Dennis Woltering / Eyewitness News
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NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans voters will choose among seven candidates in the race for the at-large seat on the City Council in the March 24 election.

Those candidates -- everyone from a taxi driver and a real estate broker, to a state representative and current council member -- made his or her pitch for votes at a public forum Tuesday night.

The seven candidates in the race to fill the City Council at-large seat that Arnie Fielkow left empty when he resigned all agree the city has to find a way to restore cuts the state made to mental health care.

'There was a pot of money available for LSU and the private care providers,' said Councilwoman Stacy Head. 'And when it was time to divide that money up, the state chose to give money to the private health care providers, even though they overspent dramatically, and to the detriment of LSU.'

State Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, said, 'As your councilman at-large, I'm going to be in Baton Rouge every Wednesday along with the mayor to petition my colleagues and the very new legislature to restore funding for LSU hospital.'

Former Councilwoman Cynthia Willard Lewis said, 'We must do more in terms of making sure Baton Rouge understands that mental illness is a component of the violent crime occurring in our families as well as on our streets.'

Other priorities included battling violent crime and fixing the New Orleans Police Department.

'We are spending $10 million a month on a police department, and our murder rate is 10 times the national average. That is absolutely unacceptable,' said Andrew Gressett. 'We need a new police chief. We need a new police department.'

William 'Poppa' Gant wants to raise the minimum wage, even though he said he knows it would be controversial.

'As a businessman I saw opportunities to turn around the poor economic performance in urban communities and suburban communities,' he said.

The candidates were asked what could you accomplish on City Council, realistically?

'I believe that change comes through involvement, so as city councilperson at-large, I get opportunity to serve on the NORD Commission. So you'd have a great impact because you'd be involved,' said Norbert Rome.

Gary Landrieu said, 'If I make it to the council, the traffic cameras are gone. And I'm not running my campaign just on that, but I'm telling you, I know people who don't come to New Orleans anymore because they don't want to get a ticket. Because they can't afford $175 or $150. Who has an extra $175 to pay a ticket? And if you don't pay another time it's another $75, and if you don't pay that they'll boot your car and charge you another $100. This is insanity. That's not a good way to treat taxpayers.'

The League of Women Voters sponsored the forum.

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