candidates have ties to charter schools.

SUMMARY: There’s not much of a clear-cut good or bad choice here. Whose abstract pontificating about “justice,” “fairness,” and “the youth” do you believe more?


District Attorney Criminal District Court


Keva Landrum (Democrat)
Jason Williams (Democrat)

In the November 3 election, former criminal court judge Keva Landrum took 35% of the vote. With 29% of the vote, City Council President Jason Williams beat ex-cop/judge Arthur Hunter by just one percentage point, setting up this runoff.

Progressive is a fairly meaningless word that relies heavily on context, so for the purposes of this section, assume that we mean generally against mass incarceration and in favor of specific policies that facilitate decarceration or alternatives to incarceration; in favor of protecting historically over-policed, hyper-criminalized populations and reversing those trends; opposing money bail; reducing sentences; and—in theory—ensuring that the police aren’t above the law. The progressive district attorney “movement” is the most paradoxical of all criminal legal system reform trends: how do you defang a prosecutor? This contradiction, combined with the substantial power a district attorney wields, makes this particular office fertile ground for charlatanry, opportunism, and deep-pocketed PACs (Our team of forensic election analysts have found traces of all three here).

You know it’s an uninspiring race when the self-branded progressive candidate barely squeaks by the former cop, and trails the tough-on-crime establishment candidate. For our guide to that election, each of those candidates responded to a survey we created. The survey had questions about decriminalization of drugs and sex work, protecting people from ICE, crimes of survival, alternatives to incarceration, abolition of the death penalty, accessibility, the pandemic… you get the picture. Landrum, like every other savvy establishment legal system candidate, co-opted some reform language here and there (lip service to ending mass incarceration). But she was unnecessarily evasive on straightforward questions (abolishing the death penalty really is a straightforward yes or no question) and retrogressive on others (jumping straight to “addicts” and the “mentally ill” on our drug questions, “pimps and sex-traffickers” on our sex work question).

By Williams’ branding, you’d think he would totally ace our survey, but his answers hardly distinguished him from Hunter—who, again, was not only a police officer but, along with Landrum, issued material witness warrants (jailing victims of crimes to make them testify, a practice heavily associated with Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DA Leon Cannizzaro’s legacy). To give you a taste: Williams and Hunter answered near-identically on almost every question: both claiming to be in favor of ending cash bail, protecting litigants from capture by ICE, abolishing the death penalty,4Our survey includes questions about issues and areas that candidates might not necessarily end up with purview over if elected, but that serve as indicators of their values. reducing sentences and promoting early release initiatives, ending youth incarceration, eliminating jail time for non-violent crimes, and implementing restorative justice approaches to replace prison time (increased pre-trial mediation, etc).

Both said they support decriminalizing sex work! Hunter said he only supports decriminalizing marijuana, where Williams didn’t differentiate between drugs when responding in support of decriminalization. Landrum copy/pasted the same verbose non-answer for multiple drug-related questions: “I am interested in any collaborative community and stakeholder data-driven solution that is supported by the citizens of New Orleans that would reduce crime and enhance public safety. That said, it is premature to consider this particular option at this time without access to the appropriate data, expertise and input from the community.” Her record of punishing pot possession is the real answer. (And by the way, Keva, here’s some of that easily accessible data you were looking for.)

We asked all candidates if they support informing juries about jury nullification, which as the ACLU explains is “the power of jurors to vote against convicting criminal defendants under laws that the jurors believe are unjust.” Jury nullification is not only constitutional, it’s cool! Both Williams and Hunter answered yes. Coming with BIG “girl who reminded the teacher he forgot to assign homework” energy, Ms. Landrum clicked “other” and replied, “In 2019 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that State courts and prosecutors are not required to inform juries of this option. As this is an emerging area of the law, we will consider informing juries about their ability to nullify verdicts based upon Louisiana State law and Supreme Court opinions.”

But that’s the thing—this is a race for DA. If Landrum sounds like a prosecutor (or a cop), it’s because she’s auditioning for that gig! Progressive DA candidates have to not only mitigate the popularity and historic success of “tough on crime” stances during election years, but also sell themselves as sincere, committed reformers with messages strong and coherent enough to quell voters’—and donors’—anxieties. Can Williams do that?

The main criticism readers seemed to have of our previous guide (yeah, we sometimes pay attention to y’all) was that we didn’t mention that Williams is under indictment for tax fraud. First of all, bold of you to assume that any candidate running for office in New Orleans isn’t under indictment for something. Voters just re-elected alleged domestic abuser Paul Sens, who allegedly obtained a whole ass Ford Expedition through the judicial expense fund (which gets reloaded as defendants pay fees and fines required by the court) and has his whole ass family on the City payroll! The IRS is fighting the mayor for back taxes! And who can forget “vote for the crook” in the infamous Edwin Edwards vs. David Duke election in ‘91?! If your morals make the question of whether or not Williams wrote off frivolous expenses disqualifying, OK. It’s not that we don’t care, we just have different priorities and concerns.

Far more troubling than Williams’ attempt to write off iTunes purchases is how little understanding he demonstrates about the ideas he claims to espouse—supposedly his main asset. This was obvious at the recent NOPD budget hearings in front of the City Council, during which Williams’ participation was a blooper reel of progressive misinterpretations. He suggested that instead of reallocating police funding, perhaps police misconduct wasn’t really the problem, so much as the public’s perception of their conduct. In a remarkably unambiguous endorsement of using imperialist counterinsurgency models to quash calls for reform,5Ask your local librarian to loan you Badges without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing by Stuart Schrader Williams suggested that NOPD might raise their profile in the community by targeting children for optics and recruitment at a younger age, “before they have older brothers and siblings helping to frame their narrative” about policing.6And where, in the Williams imaginary, are these older siblings getting their impressions of the police? When referring to the existence of the movement to defund the police, Williams dismissively added “whether or not there has been a particular egregious situation in their communities or not.”

But back to the proposed cop psyop—here we have Williams explicitly calling for more police in schools at a time when progressives—and hordes of people in the streets—are explicitly demanding that we get police out of schools. Is this the same Williams who wants to “disrupt the school to prison pipeline”? He’s not only out of step with the movement he claims to be part of but his own stated aims. Right down to his phraseology (like the community’s “perceived lack of trust or actual lack of trust” in police), Williams’ performance at that hearing was a total shit show—a self-described reformer walking on eggshells to avoid offending a police department so incompetent and corrupt that it’s under a federal consent decree.

But this isn’t just a cringefest, of course. All year people have been fighting in the streets and even dying in the streets to protest police brutality. Politicians who use that momentum only to talk out the other side of their mouth when it’s convenient? Not surprising, but a disgusting betrayal nonetheless. In Williams’ case, this wasn’t even his first abuse of that spotlight this year. This summer during the George Floyd uprisings, NOPD tear gassed protesters then lied about it. Councilmembers questioned police Superintendent Ferguson at a meeting of the Criminal Justice Committee. Even then, back in June, it felt like Williams was treating the hearing like one big ad reel for his DA campaign. The headlines said that the council “grilled” Ferguson. But although the meeting was long and tedious, it was also pretty cozy.

In one memorable moment, Williams asked Ferguson if he could commit to not using tear gas in a veritable Green Eggs and Ham array of scenarios: on protesters protesting police brutality, on protesters on a bridge, on protesters during COVID-19. Ferguson said no. Williams laughed, said, “I know you can’t,” and went on to praise NOPD at length. For that open assault on a large crowd of people, NOPD has faced minimal consequences. They’re investigating themselves, of course, and also City Council passed measures restricting tear gas use—measures that leave enough gaping spaces for discretion as to be utterly meaningless. Perhaps one could plausibly explain Williams’ weak questions back in June by pointing to his lack of experience as a prosecutor, something Landrum’s campaign often references… but that’s something we actually like about him.

Meanwhile, Landrum has experience—she was even DA once, briefly. And during that time she was in the national spotlight. What for? As Big Easy Magazine summarizes, “prosecuting repeat offenses for marijuana possession as felonies, charges that could result in five to 20 years in prison. As acting DA, Landrum not only followed the draconian practices of her predecessor, she ratchetted them up.” We have a clear preview of what it would be like should she hold that office again, though she often coyly won’t say it outright.

Williams has the burden of being very much in the public eye while campaigning. All Landrum really has to do is sit back, skip forums and surveys, and let her ties with the brutal Cannizzaro-era politics become obfuscated by Jason’s fumbles.

Keva Landrum has received a lot of money from lawyers and endorsements from establishment players (the consolidated Georges media bloc, the mayor, Cedric Richmond—who, by the way, just got tapped to join the Biden administration, and his environmental record and ties to big oil and gas money were discussed at more length in our last guide). The establishment has a lot to gain by nothing changing. Landrum raised more money than any of her opponents the first go-round, and these endorsements are less surprising. People who get paid want to continue to get paid.

Williams has received money from charter school supporter Leslie Jacobs, a point of concern if ending the school-to-prison pipeline truly is a goal, as Williams states. (For a more thorough look at how and why charter schools directly serve the school-to-prison pipeline, revisit our introduction to the school board races in our previous guide.) Williams has also received money from notorious real estate developers Pres Kabacoff and the Motwanis. “Development” and policing go hand in hand, and New Orleans is no stranger to the trend.

PACs are not allowed to coordinate with specific candidates, but they are allowed to receive larger donations than candidates themselves are, and those PACs can support certain interests or candidates. Much of the PAC funding from November’s race went to funding progressive candidates on the ballot, including a PAC with $220,000 from George Soros taking out ads against Keva Landrum. Why are out-of-staters funding down ballot races? What’s their interest in DA races in other states? It’s a nationwide trend that seems to boil down to what’s a politically savvy investment. George Soros has been funding DA races around the country for years, all candidates who campaign against status quo, law and order talking points that have become out of touch as the national narrative shifts. The real motive behind these investments seem nefarious and mostly serving optics, as progressive DAs have already started to show their true colors. It’s another method for the rich to co-opt national demands and slogans as their own, more insidiously maintaining power under the guise of change and reform. This is a concept called recuperation wherein revolutionary ideas are neutralized by the ruling class.

You might be wondering: why did we talk so much about Hunter, who is no longer in the race? Why are we still talking about Cannizzaro, who is not running for reelection? For the same reason we still talk about Harry Connick and Harry Lee and Harry Cantrell (and that’s just the Harrys!). These aren’t discrete reigns, this isn’t a successive lineage—these political actors form the perpetual stew of New Orleans punishment bureaucracy. And Keva is just more of the same flavor.

SUMMARY: Jason Williams. He at least makes specific promises—whether he understands them or not—and therefore could theoretically be held to them, whereas Landrum plays on alarmism and moral panic.


Judge Juvenile Court, Section A


Kevin Guillory (Democrat)
Clinton “Clint” Smith (Democrat)

One of the juvenile court seats is actually supposed to be eliminated, and because of a technicality, two races are happening instead of one. The law states that one seat will be eliminated whenever the next judge retires, but neither is retiring, they are simply not seeking reelection. So if one judge decides they don’t like the results of the race, they could potentially retire immediately and eliminate that seat. This is just some background to say one of these seats could be eliminated, and should be eliminated. Shrinking the court system is good. It would save the city money, over $800,000 a year. It’s a confusing predicament that the city and the mayor haven’t addressed directly. In Cantrell’s defense, she’s been keeping busy staging a photo-op that displaced a large group of drug users. Guess we’re just going ahead with two races as scheduled then!

Clint Smith is a lawyer and has served as a pro tempore judge of traffic court, as well as an ad hoc judge for juvenile court. He received 39% of the vote, while his opponent Kevin Guillory received 33%. They’re both running trauma-informed platforms, stressing making decisions informed by the trauma a child has experienced and how that could have influenced their actions. Smith’s website and remarks in judicial forums say that he wants to make the courts a point of intervention rather than incarceration. In a juvenile justice forum, he said that he would eliminate all unnecessary fees to minimize burden on parents. We noted in our initial guide for this race that Smith’s son is an established educator and writer who focuses explicitly on how to shrink and dismantle the carceral system, and this connection seems like a good influence. But we can only influence our parents so much, so it’s hard to say. Overall, he seems to be trying to minimize the court’s emphasis on locking people up, and wants to pivot the role of the court to become a check-in point rather than an endpoint.

Kevin Guillory, while running for a different judgeship, said that “while he believes in being tough on crime, he also understands that arrests, convictions and jail time will not solve the city’s crime problems.” The two halves of this answer feel contradictory. Convictions and jail time will not solve the city’s crime problems, but still claiming to believe in tough on crime policies works in opposition to that belief. He’s been a prosecutor with the DA’s office for more than a decade. Guillory is running a campaign based largely on trauma-informed decisions this time around. The attorneys we spoke to did say that despite being a prosecutor, they believe Guillory walks the walk. In the survey we sent, Guillory was one of the only respondents to not evade our question regarding drug consumption sites, and said he would be in favor of them in order to reduce overdose deaths and the spread of disease. Smith did not answer our survey so it’s hard to say what his answer would have been comparatively, but Guillory’s was one of the best of any response we got. He’s still a prosecutor, though, and actions speak louder than words.

SUMMARY: Clint Smith.


Judge Juvenile Court, Section F


Ranord J. Darensburg (Democrat)
“Niki” Roberts (Democrat)

Neither candidate in this race seems particularly invested in transforming how their courtroom runs. On November 3, Ranord J. Darensburg received 38% of the vote, while Niki Roberts had 35%. Niki Roberts has been a prosecutor with the DA’s office for 18 years. Her platform doesn’t offer much in the way of vision, instead focusing more on what she can’t change. In her answers to DSA’s survey, it’s clear that she has full faith in the way the courts currently work and will continually defer responsibility. She touts the “treat kids like kids” talking point, but multiple attorneys we surveyed said she doesn’t walk this walk, charging kids as adults whenever possible. In her 2014 campaign run for juvenile judge, she talked about an emphasis on vocational training and alternative schooling, but maintained that kids who committed violent offenses should remain in youth prison. There isn’t much that’s promising here.

Darensburg is a social worker and has served as a public defender, but his platform isn’t that much better than Roberts’. He’s worked to eliminate discretionary fees and cash bail in juvenile court, but many of his stances are extremely by the book and emphasize following the rule of law more than improving the court. His by-the-book mindset extends to judicial bypass and special immigration status cases. In 2019, he supported giving judges more discretion for detaining juveniles for anything that can vaguely be described as “pos[ing] a risk to public safety.” Ending cash bail is great, but the rest leaves much to be desired.

SUMMARY: Neither are great, but Darensburg seems slightly better.


School Board Races


Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) elections after Katrina have attracted huge amounts of outside billionaire money and this election is no exception. These billionaire efforts boil down to very harmful diversionary tactics. Billionaires blame teachers for the effects of poverty in education rather than attacking the system that causes poverty and enriches them in an extreme perversion of their own mammalian hoarding instincts. They just don’t want to pay taxes for fully public, democratically controlled schools. And busting teachers’ unions is an added bonus.7See our November 3 voter guide for a more detailed description.

These school board races are a David and Goliath story, candidates with little money struggling for local democratic control and resisting heavily-funded billionaire influences. While two of the billionaire-backed candidates have won school board seats outright (District 1 and District 3), voters still have a chance to seize a bid for local, democratic control in a few of the run-off races.

Since publication of the last voter guide, we have discovered several new PACs that are deploying billionaire money. Education Reform Now Advocacy is joined by BACE (Black Alliance for Civic Empowerment—a deeply disturbing use of the verbiage of Black empowerment to cloak the money and agenda of white billionaires). BACE reports being funded by Education Reform Now Advocacy ($150,000) and the Jim Walton Foundation ($150,000). We also found People for a Great Louisiana PAC (echoes of MAGA?) which is fronted by Caroline Roemer of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools—the organization whose accountant sued to remove the only Black candidate from the District 3 race. In total, $1.7 million has been sent so far to these PACs by three entities: Walmart heir Jim Walton (and his foundation?8Campaign finance reports list “Jim Walton Foundation”—an entity we’ve never heard of before. The PO Box listed is associated with Walton Enterprises, LLC), the misleadingly-named Public School Allies which is backed by billionaires Reed Hastings (of Netflix) and John Arnold (former Enron trader), and Education Reform Now Advocacy (also heavily funded by Walton money, but filtered through several non-profits).

Teach for America executive and Louisiana state board of education member Kira Orange Jones has also jumped into the action, forming her own PAC (The Community Trust) to support the billionaire-backed and TFA-affiliated candidates. Luckily for her PAC, she’s hired a PAC expert (from the same firm who’s doing the paperwork for Caroline Roemer’s PAC) to file campaign reports. Jones is renowned for treating ethics, disclosure, and tax filing requirements with complete disdain—over the years she’s chronically owed the Louisiana Department of Ethics fines for not filing disclosures. After barely surviving a challenge based on her paperwork in last year’s BESE election, she once again owes fines for improperly filed and missing disclosures.


Member of School Board District 2


Ethan Ashley (Democrat)
Chanel M. Payne (Democrat)

It’s hard to find a candidate more relentlessly tied to billionaire money than incumbent Ethan Ashley. Three of his employers (BAEO, Urban League, School Board Partners) have been funded by Walton family money aimed at transforming public education into a model that resembles corporate businesses. Most recently he is listed as a founder of School Board Partners, despite its founding eight months prior to his involvement (is there such a thing as an ex post facto founder?) School Board Partners was formed in the wake of a split of the “portfolio model” crusader nonprofit Education Cities. Most of the staff went to work for John Arnold and Reed Hastings’ The City Fund—but manager Carrie Douglas created School Board Partners to spread her own version of privatizing public schools gospel, while disguising it as equity and public service. The City Fund’s non-profit dark money arm (Public School Allies) is funneling money to Ethan Ashley’s school board race via Education Reform Now Advocacy.

Education Reform Now Advocacy has spent the most money on Ashley so far of any of the school board candidates—more than $100,000. BACE PAC is also spending on him. If elected, Ashley will most assuredly continue his support of policies that are damaging to the most vulnerable kids in New Orleans—namely treating schools as if they are in competition and closing schools rather than working to make them better. Business writer Andrea Gabor sums it up: “For children, the system is like a Darwinian game of musical chairs, with the weakest kids left out when the music stops—when failing schools close, or when they are pushed out of schools that can’t, or won’t, deal with their problems.”

Chanel Payne provides plenty of contrast to Ethan Ashley. She’s local and not funded by billionaires. She’s a seasoned educator who seems willing to apply a much-needed critical eye to workings of OPSB’s central office. She’s said she’s willing to support the central office directly running schools. And importantly, she proposes supporting struggling schools by deploying the best, most seasoned educators rather than closing them.

SUMMARY: Chanel Payne offers reasonable, reliable strategies amidst the chaos of an all-charter educational landscape.


Member of School Board District 4


Leslie Ellison (Democrat)
Jancarlo “J.C.” Romero (Democrat)

Stealing campaign signs seems to be one of incumbent Leslie Ellison’s big campaign strategies, and maybe it works—she almost won the race in District 4 outright, despite plenty of press exposing her well-documented anti-gay tendencies. The theft of signs was so flagrant that Forum for Equality PAC is suing Ellison for tampering with and removing their “Fight Hate” signs. A supporter of local education activist group Erase the Board Coalition also allegedly caught one of Ellison’s supporters stealing campaign signs. When confronted, the woman appeared to claim that other candidates were supporting “unisex bathrooms” for children.

Education Reform Now Advocacy has so far declined to spend on Ellison directly, but, along with Jim Walton, has funneled money to the BACE PAC—which has started spending on Facebook ads for her. In its own words, “The BACE Action Fund is a political action committee dedicated to providing voter education and resources for candidates of color that represent the best interests of the New Orleans community members.” Since it is funded by ERNA and Jim Walton, we expect they really mean they support candidates who best represent the interests of the Walton family (over the years Jim Walton has donated extensively at federal and state levels to push his agenda which is extremely right wing, anti-worker, anti-choice, anti-civil rights—including funding pro-segregation candidates—and of course, anti-LGBT). And Leslie Ellison apparently fits that bill.

J.C. Romero, an educator and now administrator at Einstein Charter Schools, made it into the runoff by about 100 votes. He’s attracted funding from LGBTQ Victory Fund PAC and Forum for Equality PAC. He doesn’t appear to be tied to big billionaire funding, but late special campaign filings show that outgoing school board member Sarah Usdin and her husband have chipped in $750—a cause for concern because of Usdin’s deep complicity in furthering the agenda of privatizing education. We’d love to be wrong about our suspicions that Romero is more ambitious about his career than anything else.

SUMMARY: J.C. Romero.


Member of School Board District 5


Katherine Baudouin (Democrat)
Antoinette Williams (Democrat)

Katherine Baudouin is the establishment, billionaire-backed candidate in this race. She hews to the current system’s damaging policies and all-charter structure. Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs and pro-charter former senator Mary Landrieu, Ayn Rand devotee and business guy Jay Lapeyre, and TFA BESE member Kira Orange Jones’ PAC (The Community Trust) are among the newest ed reform enthusiasts directly contributing to Baudouin’s very well-funded campaign. She’s also benefited from more than $68,000 in PAC spending by ERNA and People for a Great Louisiana PAC.

Despite her opponent having access to more than 18 times more money (direct contributions plus PAC campaign spending), Antoinette Williams made a very strong showing in the primary election, getting 38% of the vote to Baudouin’s 41%. We have heard from a constituent of District 5 that push polls (attack ads disguised as innocuous phone surveys) are attacking Williams on her youth and supposed inexperience. These kinds of attacks seem particularly inaccurate because we observed ourselves that Williams has a more realistic and better understanding of problems facing teachers in New Orleans and structural aspects of the system than Baudouin, while Baudouin is working from a canned ed-reform script.

SUMMARY: Antoinette Williams.


Member of School Board District 6


Erica Martinez (Democrat)
Carlos L. Zervigon (Democrat)

Carlos Zervigon has huge amounts of privilege and is backed by billionaires in this race. His family’s money has helped pay to support damaging and re-traumatizing policies in education after Katrina. But now he says he wants to help and realizes some of this stuff was racist—though he doesn’t acknowledge his own role in it. Zervigon appears to have a good grasp on the mechanics of the system but seems unwilling to make big changes. Zervigon has raised more than $73,000 in direct campaign donations and the newest campaign filings reveal the same ed-reform enthusiast donors that donated to Katherine Baudouin in the the District 5 race: National Alliance of Public Charter Schools board member and former senator Mary Landrieu, billionaire heiress Laurene Powell Jobs, anti-union LABI board member Jay Lapeyre, and TFA executive and BESE member Kira Orange Jones’ The Community Trust PAC. PACs have also spent more than $73,000 on him so far.

Erica Martinez takes an uncritical view of education non-profits (maybe because she’s employed by one?) and seems to have no clue about their uses to subvert public, democratic controls. She also naively gives “non-profit” charters a pass (see the DSA’s voter guide survey) and doesn’t seem very experienced or educated about how the current system works. Martinez’s campaign financing isn’t tied to billionaires, but her employer’s funding is (through EdLoC). She does express passion for trauma-informed policies, but doesn’t address the traumas caused by the structure of a competitive, all-charter system itself.

SUMMARY: Carlos Zervigon or Erica Martinez—there are problems with both of them. Whose brand of self-delusion do you think will be less harmful to the children of New Orleans?


Member of School Board District 7


Kayonna K. Armstrong (Democrat)
Nolan Marshall Jr. (Democrat)

Incumbent Nolan Marshall has decidedly anti-democratic tendencies. As pointed out in the DSA voting guide, he has proposed reducing the number of elected school board members in favor of appointees by the mayor or governor. He also suggested that the public stay out of selection of the board president during public outrage over the anti-gay sentiments of board member Leslie Ellison. It’s like the concept of representative democracy soars right over his head. In the past Marshall has received strong financial support from ed reform heavy-hitters. This cycle, Marshall’s fewer contributions appeared to indicate lesser enthusiasm. But recent campaign finance reports show local ed reform supporters jumping in. Among the more prominent ones are: pro-charter former senator Mary Landrieu, more money from New Schools for New Orleans board member Stephen Rosenthal, local business guy and Ayn Rand devotee Jay Lapeyre, and TFA BESE member Kira Orange Jones. Education Reform Now Advocacy has spent relatively little on Marshall so far compared to other candidates (more than $11,000), but we expect spending to ramp up in the runoff.

Of all the candidates remaining in the school board races, Kayonna Armstrong makes the most robust criticisms of New Orleans’ billionaire-backed all-charter system. Billionaire-funded Education Reform Now Advocacy attacked her in mailers on this very point calling her “too extreme”—a strategy that may have backfired with voters who are tired of charter churn and chaos. She put on a very strong showing against an incumbent with lots of name recognition, getting 42% of the vote to Marshall’s 44%.

SUMMARY: Kayonna Armstrong.


RSCC RACES


In Louisiana, both major parties are governed by State Central Committees who have the authority to endorse candidates, caucus, fundraise, and influence strategies for their respective parties. Registered Republicans will get to vote to fill open seats in their district in this election. Democrats had their turn back in July, and the newly elected DSCC members promptly turned around and elected a party chair with an anti-choice bent. Folks calling for an end to the two party system in this country should take notes from Louisiana where, increasingly, elected officials on both sides share more in common ideologically than most Thanksgiving dinners. The aisle becomes a mobius strip. A rose by any other name still votes against abortion. That’s democracy in action for ya.

If the meaning of the words Democrat and Republican are disintegrating in the legislature, they still matter if you’re a voter. Only card-carrying Republicans will be able to vote in these races. So, for all the registered Republicans who read our zine’s anti-establishment voter guide written by and in solidarity with drug users, good day to you. We regret to inform you that we will not be breaking down these races in detail. In fact, to call most of these Committee elections “races” would be a stretch, since it is rare that there is much campaigning involved. On both sides, candidates for these committees most often rely on a combination of word-of-mouth and existing status, which pairs nicely with low voter turnout and a general lack of understanding about what these committees do. Did we already say democracy in action? These elections matter, insofar as they have repercussions in electoralism, and the roots of power often start here. They end up functioning like a ballot for selecting prom royalty, where those who even bother just vote for their friends, or that kid they recognize from math class—in this case, whichever candidate shells out a little advertising money to get their name top of mind. If these are the roots, it ain’t hard to see how such a fetid, smoldering forest blooms.


AMENDMENTS

CA NO. 1 (ACT 10, 2nd ES – SB 44) – Allows out-of-state resident to serve on a public postsecondary education board of supervisors

Do you support an amendment to allow the governor to appoint a person who resides out-of-state to serve as an at-large member of a public postsecondary education board of supervisors? (Amends Article VIII, Sections 6(B)(1), 7(B)(1), and 7.1(B)(1))

Louisiana state colleges and universities, including Louisiana State University and Southern University and local community colleges, are governed by boards appointed by the governor. According to the state constitution—which as a legacy of Jim Crow-era lawmakers’ need to exercise vast control over institutions within the state, often sets rules for city and state institutions in excruciating detail—board members need to live in Louisiana.

This amendment would let the governor appoint some out-of-state residents to those boards. There hasn’t been an official rationale given, but a companion law passed by the state legislature offers a clue: It’s called the Lod Cook Act, named after an oil exec, businessman, and LSU alum who died in September.

Cook was heavily involved with LSU: The Cook Hotel and Conference Center at LSU, owned by the school’s Alumni Association, is named for him, after he supported it financially. But Cook lived in California, so although he was a trustee of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation and of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, and served on numerous other boards, he was constitutionally ineligible to serve on the board of his beloved alma mater.

This amendment would enable out-of-state residents to serve on university boards, in practice—as Governor John Bel Edwards essentially pointed out in a signing ceremony—likely meaning well-heeled and generous alums like the late Cook. As the Public Affairs Council of Louisiana points out, the state colleges have a lot of out-of-state graduates, although that’s also a sign of the classic brain drain that afflicts our state, rich in natural resources but poor in opportunity. While one engaged citizen with a background in local politics we talked to said the arrangement doesn’t sound so bad—after all, “private universities do it”—we think CA No. 1 reinforces that brain drain. Plus we are just philosophically opposed to the idea of shifting more control of our state’s educational system to the out-of-state rich. Decisions should be made by those who are most impacted by them, not by the wealthy and connected.

We see CA No. 1 as linked to the fight for local oversight of education. Why seek out-of-state talent? “The colonist never stopped complaining that the native was slow,” wrote psychiatrist, philosopher and Algerian revolutionary Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth.9And in conversation with that: “The colonial world, as an offspring of democracy, was not the antithesis of the democratic order. It has always been its double or, again, its nocturnal face. No democracy exists without its double, without its colony—little matter the name and the structure. The colony is not external to democracy and is not necessarily located outside its walls. Democracy bears the colony within it, just as colonialism bears democracy, often in the guise as of a mask.” Necropolitics, Achille Mbembe. Food for thought.

Apologies to the late Mr. Cook, but we don’t like the idea of out-of-state appointees, perhaps rich off our extractive industries, paying to play philosopher king over our public college system as they have so many other aspects of the state… all at a safe distance from the environmental consequences of how their wealth was obtained. While this pales compared to the racial disparities in school performance and control across the state, it’s certainly reminiscent of the continuing role in New Orleans school board races of hefty contributions from out-of-state millionaires and billionaires.10“Where [Adam] Smith’s colonists earned their record profits by seizing what he described as ‘waste lands’ for ‘but a trifle,’ today’s multinationals see government programs, public assets and everything that is not for sale as terrain to be conquered and seized—the post office, national parks, schools, social security, disaster relief and anything else that is publicly administered.” Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

SUMMARY: No.


PROPOSITIONS


For legal reasons, including a 200-word limit on the length of ballot measures, these are three separate propositions. But this Boschian triptych of legalese should be understood as a unified effort by the Cantrell administration to loot the commons. They represent alarming and blatant executive overreach, and the mayor’s not been shy about spreading misinformation using the taxpayer’s dime. Those in favor of Proposition 2 say it funds childcare, reduces taxes, and wouldn’t hurt the library. No. In reality these propositions aim to reorganize a slew of dedicated streams of property tax revenue into another unaccountable money pot, mostly by taking money from the New Orleans Public Library. Each proposition deals with replacing millages—property taxes allocated for specific purposes and measured in mills, or the dollars of tax owed per $1,000 of property value—previously approved by voters with new allocations to city funds set up for emotionally manipulative, positive-sounding purposes like housing, infrastructure, and economic development. Many of the millages involved are set to expire at the end of 2021 if renewals or replacements aren’t authorized by voters.

As the city continues to lurch from post-Katrina recovery to post-2008-financial-crisis depression to Trump-induced austerity to pandemic-era austerity to whatever comes next, officials say they need flexibility to “spend these funds as needs change in the future.”

Propositions 1 and 3 allocate tax dollars for these supposed new purposes, while Proposition 2 funds them by cutting taxes dedicated to the Library, meaning that if all three ballot measures pass, homeowners will see their net tax bills essentially unchanged, though the City is doing its best to push the narrative that it will lower taxes. But voters have another choice: to reject these vague promises and the cuts to the Library, one of the few parts of the U.S. system of government that somehow still manages to live up to something resembling a public good.

“The librarian doesn’t care what you look like or what your question is,” wrote public librarian Larry Oberc in a 1987 issue of Flipside zine. “They are there to help you find the information you are looking for.”

Voting down these propositions will force officials to come back with a detailed plan that, in the spirit of the library, actually finds voters the information they’re looking for before the millages expire and revenues dry up at the end of next year.

Vote no on all three—more below on that, and consider this too: essential services should not be funded by a Rube Goldberg mechanism of millages, but rather should be the center of a healthy city budget.


Parishwide Proposition No. 1 of 3 – 2.619 Mills In-Lieu – CC – 20 Yrs.

In lieu of separate millages previously approved by voters in the City of New Orleans (“City”) in the amount of 1.900 mills for street and traffic control device maintenance and 2.500 mills for the Capital Improvements and Infrastructure Trust Fund (collectively, “Prior Taxes”), shall the City be authorized to levy a special tax of 2.619 mills (“Tax”) for twenty years, January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2040 (estimated at $10,500,000 in the first year) with the proceeds of the Tax dedicated first to payment of debt service obligations secured by any of the Prior Taxes and then solely to public infrastructure in the City, to be used for the purposes of repairing, improving, maintaining and operating (i) roads, streets, and bridges, (ii) surface and subsurface drainage systems and stormwater management facilities, and (iii) public buildings and public safety facilities of the City, including purchasing related equipment and vehicles for any of the foregoing, provided that a portion of the monies collected shall be remitted to certain state and statewide retirement systems in the manner required by law?

This proposition would replace two existing property taxes paying for streets and general infrastructure spending with one combined tax.

The description, drier than any piece of public infrastructure in New Orleans has been in decades, suggests that the total new combined tax would be lower than the old taxes. That’s misleading, since the City Council has lowered the actual tax rate on the existing taxes over the years. In fact, the new tax would really be higher than what people pay now: the mayor’s plan is to prevent taxpayers from complaining by simultaneously lowering taxes paying for libraries through Proposition 2.

It’s tempting to say that probably wouldn’t be the last bit of economic sleight of hand around this proposition, but because the purposes of the tax are so general, further manipulation of the facts probably isn’t necessary to create a slush fund to do essentially whatever current and future administrations want. Notice the leading language about fixing streets and drainage, followed by vague references to “public buildings” to, finally, “related equipment and vehicles” that could cover anything from pumping station repairs to armored police cars and scented trash trucks.

As the Bureau of Governmental Research puts it, “the City’s lack of a spending plan prevents a full assessment of whether the tax will make meaningful progress toward addressing the identified needs, limiting voters’ information for decision-making.”

If all of this sounds familiar, that’s because the City tried to pass a tax with similar wording last year. At the time, we said officials should go back and do better, coming up with something more accountable to voters tired of dealing with broken promises around broken transportation and water infrastructure. We say the same thing now.

SUMMARY: No.


Parishwide Proposition No. 2 of 3 – 0.987 Mills In-Lieu – CC – 20 Yrs.

In lieu of a separate millage previously approved by voters in the City of New Orleans (“City”) in the amount of 4.000 mills for the support of public libraries in the City (“Prior Tax”), shall the City be authorized to levy a special tax of 0.987 mills (“Tax”) for twenty years, January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2040 (estimated at $4,000,000 in the first year) with the proceeds of the Tax to be used for the purposes of constructing, improving, maintaining and operating public libraries and early childhood education facilities and related programs in the City, including the purchase of equipment therefor, title to which shall remain in the public, provided that a portion of the monies collected shall be remitted to certain state and statewide retirement systems in the manner required by law?

A dedicated tax providing roughly $11 million in funding for the New Orleans Public Library system expires at the end of 2021. Mayor Cantrell, who has been eager to gut the library since before the pandemic, and her City Council allies back this replacement measure that (despite wording that at first glance suggests it’s good for the libraries) would cut about $8 million from that dedicated pool of funds. And the remaining funds would be divided between the libraries and early childhood education for kids from low income families—a worthy cause that would for the first time get its own dedicated tax revenue stream, but also an add-on that seems designed to make it hard to fight library cuts.

The City repeatedly made the preposterous claim that this wouldn’t hurt the library, saying that it underspends its budget and has money in reserve to weather the cuts for at least a couple of years. That’s arguably penalizing the library, one of the most respected and most effective city institutions, for its sound fiscal management by redirecting its funds elsewhere. There’s a reason Friends of the New Orleans Public Library (a non-profit that supports the library system) opposes the measure, along with a rapidly growing coalition of NOPL workers, patrons, and supporters who are well armed with facts to debunk City lies (they’ve got all the info… what did you expect of librarians?) and are tired of being shushed.

Reallocating funds away from libraries? In this economy? And the seemingly inevitable post-pandemic environment of austerity and doing “more with less”? That seems hard to believe—it certainly did to the overwhelming majority of people who submitted comments when the City Council discussed the issue in August. We requested and received all the public comments submitted at this meeting—fewer than 10 indicated tepid support for the proposition, out of over a thousand comments.11These comments are really good reading, and they are in the public record. Contact your councilmember to request them, and you will be e-mailed a file.

Story times, how to bake a cake, how to fix your car, ancestry research, apply for a job, attend lectures, get expert assistance when researching a topic, learn about technology, borrow a DVD, CD, books both online and in print, and sometimes just find a quiet place to read—all of this available through this remarkable institution called the public library,” wrote one retired library employee in a comment to the City Council opposing this proposition. “Libraries are a measure of the priorities of a city. A great city, a caring city, must have a robust library system. We must retain our levels of service with all branches able to remain open with full staffing and regular hours.”

Besides, as a library worker who has lived in New Orleans for over a decade (and has worked for NOPL about half that time) pointed out to us, it’s important for the library system to maintain independence from city politics. It provides reading material, internet access, meeting space, ad hoc social services, and programs for children and adults, all of which need at times to be protected from censorship and surveillance. The library houses the city archives, the official record of what the city government has been up to for roughly the past 250 years.

This is straight out of the austerity playbook: intentionally sabotage a public service to justify budget cuts, all toward the ultimate goal of privatization. That’s not a stretch considering the type of people overseeing these slush funds. It’s also not a stretch considering that the library’s own executive director Gabriel Morley openly enthused about eradicating public spaces and making public libraries more like “Uber and Lyft” while at his previous role as director of Atlanta libraries. Though our understanding is that the director is hired by the board, Cantrell couldn’t have handpicked a more like-minded person when it came to her intentions to impoverish the public sphere.

Crack a history book: once public funding is lost, we often don’t see it return. The truth is that the library could use a 40 to 70% increase of funding to expand services, provide workers with hazard pay, and implement safety measures guided by frontline workers. Eliminating funding for and access to public services and public spaces hurts everyone, but it hits particularly hard those who’ve already been abandoned by society—unhoused people for example—and rely on the library for all the good things the government won’t use our collective wealth for. Library workers stretch themselves thin to fill the gaps in our eviscerated social safety net. Instead of universal childcare, shelters, food, health care, and education (speaking of privatization!), we have libraries. That’s it. That’s all that’s left.12 Further reading: Loïc Wacquant, Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity.

And as far as early childhood education, the City says it needs funding from the tax to provide spots in its City Seats program, which pays for free spots in private early education centers for kids from poor families. In reality, this program might fund services for merely 100 children, but it’s being marketed as though it were universal childcare. The closest thing we have to that is…the library system. Oh, early childhood education. It sounds like a worthy cause that can give kids a leg up on learning and enable their caregivers to work or go to school, right? But then why isn’t it adequately funded in the main budget? Why is it being cynically pitted against libraries, when childhood ed relies on those libraries and their programming?

To be clear, voting “no” on Proposition 2 won’t preserve the present level of library funding forever. The millage which provides a little more than half of the library’s dedicated tax revenue is still set to expire next year. In the worst case scenario, if the City and voters can’t pass a replacement tax some time in the next year, that money could simply disappear.

That’s the specter raised by the library’s relatively new executive director. Why would a library’s executive director want to gut his own system’s funding? Under Morley’s leadership the library has been a literal shitshow. His response to the pandemic stonewalled library workers from doing more online programming, and his reckless reopening, which multiple sources told us had no input from rank and file workers, put library workers—and the public—at risk. How and why he was hired, and what is to be done about that decision, is the work of another piece. But for now—who is this man behind the bad decisions? More on Morley, a self-proclaimed second-generation “hippy” with a Charles Bukowski quote in his email signature. In his doctoral dissertation, Morley included a parable about the poor being disenfranchised due to a tax referendum. It seems he is now comfortable accommodating what he refers to in the same document as The Man.13(italics in original) Should we trust the library’s director when he tells us how to vote? Is he in touch with the needs of this majority Black city and its apartheid education system? Morley, who is white, also authored a young adult novel written from the perspective of a Black teen.

The library system wrote an email to cardholders (carefully toeing the line between informing voters and electioneering, which is prohibited) saying that the library will “face a 50% funding cut” if the proposition doesn’t pass. But Friends of the Library, board members, former library workers, and seemingly an overwhelming majority of rank-and-file library employees14Who are contractually under a gag order from speaking out, on penalty of termination. can read between the lies.

If voters reject this proposition, it will likely force elected officials back to the drawing board. This is an opportunity to remind them that New Orleans, where voters just agreed in 2015 to boost library funding (providing the other half of the present dedicated tax revenue stream), cares about, needs, and will fiercely defend its libraries—and library workers.

“Investing in information and access will always pay off in that it alleviates other societal ills,” one public commenter wrote. “To propose to cut the NOPL budget by nearly half is obscene.”

SUMMARY: No. And no isn’t even enough. Tell your friends and stay tuned as the fight continues to preserve the scarce little left in our social safety net.


Parishwide Proposition No. 3 of 3 – 1.05/1.164 Mills In-Lieu – CC – 20 Yrs.

In lieu of a separate millage previously approved by voters in the City of New Orleans (“City”) in the amount of 2.50 mills to fund the Housing and Economic Development Trust Fund in the City (“Prior Tax”), shall the City be authorized to levy for twenty years, January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2040, special taxes of (a) 1.05 mills (estimated at $4,250,000 in the first year) to be used for the purpose of constructing, acquiring, improving, maintaining and operating affordable housing facilities and alleviating urban blight, and (b) 1.164 mills (estimated at $4,600,000 in the first year) to be used to support economic development activities in the City, provided that a portion of the monies collected shall be remitted to certain state and statewide retirement systems in the manner required by law?

Affordable housing is hard to come by in New Orleans: rent keeps going up and wages don’t. So voters might be tempted to vote for a ballot measure that aims to give funds to “affordable housing” and “economic development.”15Suggested reading: In Defense of Housing by David Madden and Peter Marcuse, and stories about Oakland, CA’s group Moms 4 Housing.

This proposition doesn’t really create a new revenue or spending stream: it replaces an existing combined housing and economic development tax set to expire at the end of next year with two new ones. As with Proposition 1, the net new tax is a bit higher than the old tax. The mayor’s plan is to balance that out by reducing library revenue through Proposition 2.

In addition to the fact that the whole plan hinges on cutting funds for libraries, there’s the problem of what the city will actually do with the money. The Housing Fund has helped subsidize housing developments in exchange for a small number of affordable units, assisted homeowners with repairs to their homes (a program that a housing advocate told us was currently put on hold due to the pandemic), helped fund homeless shelters—and, under previous mayors, been used for code enforcement work, a practice the Cantrell administration says won’t continue now, according to the Bureau of Governmental Research, although who knows what future mayors will do.

The most generous good faith interpretation of this prop is that there’s a possibility funding could make a difference to some people struggling. But it won’t solve the larger structural problems contributing to making stable, quality housing increasingly out of reach for many in the city. But between sweeps of encampments, hiding the unhoused away in unsafe hotels, and reopening eviction court, there’s no reason to assume this hypothetical funding would be used well. It could even just be used to rebuild Jazzland, which is also thrown in there, between all those nice and worthy sounding causes. There’s just no telling—unless you have an opinion about who the City cares more about: tourists or residents. Then you can probably tell.

How the economic development funding would be used is even less clear: The fund that’s supported by the current tax and this proposed one has been used for a wide variety of purposes, from funding festivals and the Super Bowl to grants to small businesses to, in recent years, programs through a public-private partnership16We’ve said it before and we will say it again: this may be the most vile three word phrase in all of existence. called the New Orleans Business Alliance. How would revenue be used in the future? It’s unclear: the Bureau of Governmental Research reports there’s a strategic plan in the works, but it’s not ready yet. In other words, endless discretion for those with a record of plundering our housing supply.

The bottom line is that this is the third part of a three-proposition effort to confuse the public with fuzzy math and manipulative feel-good budget headings like “affordable housing” and “economic development,” all while diverting funds from the libraries into slush fund after slush fund. Voters should reject the whole bundle and force officials to come up with a concrete proposal to fund city programs before these millages expire next year. And voters should feel insulted.

SUMMARY: No.


French Quarter Economic Development Dist. – .2495% S&U Tax Renewal – CC – 5 Yrs.

Shall a .2495% sales tax, originally approved by the voters within the French Quarter Economic Development District at an election on October 24, 2015, be renewed and levied within the boundaries of the French Quarter Economic Development District (“FQ EDD”), (the area bounded by the Mississippi River, the center line of Canal Street, the rear property line of the properties fronting on the lake side of North Rampart Street, and the rear property line of the properties fronting on the downriver side of Esplanade Avenue to the Mississippi River), to be collected on the sale at retail, the use, the lease or rental, the consumption and storage for use or the consumption of tangible personal property and sales of services within the boundaries of the FQ EDD for a period of five years, beginning January 1, 2021 and ending December 31, 2025 (an estimated $2 million reasonably expected at this time to be collected as a result of the renewal of the levy per year) for the purpose of funding enhanced and supplemental public safety services to facilitate economic development within the FQ EDD?

If you live in the French Quarter, you’ll have the opportunity to vote on this measure which designates a portion of the sales tax that, since its inception five years ago, has been used exclusively to fund state police presence in the Quarter. If renewed, that funding would continue to supplement NOPD’s patrolling of the area, but it’s not clear precisely who would be deputized to stalk through the already hyper-policed neighborhood.

Those dinky lil pigmobiles tootin around are emissaries of the French Quarter Task Force, created in 2015 by feudal overlord Sidney Torres IV, who y’all just let buy a whole ass judge. The task force’s funding is supplemented by millions of dollars from that publicly funded, private non-profit17read the preceding four words over again slowly then slurp a Hurricane to numb the pain. New Orleans & Company, a major player in the extractive tourist economy. Those stooges (and their scheme of continuing to hire off-duty NOPD) constitute the plan favored by the French Quarter Management District.

Mayor Cantrell has a different vision for the funds—she’d like to create a patrol group made up of off-duty NOPD officers, and also a new Blackshirts-esque wing18We’re obliged to note a negligible distinction; members of the Grounds Patrol Division would be City employees, not volunteers (although it’s also worth noting that a Grounds Patrol supervisor makes less money than a city landscape architect intern)., the Grounds Patrol Division, under the purview of the New Orleans Department of Homeland Security.

Remember when Cantrell unsuccessfully attempted to conceal the location of public security cameras from public defenders, citing their importance to NOLA DHS operations? Remember when it turns out actually NOPD and DHS had been using expensive racist facial recognition technology despite years of lying their asses off about it? Remember when DHS and ICE deported Hard Rock collapse survivor Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma before he could fully recover, let alone make any witness statements to OSHA? Remember when NOLA DHS/ICE collaborated in the alleged torture and deportation of Cameroonian asylum seekers?19Suggested reading: Brother I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat and American Gulag by Mark Dow. Really hope you remember because all of that happened under Cantrell’s watch and she didn’t do shit about it. So sure, why not let loose a new breed of DHS citizen-cops on our city’s top destination for plague-bearing bachelorettes and underpaid hospitality workers? What’s the worst that could happen?

In order for either camp to secure the funds, they have to sign an agreement with the French Quarter Economic Development District (meaning their board has to agree), and then the mayor has to sign off on it, too. At the time of this guide’s publication, it is unclear which disciplinary vision will prevail.

For a measure that initially passed with a mere 773 yes votes, you’d think Quarter residents would be under siege by mailers. But it doesn’t seem like either Officer Cantrell or Lieutenant Torres is out winning hearts and minds for the fee’s renewal or providing any insight on their plans for us peasants. When one of our reporters presented the ballot item to a 65-year-old retired nurse, she hadn’t heard of it and didn’t know anything more about it than before she’d read the characteristically opaque ballot item. “I know I lived here five years ago and I didn’t vote for this tax originally,” she said. “I’m not the brightest bulb in the box but I am a bright bulb and I don’t have any understanding of what this is trying to say.”

A woman who owns a small business on Barracks thought the tax sounded beneficial. “Look at Frenchmen Street where there are no police, it’s lawless lands. People hire their own security for their businesses over there if they want to keep their businesses protected.” A landscape architect who owns property in the Quarter carefully considered the mathematics of the measure. “The original tax voted on in 2015 was a much different economic environment than where we are today because of COVID-19,” he said. “Businesses are struggling to hang on so to keep this tax levied against them may hurt their chances of survival. And already our food taxes are at 10.25% which is way too high.” Despite his awareness of the fee’s existence, he too found the measure suspiciously impenetrable. “The verbiage on public safety in the name of economic development is a bit misleading or dual purposed,” he said. “Those ‘smart cars’ are just texting and driving down the street. If that’s what this is going toward I don’t want this.”

SUMMARY: No.


ELECTION INFO

Early voting is November 20—28 from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (excluding Sunday, November 22, Thursday, November 26 (Thanksgiving) and Friday, November 27 (Acadian Day).

The deadline to request an absentee by mail ballot is December 1 by 4:30 p.m.

The deadline for a registrar of voters to receive a voted mail ballot is December 4 by 4:30 p.m. (other than military and overseas voters).

Saturday election voting hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.


EARLY VOTING

City Hall
1300 Perdido Street 70112
Room 1W24

Algiers Courthouse
225 Morgan Street 70114
Room 105

Chef Menteur Voting Machine Warehouse Site
8870 Chef Menteur Highway 70126

Lake Vista Community Center
6500 Spanish Fort Blvd. 70124


NEXT ELECTION

March 20, 2021


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ADDENDUM FOR THOSE OF US WHO LIVE AT THE SHORELINE


The preceding issues, as we say time and time again, demand our participation in and beyond the polling booth. They also require us to carefully understand the conditions we are living in. This is a wartime election, as each election has been for decades. People seem to have a willful amnesia of the Bush era, despite the fact that there are now voters who have lived their entire lives under the deadly logic of the Patriot Act, war on terror, the ongoing imperial wars, the wars of occupation and spreading democracy like smallpox blankets, the perpetual wars. Some of you have always known that we are in a war, some of you may have only started noticing it during the pandemic or the uprisings against the extrajudicial murders by police.20We’ve been in a “state of exception” so to speak, a state of crisis in which all normal assumptions about life can be suspended; and in that state, fundamental truths about our political system and even social relations are exposed, though they’ve been there all along. “At once excluding bare life from and capturing it within the political order, the state of exception actually constituted, in its very separateness, the hidden foundation on which the entire political system rested.” —Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life by Giorgio Agamben

You may experience or conceptualize this wartime election in a number of ways. There’s the class war, the culture wars, the ongoing genocide of (and resistance from) Black and indigenous people and people of color, civil unrest if not all out civil war,21Civil unrest might soon be upon us, and might reach the point of shattering the country. In 2012, Turchin published an analysis of political violence in the United States… starting with a database. He classified 1,590 incidents—riots, lynchings, any political event that killed at least one person—from 1780 to 2010. Some periods were placid and others bloody, with peaks of brutality in 1870, 1920, and 1970, a 50-year cycle.” the war the government is waging against the populus via economic neglect, the ongoing war on drugs (war on people who use drugs), the war on poverty (war on the poor).22This is a neat contradiction, the “war against the poor, made into the scapegoats of all the major ills of the country and now summoned to care for themselves lest they be hit by a volley of punitive and humiliating measures intended, if not to put them back onto the narrow path of precarious employment, then at least to minimize their social demands and thus their fiscal burden.” this all of course is the result of the “american charitable state” reducing its “perimeter of operation” and squeezing “its modest budgets so as to allow for the explosive increase in military spending and the extensive redistribution of income from wage earners [workers] toward firms and the affluent fractions of the upper class.” (Loïc Wacquant, Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity.) So when we say defund the police and fund libraries and pay us to stay home so we can stop dying, these are not preposterous demands, these are a proportionate response to decades at least of calculated policy, which marches on, from time to time forced to pause and acknowledge social uprisings by incorporating the least transformative of its politics into its agenda (ideally siloed in heavily managed non-profits) or simply co-opting its language. (For more reading, check out INCITE’s anthology The Revolution Will Not Be Funded) It’s an asymmetric war sometimes manifesting in cities occupied by military forces, or the police allied with openly white nationalist paramilitary groups, or the virtual occupation of our educational institutions by out-of-state and out-of-touch ideologues pushing privatization agendas or testing their own hypotheses about the free market, or private security patrols in certain neighborhoods (which voters approved across the board in the November 3 election and have the opportunity to oppose or endorse for the French Quarter on this ballot). Sometimes it manifests as literal fighting in the streets or uprisings in prisons.23Suggested reading: Resistance Behind Bars by Victoria Law Often we are blamed and punished for our own suffering and asked to rectify it ourselves, like when the mayor makes a GoFundMe for rental assistance.24Man, how about the cognitive dissonance of having to work during a pandemic, while being told to stay home and being blamed for not doing so, and all the while the mayor is encouraging tourism? “At some point rising in­security becomes expensive. The elites have to pacify unhappy citizens with handouts and freebies—and when these run out, they have to police dissent and oppress people.”

In wars there are sacrificial zones, like our Gulf region. In wars there are sacrificial populations, like our underprotected essential workers (voters have the opportunity to vote with or against their concerns on this ballot’s proposition 2),25This is an important concept: biopower/biopolitics, or “an unprejudiced analysis of the concrete ways in which power penetrates subjects’ very bodies and forms of life.” Without this intimate control over our bodies and lives, the dominant order could not sustain itself. “In particular, the development and triumph of capitalism would not have been possible, from this perspective, without the disciplinary control achieved by the new bio-power, which, through a series of appropriate technologies, so to speak create the ‘docile bodies’ that it needed.” Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life by Giorgio Agamben (translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen) the vast numbers of families who choose between food and rent and sometimes cannot afford either, and of course those who have died from the mismanaged pandemic, now in numbers that exceed the American death toll in the imperialist war on Vietnam. The weapons of war are the institutions of our society, meting out temporary survival or death via economic policies aggressively bankrupting the public sector to enrich the wealthy class and disciplinary sectors. The technologies of war include the normalization of death in political, economic, and daily life, the normalization of the sacrificial figure, those whose blood must be shed to appease the stock market. It may be a bitter pill for some of you to swallow, but take your medicine: the democratic State relies on war for its existence.26“War is determined as end and necessity not only in democracy but also in politics and in culture. War has become both remedy and poison—our pharmakon. Its transformation into the pharmakon [something that is both cure and poison] of our time has, in turn, let loose gruesome passions that are increasingly pushing our societies to exit democracy and, as was the case under colonization, to transform into societies of enmity.” Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics

This virus has been a teacher, coinciding with and fomenting social unrest to reveal the true nature of our social order. We told you this in April: “We have all been sold the lie that we are individuals, responsible, liable even for our own outcomes.” The sick are also teachers, and they have been speaking this whole time. In Dodie Bellamy’s collection of essays When the Sick Rule the World, the eponymous chapter reads as prophecy.27“When the sick rule the world hotel rooms will be obsolete, airplanes will be obsolete, new cars will be obsolete.” “The sick refer to people who do not wear gasmasks as ‘breathers.’” And for those of you wondering with every errant cough and ache if corona has come for you: “There is no such thing as a hypochondriac; there are only doctors who cannot figure out what is wrong with you.” Presaging pods, she writes “The sick will create new families based not on blood but affinity of symptoms.” Offering a vision to relieve the mental haze that has descended on all of us since the beginning of shelter-in-place, she writes “When the sick rule the world mortality will be sexy. When the sick rule the world, all writing will be short and succinct, no paragraphs will be longer than two sentences so we can comprehend them through the brain fog the well bring to us daily.” There is an entire genre of literature and academic study by and for people with disabilities. If you’re abled: do not squander this opportunity to learn from those who have been fighting to survive all while fighting the health care system, a society that deems them disposable, and the psychic torture of internalized ableism. Bellamy writes: “The sick practice calm abiding. They say to themselves, ‘I feel so nauseous in my stomach, this means I’m alive, I am a living being, that I can feel this, and all these sensations and worries.’”

It has been a long, brutal year. We’ve felt the strain. With 2021 around the corner—arbitrary demarcation or not—many of us are thinking or feeling on some level: how can I maintain this level of stress? Even Biden-giddy readers are still New Orleanians who can feel in their hearts the federal government is not coming to help, or already sense the broken promises of candidates adopting fashionable progressive stances.28Suggested reading: Prison By Any Other Name, by Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law You may feel isolated,29“On her all-metal bed and organic cotton blanket, sick Elizabeth lies absolutely still, cradled in the impermeable membrane of her galvanized steel shed. The thin blue filtered air cools her inflamed lungs. The sheen of the porcelain walls and ceiling reflects her image back to her. The clear silky arms of her ghost selves reach out and caress her. ‘You are totally alone,’ they sing in an eerie high-pitched wail. They remind her of Antony and the Johnsons, but at a whisper. Twin yellow bulbs screw into the ceiling, like glowing yolks she thinks, like God’s testicles.” Dodie Bellamy, When the Sick Rule the World particularly if you have been ill.30“When two sick bodies come together their desperate hearts open, it is lovely to watch them, the thin iridescent haze of sickness flowing across their skin, when two sick bodies fuck their hazy genitals sparkle and frizzle. The sick and the well should never mingle. The sick latch onto the genitals of the well like carnivorous plants, milking the well of their lifeforce, but the well are too rich, too funky, neurotoxic deodorant off-gassing from pores, the sick’s iridescent haze curdles, congealed vinegary bits clinging to sweaty torsos, the sick spasm with so little pleasure, turn away sickened with remorse.” Dodie Bellamy, When the Sick Rule the World But, per queer Vietnamese-American poet Ocean Vuong: Loneliness is still time spent with the world.31“The most beautiful part of your body/is where it’s headed. & remember/loneliness is still time spent/with the world.” Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds You may feel scared that you will need to be cared for but will instead be neglected. But people will always come together to help each other when they can—sometimes even in formations that create spaces that allow for the possibilities of new social relationships, a new politics. You may feel like you are going crazy. But know your power, and take heed of revolutionary Black Panther Assata Shakur: “Only the strong go crazy/The weak just go along.”32Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur And yeah… merely voting can make you feel impotent. Thus we reflect on verse from the controversial-yet-visionary poet Amiri Baraka: “We take/unholy risks to prove/we are what we cannot be. For instance,/I am not even crazy.”33S O S Poems 1961–2013 by Amiri Baraka So we entreat you not just to vote but to keep going, stay tuned into reality, know how much you are willing to risk and for what34Black Mask & Up Against the Wall Motherfucker: The Incomplete Works of Ron Hahne, Ben Morea, and the Black Mask by Ron Hahne, Ben Morea, and the Black Mask and remember that your existence alone, in defiance of the necropolitical order, is a miracle: we were never meant to survive.35From The Black Unicorn by Audre Lorde


Images courtesy of the public domain