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New Orleans Mayoral Candidates Debate Education, Crime and Infrastructure Fixes

Jess Clark
Candidates Desiree Charbonnet, Latoya Cantrell and Michael Bagneris talked education fixes at WYES studios.

New Orleans mayoral candidates took part in two debates Wednesday night, each candidate attempting to stand out, but often overlapping with one another on answers to the city's education, crime and infrastructure problems.

The three leading candidates LaToya Cantrell, Michael Bagneris and Desiree Charbonnet fielded questions at the debate at WYES studios, which was hosted by the New Orleans Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The fourth-leading candidate, Troy Henry, was invited to join Cantrell, Bagneris and Charbonnet at a second debate hosted by Voice-Pac, a political action committee created by local businessman and reality television star Sydney Torres.  Charbonnet objected to changes in panel members and pulled out hours before it was to begin.

Debate One: Candidates On Child Care and Early Education

When asked at the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading debate how the candidates would improve educational outcomes for kids, Cantrell and Bagneris each pledged to create a new department for children and families. Cantrell said the office would simplify parents’ search for child care and other programs.

"Creating that one-stop-shop, that front door, that welcome center for our youth and families to be plugged into the resources that our city has to offer," she said.

Bagneris added that he would push to restore state funding to the child care assistance program.

"That program was gutted by 70 percent over the last few years," Bagneris said, referring to a 70-percent drop in the number of spots in early child care funded by the state, from 39,000 in 2008, to 11,000 in 2017. According to the New Orleans Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, less than 16 percent of "at-risk" New Orleans children under the age of three have access to a publicly funded child care seat.

Charbonnet did not pledge to create a new office for children and families. She said her solution would focus on leveraging partnerships with private companies.

"If they can make money off this city, they certainly can give money back to help us get our children on the right start," she said.

Debate Two: Charbonnet Pulls Out, Remaining Candidates Talk Crime, Water Issues

With Charbonnet's podium empty at the Voice-Pac debate, Cantrell, Bagneris and Henry fielded questions on a range of topics, including jobs, infrastructure, crime and problems at the Sewerage and Water Board (SWB).

Henry, the former president of private utility company, United Water, criticized the almost 100-year-old infrastructure, saying the city needs to replace power generators and stop converting energy. More than half of the city's pumps are powered by an archaic 25-cycle power standard, while the rest of the system runs on a 60-cycle power frequency. 

Cantrell said that, as an elected official, she was lied to about the problems at the SWB. She then said the way to regain public trust is to make sure officials at the SWB have adequate skill sets and core competencies to do the job.

Michael Bagneris said, if he wins, he'll tap Troy Henry to lead the Sewerage and Water Board.

The next mayor will have an opportunity to appoint a new police superintendent, and all three candidates weighed in on some of the biggest problems facing policing in the city.

Cantrell pointed to a record of voting in favor of stricter gun control laws, and a need to stabilize communities. "As mayor, I will focus on this issue holistically," she said. 

Bagneris said increasing officer pay would lead to better recruitment and retention, which would lead to an increase in the number of officers available to patrol New Orleans neighborhoods. Henry agreed, saying officer response times are too slow.

Charbonnet, Cantrell and Bagneris are the three leading candidates according to the latest polling by local political consulting and polling firm BDPC, each with around 25 percent. Henry was a distant fourth, with about 4 percent.

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