NEW ORLEANS -- At a candidate’s forum Wednesday night, the three men running for the mayor of New Orleans each pledged their commitment to residents of the 9th Ward and New Orleans East.
Incumbent Mitch Landrieu, his challengers Michael Bagneris and Danatus King told dozens of voters who packed into Trinity Lutheran Church that the eastern sections of the city are “vital” and “critically important."
Each candidate pledged to fight for the residents of districts D and E, many of whom say the recovery from Hurricane Katrina in their neighborhoods has been much too slow.
"You go on the north side of my community, it looks like a jungle over there," said Mack McClendon, a resident and community activist in the Lower 9th Ward.
"For the past four years it seems like we were just left abandoned,” said Corinne Villavaso, a resident and community organizer in New Orleans East.
Blight, empty lots and dark streets are not hard to find in both the Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans East. Landrieu defended his work on behalf of the people living in both areas and responded to his opponents’ attack that his administration “ignored” the needs in those communities.
He said there has been progress but added more work, and money, is needed.
“Listening is important. Talk is cheap, and getting things done is the gold standard. Now everybody here knows that the federal government did not reimburse us anywhere near the damages that we need to fix all the things that they broke when the levees broke. That means nobody is getting everything they need to make them whole,” said Landrieu.
The mayor pointed to the pending re-opening of Methodist Hospital in New Orleans East and emerging retail investments, like a new Walmart, as examples of development there.
But Michael Bagneris, which many political watchers consider as Landrieu’s main rival, said the hospital should’ve been opened much sooner and said basic services are still lacking.
“New Orleans East is ignored. It is absolutely ignored, which is why it doesn’t have the proper police protection. It doesn’t have any kind of real development in terms of retail outlets or any kind of construction going on,” said Bagneris.
Danatus King also criticized what he called the delayed re-opening of Methodist Hospital. He told the audience he had the “will” to bring the aid needed in the 9th ward and New Orleans East.
“It’s a shame that we’re sitting here and you travel not even a quarter mile north of Claiborne (Avenue) and it looks like you’re out in the rural countryside with the weeds overgrown,” said King.
Those sights are not difficult to find in the Lower 9th Ward. Residents there are frustrated with a lack of street lights, grocery stores and schools.
People like Mack McClendon admit there is likely a lack of population to attract the kind of development seen in other sections of the city damaged by Katrina.
But to bring people back to this recovering neighborhood, Mack said the city should start by making sure streets have working lights above them.