Who will lead?
Few local residents need to be told that the most important election in New Orleans’ history is soon to be a wrap. The runoff opponents are lobbing nonstop volleys via TV and radio commercials, direct-mail pieces, street signs and e-mails, but all will come to an end with the final vote this Saturday. Along the way, look for both Mayor Ray Nagin and his runoff opponent, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, to announce a few more endorsements and cut deeper with their public criticism of one another.
With polling made difficult by the post-hurricane diaspora of local voters, the race is a tough one to call, but many expect it will be a fight to the finish and that the finish will be quite close. All registered voters are encouraged to cast their ballot on May 20.
Councilmanic frenzy
Expect the heat to rise in other local races this week as well. In addition to choosing their next mayor, voters will decide between runoff candidates in four City Council races. A runoff for one of two At Large seats pits current District C Councilwoman Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson against former New Orleans Saints executive Arnie Fielkow. (Incumbent Councilman Oliver Thomas retained his At Large seat in the primary election.)
In District A, incumbent Jay Batt faces community activist Shelly Midura; in District B, incumbent Renee Gill Pratt meets lawyer Stacy Head; and lawyer James Carter faces community activist Kristin Giselson Palmer in District C.
Other local runoffs include: 1st District assessor, Maria Elliot vs. incumbent Darren Mire; 4th District assessor, incumbent Betty Jefferson vs. Chase Jones; and Criminal District Court clerk, Arthur Morrell vs. Nick Varrecchio.
‘Road home’ leads through D.C.
The state’s road map for local housing recovery will be under the spotlight in Washington this week. The Louisiana Recovery Authority’s “Road Home” plan for funneling federal money to owners of severely flood-damaged homes in New Orleans and elsewhere received its final approvals from Louisiana lawmakers last week. After it got a quick amendment aimed at making the ultimate disbursement of funds more equitable, legislators gave the plan a thumbs-up and sent it on to the nation’s capitol to get the approvals that finally will allow dollars to begin to flow.
The plan, unveiled Feb. 20 by Gov. Kathleen Blanco, calls for spending $8 billion in Community Development Block Grants on payments to some 120,000 homeowners. It also would provide gap financing to help small landlords rebuild apartments.
Holding Hornets
New Orleans Hornets owner George Shinn is working on cutting deals not only to strengthen the team but to boost the chances that the team will stay put in the city. Shinn is talking with potential local investors who, if he can persuade them to join, could become part owners of the team. With more local owners comes a greater likelihood of drawing more corporate sponsorships, and with that comes increased chances that New Orleans will be able to keep the NBA team
According to published reports, the team also is working deals for two high-profile players interested in playing for Hornets Coach Byron Scott. Speculation centers on Denver’s Kenyon Martin as one of the targets. Martin previously played for Scott in New Jersey.
Flood of concern
Worried eyes will stay focused on the progress of new floodgates and floodwall repairs as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers races against time. The Corps last week fessed up to the fact that the interim flood protection system they’ve been working on for months will not be ready by the June 1 deadline they had insisted they would meet. Now, says the Corps, mid-July looks to be a more likely target for finishing the work.
Anxiety continues to rise across the city as the storm season draws near. While, historically, hurricanes that affect the Gulf Coast generally occur in August and September, the trends are changing. Last year, the first significant storm threat arose in July. As the countdown to the 2006 season continues, residents are beginning to resign themselves to the likelihood that multiple evacuations of the city could be ordered this year.

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