One of the most remarkable things about this election season is the apparent agreement on a largely progressive vision for the future of New Orleans. While candidates are hardly in lock step, the general consensus on many of the big issues facing this city is striking.
Consider public safety.
Because poll numbers indicate that citizens are demanding solutions to the city’s crime problem, every candidate for mayor and City Council has made it a platform priority to reduce violent crime. That’s not remarkable. But the agreement around reformist measures is. While candidates may still cling to “tough on crime,” – my personal favorite pander phrase – none of the candidates has offered standard policy solutions. Candidates are not calling for hiring of hundreds of new police officers. I have not received mailers touting a candidate’s support of a “stop-and-frisk” program for high crime areas. Even in big cities dominated by Democrats, these kinds of authoritarian proposals have been commonplace.
In this election in New Orleans, proposals to deal with the crime rate are far more patrician, perhaps surprisingly so, given the political grandstanding that has gone on around criminal justice traditionally. Candidates have talked not about unleashing the police force, but about more stringent police accountability procedures. Candidates have not clamored for more police, but for higher hiring standards. Instead of calls for more arrests, candidates have embraced a path to reduce penalties for simple marijuana possession with near unanimity.
Public safety isn’t the only area where candidates seem to have reached consensus. With respect to healthcare, all candidates support community healthcare clinics, the expansion of mental health services, and the construction of new hospitals. Where there is disagreement – whether to build a new hospital in Lower Mid City or in the historic medical district – the controversy is not over the expansion of healthcare delivery options.
In education, every candidate for mayor has embraced the charter-schools movement and the reforms implemented under the Recovery School District. While there may be some disagreements on the margins over how and when to re-establish local governance of the schools, there is little substantive difference between the candidates in an area that was once quite controversial.
But that’s not all.
Candidates for mayor have universally embraced the need to restore recycling service, to maintain the city’s land-use footprint, to increase funding to the recreation department, and to beef up code enforcement. With some marginal differences, candidates have generally pledged to work with the inspector general on the contracting process, and to implement a new process to increase citizen participation in the annual budget process.
Maybe the most remarkable thing about the plagiarized platform on Republican candidate for City Council District C Tom Arnold’s Web site is that it was copied from platforms assembled by liberal democrats in New York City. Since when has a local Republican run on the vigilant prosecution of hate crimes or finding “community-based alternatives” to jail time for juvenile criminals? Jay Batt’s Web site drops rhetorical fig leafs indicating support for the criminal justice reform efforts of District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. Even self-described conservative John Georges has embraced community policing practices, calling for better communication and coordination between the force and the population.
In the mayoral debates I’ve seen and literature I’ve received in the mail, candidates are simply not attacking each other or working to highlight political differences to the extent that one might expect in a contentious election season. Instead, candidates are stressing personal differences over things like the value of private sector vs. public sector experience in preparation for taking over the mayor’s office.
With some exceptions, everybody running for public office claims to support what can be reasonably be classified as a generic platform for a reform-minded progressive Democrat. If candidates’ own views deviate from that general vision, they haven’t exactly been enthusiastic about pointing it out to voters.
Given the rancor between the City Council and the mayor’s office, and among members of council, one might have expected to find candidates highlighting major policy differences on the campaign trail but that’s not what I’ve seen.
Does that mean that when everyone gets sworn in this spring, the new mayor and council will join together in a coalition to implement the transformation of New Orleans? Is it true that wealthy whites and poor African-Americans have reached accord on how to expand and improve social services?
Or are our aspiring politicians so uncreative and cynical that they have no political ideas or principles of their own?
Who wants to get into politics just for the sake of playing games with their power and who wants to forcefully implement an agenda that seems to have quietly become the citywide consensus?