By Jeff Thomas

Well it’s that time of year again.  How many resolutions have you broken already?  Ate better yet?  How about that working out thing?  Change is hard.  The great James Baldwin says, “Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” 

New Orleans should be the best place to raise a family in the world.  Food, fun, culture, uniqueness separates this great place from all others.  But we have systemic and intransigent problems that must be faced and then changed.  Economic disparities, repressive governance, lack of business opportunities, and racial divisiveness generate crime and poverty and bad schools which create cyclical and generational binds that anchor us to a muck and prevents us from becoming the idyllic wonderland that we seek.

Simple steps can help us help each other and especially ourselves.  If each of us does each of these, then NOLA will approach the paradise we pursue.

  • Get involved in something outside of family and work

Community groups create safe spaces and produce meaningful improvements across this town.  Options abound but include Justice and Beyond, Parks for All, A Community Voice, and many more. 

  • Vote in every election

Politics affect every part of your daily life.  From the taxes you pay on every purchase, to the traffic cameras that snap pics of your license plate, to unanimous juries deciding the fate of people who are accused crimes.  Two important millage elections are upcoming in the next couple of months one regarding feeding seniors and the other surrounding parks and greenspace in the city. 

  • Call your council person or the mayor or state and national representatives and offer them ideas

Our elected officials are trying to do a good job.  But if they don’t know what you want then they will do what they think you want them to do.  Get engaged.  Call them and offer ideas, complaints, solutions and new ways to get things accomplished.  Our leaders need and want to hear from you.  You may only get to talk to their staffs, but they get the messages.

  • Do business regularly with a black owned business(es)

This is the most important thing anybody in NOLA can do!  This is more important than voting or getting involved or talking to your spouse daily.  Ok that last one might be a stretch, but the point is this is really, really important.  The single biggest failure of the city of New Orleans is the sparsity of successful black owned businesses.  Successful black owned businesses reduce crime, increase neighborhood stability, generate tax dollars, create more business opportunities, increase police and teacher pay and make the sun rise seem brighter.

  • Help a friend or neighbor or family member accomplish a goal.

Your life will be better and the people you help will be better.  And they can pay it forward.

The problems in NOLA are long standing and entrenched in our thinking, but….they really have never truly been faced head on. We can change them but only after we face them honestly.

2 thoughts on “5 Things to Do to Make NOLA Greater in 2019”
  1. Publish a list of black owned businesses. We all don’t know what’s available in every neighborhood. We can’t go there if we don’t know who, what and where.

  2. I love these Jeff….I would have, however, left in there the one you made light of….and added as an additional point (#6)…ENGAGING WITH SPOUSE DAILY…LOL…not about what’s going on TODAY, but where will WE be tomorrow. This should be the conversation of any partnerships planning to make commitments to one another.

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As wealthy nations continue hoarding vaccines, new dangerous COVID-19 variants will continue emerging.

  • Fatima Hassan Director of Health Justice Initiative
Oxfam activists with big head caricatures of G7 leaders pretend to fight over a COVID-19 vaccine during a protest on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Cornwall, Britain, on June 11, 2021 [File: Reuters/Peter Nicholls]

The United Kingdom and wealthy European nations are in a panic. Unsurprisingly, hoarding huge swaths of the global vaccine supply has enabled the emergence of dangerous new variants of COVID-19. And once again, rich countries are punishing the victims of global vaccine inequality by slamming shut the borders to anyone from southern African nations.

Of course, the Omicron variant, as the World Health Organization has named it, has not exclusively been found in Southern Africa. Cases have been discovered in Asia and Europe, including in the UK, but the Global South is being blamed for it, while the means to deal with COVID-19 have been kept from it. This is perfectly fitting with how rich countries have dealt with the pandemic.

At each stage of their response, hopes for collaboration have been junked. Western nations have hoarded – and even binned – vaccines rather than donate them on scale, or on time. For more than a year, the UK and European Union have blocked a proposal from South Africa and India to suspend intellectual property on COVID -19 technologies including vaccines. Most countries in the world recognise this is crucial for scaling up vaccine production to levels needed to end this pandemic. But to leaders like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, propping up pharmaceutical monopolies is more important.

Just seven percent of people in Africa are fully vaccinated and recent data shows only one in four health workers in Africa are fully protected. This is not just morally grotesque, but also dangerous: it creates a breeding ground for new variants.

Timing matters in this pandemic. As Professor Sarah Gilbert of the University of Oxford has warned, stopping transmission in every corner of the world is vital to stop the virus from evolving – and mutating dangerously.

As in all parts of the world, African governments have made mistakes in this pandemic. Indeed, my organisation in South Africa, the Health Justice Initiative, has been vocal about our government’s errors, including on vaccine contract transparency.

South Africa also had to contend with serious political violence in mid-2021 and the government has changed health ministers twice in 12 months. This has been compounded by devastating job losses and a hunger crisis, worsened by often irrational travel bans.

But South Africa’s lingering apartheid-era health system, enduring levels of poverty, and year-long inability to obtain decent amounts of vaccines on time meant the government faced an impossible task. For the better part of 2021, with limited global supplies siphoned by the Global North, South Africa was drip-fed vaccine supplies.

AstraZeneca was at first one of the few vaccines trickling into Africa. But disinformation from Pfizer board member Scott Gottlieb questioning the jab’s efficacy and safety, exacerbated by EU leaders, also led to mistrust in the vaccine. Its use was then paused in many African countries, and halted in South Africa, with the emerging Beta variant and Indian export restrictions also factors.

The African Union negotiated a new deal with Johnson & Johnson, via Aspen Pharmacare, a company in South Africa. But most of the 220 to 400 million vaccines promised have still not been delivered. Worse, when it mattered most, during our devastating third wave in South Africa, Johnson & Johnson actually exported millions of vaccines that were filled and finished in South Africa, to highly vaccinated nations in Europe and North America.

In August, working with the South African government and Cape Town-based biotech company Afrigen, the WHO started building the first global manufacturing hub to produce mRNA vaccines and share them with the world, dispelling the racist notion that Africa is unable to safely manufacture vaccines. Shamefully, Moderna and Pfizer have refused to share any knowledge with the hub.

Reverse Engineering

So African scientists are having to reverse-engineer the process themselves, which could take some time. Sensing a PR crisis, these companies are trying to bypass the hub with parallel partial licensing deals. Far from benevolence, these deals seem designed to undermine the WHO’s efforts.

Along the way, the litany of delays, misinformation, and the secrecy of corporate vaccine contracts with broad indemnification against liability clauses, have fuelled mistrust of vaccine companies – aided by an increasingly well-oiled anti-vaccine movement and politicians seeking to score points.

We need a different way of doing things. More than 100 states have been pressing for at least a year for an emergency suspension of intellectual property rights on technologies crucial to end the pandemic. The waiver would make it easier for South Africa and other countries to produce vaccines, especially to scale up supplies for everyone and save lives. But it has been blocked repeatedly by the UK and EU countries, for no good reason.

In contrast, South Africa has consistently been a constructive global partner in the pandemic – with hundreds volunteering for vaccine trials and its advanced scientific surveillance systems helping to discover new COVID-19 variants quickly.

If we do not want COVID-19 to continue exacerbating the racist and colonial world order, we need change. And believe it or not, it would benefit the UK and Europe, too. Because you cannot impose rigid policies or build high enough walls to keep the consequences of vaccine inequality out. We need to pull out all of the stops and remove every barrier to vaccine production – and intellectual property is first among them. We need solidarity and cooperation, not knee-jerk travel bans.

Franchell Richard-Hamilton M.D.

Everything you need to know about this mutation.


  • Omicron was first reported to the World Health Organization on Nov. 24.
  • Genetic sequencing of the Omicron specimen shows that this variant carries a multitude of mutations on spike protein. 
  • At this point, there is no evidence to suggest that Omicron causes different symptoms than other COVID-19 variants.

Just when we thought the COVID-19 pandemic was slowing down, a new variant appeared to demonstrate our assumptions were wrong. You have probably come across the news about the new variant of COVID-19, called Omicron. Below, you will get to learn more about the variant, spike protein mutations, and more.

When and where was the Omicron variant first reported?

On Nov. 24, the B.1.1.529 variant, i.e., Omicron, was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) from South Africa, or more precisely Botswana. Prior to that revelation, the epidemiological status in South Africa had been indicated by three distinct peaks. Delta variant was the most common variant in infected persons. In recent weeks, the number of positive cases increased. The first confirmed case of the Omicron variant was from a specimen obtained on Nov. 9, 2021.

WHO classified Omicron as a variant of concern on Nov. 26, 2021. Interestingly, Omicron is the quickest to be considered a variant of concern due to fast transmission and troubling mutations. Keep in mind that it is still not clear whether Omicron is more transmissible than other variants. Epidemiologic studies are currently underway, and they will provide more information about this variant.

Source: Juru/Pexels

Where was Omicron detected?

The latest variant of COVID-19 was not only found in South Africa for too long. In a matter of days, the variant was identified in other continents, primarily Europe.

While the news keeps changing by the hour, so far, the new variant has been detected in:

  • Belgium
  • The Netherlands
  • The United Kingdom
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Spain

Other countries are also investigating suspected cases of the Omicron variant.

According to Dutch authorities, 61 out of 500 passengers on two flights from southern African countries to the Netherlands tested positive for COVID-19. The patients are quarantining in Amsterdam, and it is theorized the new variant will be found in some of those cases.

The European Union has restricted travel to and from southern African countries. The United States and South Korea did the same. Similar restrictions were imposed by Canada, Russia, Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Oman, and Israel.

Omicron protein spike

Genetic sequencing of the Omicron specimen revealed this variant carries a multitude of mutations on spike protein.

Spike protein is located on the outside of the coronavirus. That’s how the virus attaches to the cells it infects. Some of the above mentioned mutations were recognized already from other variants. These particular mutations could make the variant more dangerous. A good example is E484K mutation which affects antibodies and makes viruses less recognizable to them.

Besides E484K, Omicron also carries other mutations such as N501Y and D614G. The latter is also found in the Delta variant. This mutation works to enable the virus to attach to the cells more effectively. On the other hand, N501Y mutation also made Alpha and Gama variants more transmissible.

The actual number of mutations doesn’t necessarily indicate the variant will be more problematic than others. Scientists are primarily worried about the number of mutations that affect spike protein because that’s also what vaccines are targeting.

Current evidence shows the Omicron variant has over 30 mutations in the spike protein area. Some mutations have also been detected in variants Alpha and Delta. These mutations are associated with increased ineffectiveness and the ability to evade antibodies that block the infections.

However, it’s useful to bear in mind that Omicron has mutations on spike proteins that other variants don’t have. Of 30 mutations that were detected, 26 are unique to Omicron and weren’t detected in other variants of concern.

For the sake of comparison, the Alpha variant has four unique mutations only, the Beta variant has six unique mutations, Gamma has eight, and the Delta variant has seven unique mutations.

Are vaccines effective against Omicron?

It’s also useful to mention the Omicron variant has a spike mutation that enables genotyping tests to detect it faster than genome sequencing would do.

The significant number of mutations on spike protein could allow the Omicron variant to develop immunoescape mechanisms and bypass vaccines. In this scenario, the effectiveness of the vaccine should be evaluated. Manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines have already announced they will monitor this situation closely. For example, Pfizer has already stated they’re working on a version of their vaccine to target Omicron specifically.

What are the symptoms of the Omicron variant?

At this point, there is no evidence to suggest that Omicron causes different symptoms than other COVID-19 variants. The doctor who was the first to detect the Omicron variant said the symptoms were mild and could be managed at home. However, like all variants of COVID-19, Omicron could still induce severe complications, including death. We will know more about the symptoms and potential danger of Omicron during the next few weeks.

What can I do?

U.S. President Joe Biden described Omicron as a cause for concern, not a cause for panic. Remember, Omicron has just been detected. Scientists need to study the virus first. What we do know now is that symptoms associated with the Omicron tend to be mild. That said, this variant has a lot of mutations on spike protein, and most of them are unique. This makes the variant more likely to bypass vaccines, but more info on this subject will be available soon.

What you can do is to continue with social distancing, wear a mask, and wash your hands frequently. The officials urge the public to get fully vaccinated. Those who are eligible are advised to get a booster shot.


A recently detected variant, Omicron, has spread quickly from Africa to Europe and other areas. The most alarming fact about this variant is the multitude of mutations in spike protein. They could speed up transmission and limit the effectiveness of vaccines. However, more info will be known soon. People are advised to receive the vaccines, and manufacturers have stated they will reformulate their shots to target Omicron. Don’t forget that masks, hygiene, and social distancing can also help you reduce the risk of COVID.

Two Tax Proposals on the Ballot

Early voting starts this week.  Sure, you know about the races for sheriff and clerk and city council.  But you will see two property tax measures at the bottom of the ballot.  You must decide whether to keep funding libraries and support housing in New Orleans.  Lets look at the tax proposals oi the ballot.

Libraries and housing are on the ballot. If this sounds vaguely familiar, you’re right. The city council decided to take another bite at the apple.  Because, last year New Orleans voters overwhelmingly voted down these same two measures along with a couple of others.  But this cycle you must only decide whether to keep funding libraries and support housing in our city.  Keep reading because we break it all down in simple terms.

The Library Property Tax

What You will see on the ballot:

To continue the expiring ad valorem tax dedicated to support the operations of the New Orleans Public Library System, which was authorized by voters on November 4, 1986 through December 31, 2021, shall the City of New Orleans (the “City”) be authorized to levy a special tax not to exceed 4 mills (“Tax”) on all taxable property within the City for a period of twenty years (beginning on January 1, 2022 and expiring on December 31, 2041 with an estimated collection totaling $17,498,020 for an entire year if the full amount of the Tax approved herein is levied by the City) for the purposes of constructing, improving, maintaining and operating the New Orleans Public Library System, 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?

Back in 1986 New Orleanians passed a property tax that funded the operations of the city’s library system until December 31, 2021. During this election cycle, voters can reauthorize this tax.  In addition to operations, a yes vote also provides tax money for capital improvements. 

Again voters rejected this last year. But the previous request lacked details about how the tax would be used. So, the current library board hit the streets. They got considerable community input. Then they produced a new detailed budget. Voters might approve it this time.  They plan to use the money to-

  • Develop creative and critical thinking skills in children from birth to young adulthood
  • Expand libraries role in workforce development initiatives by strengthening adult literacy, digital literacy, and small business development programming
  • Create equitable access to library resources for all New Orleans residents, by redesigning physical spaces within branches for more flexible, diverse uses and enhancing digital and mobile services.

Your yes vote creates up to 4 mills of taxes.  The libraries current plan only spends 2.58 mills.  The City Council will have the authority to raise taxes as needed by the library system for future improvements. 

To Read the Library’s 10 year strategic plan called Creating a Library Lifestyle, click here.

The Housing Tax

Ballot Language:

Shall the City of New Orleans, Louisiana (“City”) be authorized to continue to levy a special tax of 0.91 mills on all property subject to taxation in the City (“Tax”), for a period of twenty years (beginning on January 1, 2022 and ending on December 31, 2041 with an estimated collection totaling $3,900,000 in the first year if the full amount of the Tax approved herein is levied by the City), to be deposited in, and used in accordance with the requirements of, the Neighborhood Housing Improvement Fund (City Code Sec. 70-415.1, et seq., as it may be amended from time to time) for the purpose of funding a comprehensive neighborhood housing improvement program and providing affordable housing in the City?

Like the Library Property Tax, this measure also replaces an expiring tax.  But the difference is the elimination of part of the old tax.  The old tax funded both housing and economic development.  The new measure eliminates the economic development portion but continues to fund the housing portion.  If you vote yes, then you approve .91 mills for 20 years to fund the city’s Neighborhood Housing Improvement Fund.  According to the city, this fund:

  • Provides financing and other assistance for homeownership opportunities
  • Promotes neighborhood stability by eliminating blight via remediation and rehabilitation
  • Provides financing and other assistance for affordable rental housing for low- and moderate-income residents

One of the biggest issues our city faces is housing insecurity.  Gentrification, the pandemic, and Hurricane Ida have stressed the housing sector significantly.  Your yes vote funds the city agency most able to respond to this crisis. 

If passed the housing proposition will generate nearly $4 million dollars. 

Again, voters rejected this proposition last year.  Even now there is not a lot of information out there. City Council members and the Mayor were busy with their personal campaigns.  Voters natural inclination is to reject property taxes.  The City Council website has no easy to find info about the measures.  And the Mayor’s office decided to only create a plan if the measure passes on election day. 

So as an informed citizen, you have to decide.  The proposals will add about $35 per $100,000 above the homestead exemption.  Now you know. 

We’d call him Rittenhouse if he’d lost, but since he won, lets just call him Kyle. As far as we know, Kyle was just a good kid who happened to kill two people and pose with white supremacists afterwards. His prosecutors were lawyers so confident of their prosecutorial skills that they based their case on evidence they couldn’t provide. It all made for a pretty interesting and predictable trial.

As you probably know or should know by now, Kyle went free on Friday. He was acquitted of all charges. Kyle was accused of killing of two  white men and the wounding of another near a Black Lives Matter protest in August of last year.

On the night in question, the prosecution said Kyle was a vigilante who showed up with a loaded assault rifle looking for trouble.  And Kyle ended up killing two people when he found it. His defense team said he was just out there exercising his 2nd Amendment right while acting in self-defense.

The prosecution’s case rested on a video analysis of the scene. Here’s what the video showed.

The first time we see Kyle he’s being chased through a car lot by another man. When the man gets close, Kyle turns around and shoots him. The man falls to the ground and eventually dies.

The next time we see Kyle he’s running up the street. This time he’s being chased by a crowd. Eventually the crowd catches up to him. Then one man drop kicks him to the ground while another tries to bash him in the head with a skateboard.  Kyle shoots that man too. He also eventually dies.

Then there’s a third man. We’d call him a victim, but the judge said we’re not allowed to call people who were either shot or killed victims. So, this man, the third one we’re talking about, he was a little more cunning. He tried to calm Kyle by walking towards him with his hands in the air, presumably hoping to disarm him. Prosecutors called him to the stand to show that Kyle shot this man in cold blood and not self-defense. That theory fell apart as the video rolled.

Rittenhouse on Ground

This time we see Kyle on the ground scooting backwards as the man walks towards him, hands in the air. In court, the defense lawyer stopped the video and asked: is that a gun in your hand? The man said yes. The video rolled and the defense lawyer stopped it again then asked: did you just lower it at our client. The man looked at the screen and said oh I didn’t mean to do that on purpose. As the video rolled once more, Kyle, still on the ground retreating, promptly shoots the man.

If you stick a pin in a ballon, it’ll just pop. But if you untie it and slowly let the air out, it’ll make a wheezing sound similar to the inner exhalations a prosecutor makes when he realizes his case has just deteriorated.

With the video not working in their favor, you would think surely the prosecution would bring forth witnesses who could prove that Kyle started all this trouble. But the prosecution ended up arguing with one of its witnesses over that alleged fact. Next, in front of the jury, they hypothesized about prosecuting the first man Kyle killed because the man had allegedly set two dumpsters on fire while running around screaming the n-word. As said earlier, it was a very interesting trial.

The jury, possibly confused by the prosecution’s tactics, took their time deliberating. Maybe it was a true testament to the lunch they were provided. But 3 days later they returned with a not guilty verdict across the board.

The trial and acquittal has turned Kyle into a star. As it stands, Fox News and other Conservative outlets are still clamoring for interviews. According to reports, Rep Matt Gaetz, a Republican under investigation for having sex with minors, has said he’d like to hire Kyle as an intern. And pretty soon, he’ll surely be paraded through prominent Conservative conventions before making his penultimate appearance on stage at a Trump rally brandishing an assault rifle. Who knew that killing two people could be so profitable.

But all in all this was a bad day for black America we are told. The hypothetical “what if he was a black man” suffered another defeat. It’s a constant reminder that if he ever was to surface as a reality the system would deny him similar justice as if he were still considered 3/5 of a man.

No one should fault you if this brings you back 165 years. Because here we are 165 years after the Civil War. And white people are still killing each other over the proper way to treat black people. Some would say that the clashes at Black Lives Matter protests are the modern-day battles of Fort Sumter and Gettysburg. So yeah, maybe it really was a bad day for black America. Hopefully next week when the Ahmaud Arbery trial is said and done, we’ll have some justice delivered on our behalf.

Our Look at the District C & D Runoff Races

Well, the votes are in. The mayor’s race is settled as expected, but the City Council still has 4 seats up for grabs. Today we’ll look at 2 of them, Districts D and C.

In District D, also known as the last district to get the lights turned on after Ida, 14 candidates put their names on the ballot for the $93,000 a year prize.  The field is now down to 2. On December 11th, Eugene Green and Troy Glover will go head-to-head in a run-off.  This is Glover’s 1st run for public office, while this is Green’s 4th. This difference in experience is reflected in the candidates’ campaign contributions. Green raised 4 times as much as Glover, and ended up with a 35% to 12% lead heading into the run-off.

Money Matters

Eugene Green Signs Seen Across the District

Of the money raised, Glover pretty much went all in with his $20,000, spending all but $2,500. His 12% showing doesn’t bode well for raising a competitive amount of money in time for next month’s run-off. To win the seat, he’ll most likely have to rely on a strong ground game to show that there’s more to politics than just money.

Green, on the other hand, raised almost $80,000 and spent $45,000. Presumably, most of that went on signs. Because they are everywhere in the district. You can’t go for a walk without seeing his face plastered on neutral grounds and front lawns. He should have no problem raising even more money for the run-off. In the past, he’s been able to tap into contributions from the likes of Mary Landrieu, Cedric Richmond, and Richard’s Disposal.  

Troy Glover

Policy-wise the 2 candidates pretty much mirror each other. Both advocate for safer neighborhoods, reforming criminal justice especially for juveniles, and reducing blight. Green also focuses on expanding DBE programs and increasing regulations on Entergy and the S&WB. Glover advocates for a livable wage, greater access to early childhood education, and fair housing. 

Stephanie Bridges

District D covers Lakeview, Gentilly, and parts of the 8th and 9th wards. This is most likely Green’s race to win, with Glover ultimately settling for his run-off appearance being used as a spring board to get his name out there for future races.

A similar scenario played out in District C (Bywater, French Quarter, Algiers). 7 candidates put their names on the ballot. The run-off is now down to Freddie King and Stephanie Bridges. As with District D, money appeared to talk in this race, too. King massively out-raised Bridges $220,000 to $7,800. And he ended up with a 44% to 15.7% lead. His list of endorsements reflects that margin. A who’s-who of Louisiana politicians from U.S. Rep Troy Carter to Governor John Bel Edwards have endorsed him, along with publications from the Tribune to and The Gambit. 

Freddie King Working in Algiers

More Money More Money

Of his $222,000, King has about $69,000 left. Given his endorsement list, he should have no problem raising more money if needed. Bridges, on the other hand, only has about $3,900 on tap. Like Glover, Bridges, who is President of The New Orleans Council for Community and Justice, will have to rely on a strong ground game to win the seat. Policy-wise, as Democrats, there isn’t a glaring difference in their overall positions. Most likely, it’ll be a race based on who voters are more familiar with. If you live in District C, that’ll probably translate into more fliers and yard signs. Advantage to King.

Without the mayor’s race on the ballot, expect both of these races to be low-turnout events. Sometimes this can benefit the lesser-known candidates, especially if they’re good at getting their core voters out. Overcoming the type of double-digit deficits Glover and Bridges face, though, would require unprecedented upsets. But hey, it’s New Orleans. Stranger things have happened. With $93,000 a year on the line and the chance to make a difference in the community, it should make an interesting 4 weeks. 

People often complain about the state of New Orleans.  The easiest way to change the city is through the ballot box.  This fall New Orleanians will get the chance to change our city government.  Voters often don’t have the time to interview or question the candidates.  This series will inform and educate readers about most candidates in the most critical races. 

This week we look at the sheriff’s race.  Sheriff is the 2nd most powerful seat in city government.  And the current sheriff, Marlin Gusman is one of the  longest serving politicians in New Orleans. During his tenure, he has endured Hurricane Katrina flood waters, built a new facility,  seen prisoners escape, and is currently under a federal consent decree.  Despite many challenges and challengers over the years, Sheriff Gusman is one of the city’s most popular elected officials. Each time he has been reelected by an overwhelming majority

George Floyd Effect

But this cycle he faces his most difficult challenge as an elected official.  Nationally and locally, there is a hard progressive shift in criminal justice. Nowadays, “lock em up and throw away the key” is bad policy.  Compliantly, the state of Louisiana released thousands of nonviolent offenders over the last two years.  New Orleans had already downsized the jail from over 7000 beds in the 70’s to just over 1200 now.  And reform groups seek an even smaller jail.

This national progressive wave is a real factor in New Orleans’ elections.  Current DA, Jason Williams, was elected after his reform campaign promised progressive reform of the District Attorney’s office.  Now national money is pouring into the Sheriff’s race.  Former police monitor, Susan Hutson placed second and has momentum going into the runoff. She wants to completely change the Sheriff’s office. Additionally, gentrification has dramatically impacted voting outcomes across political precincts. So, will New Orleanians actually vote Gusman out of office?

The Candidates

Sheriff Marlin Gusman

Sheriff Marlin Gusman

Despite very public opposition, Sheriff Gusman has many accomplishments. Sheriff  Gusman is an advocate for rehabilitation and education. He views this as a way to break the cycle of crime and violence among young people. He has instituted a Day Reporting Center for probation/parole violators. The Sheriff created a regional re-entry program to reduce recidivism. And he opened education dorms and learning centers in the prison.

But Gusman’s biggest achievement is often his most overlooked. He is the first super sheriff in Orleans. Previously in New Orleans, the civil and the criminal divisions were two separate offices. Gusman managed the consolidation of the two sheriff’s offices in New Orleans. Under Gusman’s management and oversight in New Orleans, there is only one sheriff in town.

Achievements in office

  • Modernized the facilities at the Sheriff’s office
  •  And opened a new Kitchen/Warehouse/Central Plant that opened in 2014
  •  Opened the Orleans Justice Center in 2015
  •  Also designed as a cutting edge, latest concept, direct supervision facility.
  • More than doubled deputy pay during his tenure,
  • Disbursed millions of dollars to crime victims from the victims assistance fund

Challenger Susan Hutson

Attorney Susan Hutson

Ms. Susan Hutson grew up in the projects of Philadelphia before attending the University of Pennsylvania.  She first came to New Orleans to attend Tulane Law School.  After graduating, law school she began her legal career. This eventually led to police oversight work in Austin, then Los Angeles. She returned New Orleans as the city’s first police monitor.  She resigned that job to run for sheriff.

Her Platform Includes

  • Stop recording calls between inmates and their attorneys
  • Offer free phone calls for inmates
  • Terminate maligned current healthcare provider’s contract and partner with public health providers
  • Ensure gender confirming housing for LGBTQ community
  • Allow free, open and unlimited visitation
  • Turn jail into a voting precinct and allow eligible inmates an opportunity to vote

Ms. Hutson is media savvy and well known in our community.  Her work protecting crime scenes and the rights of those accused by the police have endeared her to many in our city.  This is her first run for public office.

Sheriff Gusman is a powerful political force in this community.  He has served for over 20 years.  Citizens know who he is and what he represents.  But the forces of change are well financed and properly messaged.  Forced into a runoff, the Sheriff is in for the fight of his political life. 

But now voters must decide if they truly want the kind of reform Ms. Hutson desires. And voters must decide if a person who has never run a prison is qualified to run one of the most difficult to run prisons in America. Powerful local groups, like VOTE, run by advocate Norris Henderson, are working hard to unseat Sheriff Gusman. But the Sheriff is a great campaigner with a strong team working to improve their message and regain the seat. Early voting is this week. Geaux Vote!

Black Churches Challenged to Mobilize to Brunswick, GA

by Pat Bryant

Black pastors, churches, and communities across the United States have been summoned to Brunswick, Ga. by Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jamal Bryant, and Benjamin Crump after a statement in court made by Attorney Kevin Gough. Gough is a defense lawyer for one of three White men accused of killing a Black jogger. He asked the Georgia judge to limit high profile black pastors from attendance.

Three White men, William “Rody” Bryan,  Gregory and Travis McMichael, accused of hunting down and killing 25 year old Black jogger, Ahmaud Arbery.  The trial  began with a 5 minute video of the murder. 

Civil rights and Freedom Movement leaders attending the trial call it a modern-day lynching.

Eleven Whites and one Black sit on the jury.  Judge Timothy Walmsley said he thinks exclusion of Black jurors was racially discriminatory, but did nothing to correct it. All jurors must agree on defendants guilt or innocense for conviction or acquittal. The three men are charged with nine felonies including murder and aggravated assault. Fatilla Shores  neighborhood. A former high school athlete, Ahmaud was fitness conscious. He dreamed of building houses and frequently stopped in to check on construction progress on a house. He died in that house.

Prosecutors have presented a shocking story. After leaving the construction site Arbery jogged by two armed White men in trucks. A third man operating a video camera followed them. The description in court had the feel of a scene in a movie set. Five minutes of chasing Arbery back and forth in a residential block between two trucks The chase ends with one defendant, Travis Michael,  stepping from the truck with a shotgun pointed at Arbery. A struggle ensued and Arbery was fatally shot. Police summoned by the killers, did nothing to save Arbery’s life as he laid dying on ground.  

After 74 days Black community protests,  the murder video surfaced and the national media widely published it. Only then were Bryan, and the Michaels charged. Gregory Michael is a retired Glyn County Sheriff office investigator and court investigator.

Defendants lawyers in an opening statement say the men thought Arbery may have been guilty of an uncertain crime, maybe burglary of the construction site. Video from the site showed Arbery walking through, looking, but taking nothing. Lawyers claim the men were making a citizens arrest, Arbery resisted, and the White men were defending themselves.

“We don’t want any more Black pastors in here”,  said Kevin Gough a defense attorney representing one of the accused killers. Gough asked Judge Timothy Walmsley to limit Black preachers in the court.  Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network had been in court the previous day.  “My concern is that it’s one thing for the family (of Ahmaud Abery ) to be present. ..but high profile members of the African American community into the courtroom to sit with the family during trial in the presence of the jury, I believe that’s intimidating…and it is an attempt to pressure or influence the jury.

Atty Barbara Arnwine

In response to Attorney Gough’s demands, Atty. Barbara Arnwine, president of the Transformative Justice Coalition is calling on pastors from around the country to attend the trial in Brunswick, Ga. 

Local pastors across Georgia and Florida  and the nation are mobilizing to attend the trial. Besides Jamal Bryant in Atlanta, pastor Jeffrey Dove of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Ocala, Fla and Florida AME Bishop Frank Reid, Jr. are inviting pastors and members to Brunswick. Brunswick, Georgia is close to the Florida line and Jacksonville, Florida, a city with one million people is the closest big city.

“The Black Church is uniquely positioned to lift a moral voice, moral vision, and expose some of the fundamental contradictions that exist in American public life”, says Rev. Jeffrey Dove of Jacksonville.

Also calling on pastors and church leaders to join the trial on November 18, 11 am. at the Brunswick Ga courthouse is Rev. Gregory Moss, a former Charlotte North Carolina pastor and former executive director of the Lott Carey Missionary Society.  “We must stand against this overt, racist attempt to prejudice the jury and further deny and diminish our rights as citizens to attend public proceedings

Brunswick’s population is home to 16,122 people of which 56 percent are Black. The largest industries are Sea Island Company that markets its beaches and resorts, Southeast Georgia Health System, and Brunswick Cellouse, a polluting paper company that spoils this area’s natural beauty, especially the air and water. Brunswick is the County seat of Glyn County which has a population of 69 percent white, 26 percent Black, and 6 percent Latino.

The courthouse has small hearing room, that accommodate less than forty spectators with an overflow room generally not filled. A large contingent of family and friends gather under tents outside the courthouse. 

Ahmaud Abery’s mother and father are present in the courthouse each day. Flanked by lawyers, they sometimes comment to the reporters gathered outside on matters at trial. As details of the evidence unfolds like video cam from the first officer on the scene the Arbery family were visibly shaken. Ahmaud could be seen still alive.

Dana Roberts Beckham

Among a network of community leaders fighting for conviction of the three accused murderers is Dana Roberts Beckham, founder and leader of Genoa Martin Friends of Historic Selden Park Association. A recent graduate of College of Coastal Georgia with a BS of Science in psychology and organizational leadership Dana tirelessly battles racism and environmental destruction in this sleepy town mirrors many other towns in America.

“The majority of the Black community is not involved in social justices (struggles) in our city because our town lacks the kind of leadership to raise up warriors (to battle) social injustices …such as environmental racism, medical racism, housing racism, educational racism, mass incarceration,  food desserts and other facets of racism,” said Ms Roberts Beckham.

Rabi Rachael Bergman. Rabi co-founder Glyn Clergy for Equity, an ecumenical group founded after Ahmaud Abery murder has agitated law enforcement and the courts for justice. The group trains clergy to engage in dialogue about racism through  its equity dinners. Clegry have been outside the courthouse during hearings . Some people are outside courthouse because support family, media,

Rabi Bergman said this case is important.   “This case is going to be a referendum on what is acceptable in the South.  The case will mark a turning point in history in which a black man can get a fair trial.

*Pat Bryant is a longtime journalist who covers events in the Southern United States

Two Incumbents in Big Trouble

The next New Orleans City Council will likely look very different.   Two incumbents look extremely vulnerable.  Their reelection chances hinge upon endorsements and turnout.  Forced into runoffs, Cyndi Nguyen and Jay Banks have to be rattled.  They must reshape their campaigns on the fly to have any shot at winning.  They both face strong and highly popular opponents.  Oliver Thomas and Lesli Harris each secured runoff positions. They are poised to knock off sitting city council members. The New Orleans City Council could look very different.

Unseating a sitting city council member is extremely hard.  Council members must be engaged with their constituents.  Their job is to protect their constituents’ quality of life.  Got a pothole on your street?  Call your city council member.  Want your neighborhood park’s grass cut?  Call your city council member.  Got a nuisance bar, corner grocery, ….fill in the blank?  Call your council member.  The point is that good and effective council members should personally know the needs of their districts and be responsive to the community.  So being forced into a runoff spells big trouble for incumbents. 

District E

To run second is the political kiss of death.  Not only did most of the constituents reject you, but you actually lost the race.  Cyndi Nguyen lost 60% of the precincts in her district. Oliver Thomas won 45% of the vote and ran first in the race.  Thomas is no stranger to New Orleans politics.  He served previously on the council.  During his speech before a large crowd of devoted supporters Thomas said, “Some people want the title but don’t know the job description.  I know what to do!”  The crowd erupted with raucous applause. 

Thomas said he has spoken to the other members in the race.  If they endorse him and he is able to get out his vote in December, then Thomas will be reelected to the city council.  His victory will be a shining example of overcoming obstacles.  Our community is full of men who need to get their lives back on track.  Too many of these men feel disconnected and excluded.  More than good government. Thomas’ election is also about restoring our men. Men who see no path will understand they do have options.  Oliver Thomas’ victory will stop more crime than the NOPD.    

New Orleans City Council could look very different.

Jay Banks’ tenuous hold on his District B seat is only slightly less precarious than Nguyen’s.  Banks did run first and secured 45% of the vote.  The issue is that 55% of the people voted for somebody else.  Banks chief rival, Lesli Harris is a political newcomer. But she is a smart and attractive woman who worked hard.  Banks’ recent scuffle with Mayoral candidate Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste significantly hurt his campaign.  Instead of being a polished and eloquent statesman, Banks appeared petty and undisciplined.   The New Orleans City Council could look very different.

Meanwhile, Harris had a consistent and effective message.  She said over and over that she could do what Banks said can’t be done.  On election night she said, “We have talked about the potholes that can get fixed, the crime that can get solved. Jay Banks has said he can’t do any of those things. We have stood on what we can do.”  Harris is a lawyer and the former chief of staff to the president of Loyola University.

Endorsements and turnout will dominate this runoff election also.  But the “Noonie Man” effect might be the swing component.  Not only did Batiste pick up over 200 votes in the district, but smoothing things out with Batiste immediately improves Banks profile.  However, Harris clearly has the momentum.  And some woman power might mean third place finisher, Rella Zapeltal could endorse Harris.  That could spell doom for Banks.

The New Orleans City Council is likely to look very different next year.   

The race for Clerk of Criminal District Court was the most competitive of the high profile races this cycle.  Old school political assets, old rivals becoming allies, the biggest current political camps battling for supremacy are just some of the factors. Powerful political futures are all at stake in this runoff election. Let’s breakdown the Clerk of Court Race runoff.

Understanding political history and the behind the scenes jockeying in this election are important.

Austin Badon and Darren Lombard earned spots in the runoff. Dr. Patricia Boyd Robertson is now the king maker.  Badon is the BOLD member who is currently a citywide elected official.  Lombard is backed by the Congressman Troy Carter’s political team and serves as clerk of court on the west bank. Boyd Robertson went from polling in the single digits to nearly making the runoff. Her dramatic and sudden rise shocked most political pundits.

The attacks on Badon were fierce and effective. Early polls had him comfortably ahead. But negative campaigning works. Boyd Robertson likely picked up the fallout as signs saying Badon was Bad-on women showed up across town on election day. And City Councilman Jay Banks under performance did not help Badon secure more votes in District B. But Badon did run first with 43% of the votes cast.

Austin Badon

Austin Badon Platform

  • Build on the strengths of the office
  • Modernize record keeping
  • Return precincts to neighborhoods to encourage voter participation
  • Protect election from domestic and international hacking
  • Suggest judges create a blight court

Badon is the Clerk of 1st city court. Lombard is the Clerk of 2nd city court. Each office oversees all small claims cases and evictions.  They are colleagues. Onlyh the Mississippi separates their offices.  But as we breakdown the Clerk of Court race, the similarities end there. 

Darren Lombard

Lombard is in the Troy Carter camp.  Congressman Carter versus Karen Carter Peterson II is how you could see this campaign. Their bitterly contested election is barley in the rear view, and we have yet another battle between these titans. Congressman Carter was able to soundly defeat Carter Peterson to win the federal seat. Will this rematch end the same?

Possible Scenarios in our Breakdown of the Clerk of Court Race

In our breakdown of the Clerk of Court race the runoff will hinge completely on For Badon, endorsements from prominent women could propel hill to victory. But Congressman Troy Carter is a political force in this town. He was all over the city campaigning for Lombard. His political strength will be tested in this race if Boyd Robertson endorses Badon.

Ms. Boyd-Robertson’s impact on this election is till the most important factor. Her political team raised money and catapulted her to 27%.  She is the only woman and with other races involving women her voice will be elevated. For the primary I said this would be an exciting race. The runoff will be even more exciting. Just wait to see who Boyd-Robertson endorses and you will see the favorite emerge. 

Like I said, this is an exciting race.  Get your popcorn ready.