Real Progress for Our City

Much has been made about the progressive movement in New Orleans.  People say recently elected DA Jason Williams and Sheriff Susan Hutson represent this change.  But the election of Oliver Thomas is perhaps the most significant evidence of this shift.

What Is Progressive

When we talk about a progressive shift, we are actually describing how government treats black folks.  For too long, state and local governments treated black men as a commodity.  An entire system was designed to monetize black male bodies.  Police, sheriffs, lawyers, judges, court reporters, cleaning people. The system is a jobs program. The result was aggressive policing, well-funded prosecutors, mandatory jail sentences.  The “conservative” approach resulted in crowded jails. Over time the system cost way too much.

The new “progressive” approach includes decriminalizing behavior, treatment instead of jail, the return of judicial discretion, less zealous prosecution and ultimately fewer people in jail. The system is much cheaper.   Louisiana released thousands from jails and prisons across the state.   

But there is a glaring missing piece in this so-called reform. Government rules still create and maintain obstacles to success.  Formerly incarcerated men cannot access government contracts, hold positions of power, sit on boards, hold public office, etc.  Changing this requires strong courageous leadership and new legislation.  In New Orleans there is a shining beacon of hope. 

New Orleans East elected Oliver Thomas to the city council.  His election was historic in New Orleans politics.  He is the first ex-offender elected to the city council. He easily defeated a very popular incumbent. His path to victory was difficult.  Thomas did not receive the endorsements of the political establishment.  The mayor did not publicly support his candidacy.  Yet Thomas won by a landslide.

Elected Before

 Councilman elect is not a new title for Thomas.  He became the first person to be elected to three different seats on the council.  Thomas has gone from the youngest member on the council to the seasoned veteran.

Those accolades are factual and important.  But even more significant is the willingness of the public to elect him.  The district consists of some of the most politically active and informed voters in the city.  Hurricane Katrina raised the specter of the cursed green dots.  They gassed up the bulldozers for people’s homes. Furious and motivated, homeowners raced home and protested the plans. The resulting political activism persists today. 

Thomas tapped into that spirit during his campaign.  His slogan, “I’m not running against anybody, I’m running to make things better!” resonated.  Now Thomas is poised to resurrect the part of our city with the most potential.  During his acceptance speech, he noted that, “no longer can the system tell a man like me that he can’t contribute.” 

The most African American wealth and homeowners call New Orleans East home.  Intelligent, informed and interested, NO East voters elected a change agent.  Expect legislation to move the city forward.  Instead of being a drag on the community, Thomas intends to make government responsive to the needs of our citizens. “I want to create the model for urban regeneration,” says Thomas.  “Our people and people like me deserve the best.  I intend to deliver the changes our citizens told me they want.”

Thomas has his work cut out for himself.  The district has the most potential because it also has some of the biggest challenges.  But one of Thomas’ noted strengths is his ability to connect with people on their level.  His work to transform the East will be a citywide model for success.

3 thoughts on “The Election of Oliver Thomas”
  1. I am a law enforcement professional and I consider OliverThomas a friend of mine. He has a keen prospective regarding crime and many other things that plague his district. I stand with him in this challenging endeavor. We must stand together to bring the east back to being better than it was before.

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