The recent redistricting process has left New Orleans with three fewer seats in the state House of Representatives and one less seat in the state Senate. As one candidate put it, the turn of events makes electing the right people to represent New Orleans more important than ever.
The New Orleans Tribune sat down with candidates from the state House District 99 and state Senate District 3 races.
STATE HOUSE, 99th DISTRICT
After the recent redistricting, the 99th District now encompasses the 101st district and will stretch from the Upper and Lower 9th Ward, the Desire/Florida area and reach eastward to include several eastern New Orleans neighborhoods. Two candidates are vying for the seat. They are State Rep. Wesley Bishop and Samuel Cowart.
State Rep. Wesley Bishop
When State Rep. Wesley Bishop made his successful bid for a seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives earlier this year, it was to fill the 101st District seat left vacant by Cedric Richmond’s election to Congress. Though the seat he now fills will technically no longer exist in January 2012, the lawmaker says he is committed to finishing the job he started.
“I see some things that are going well and others that are not going so well,” the lawmaker says in reference to the pace of post-Katrina recovery in the district—an area hardest hit by the storm. If elected, Bishop says he will work to spur improvements in education, jobs, economic development and healthcare.
While the legislature delivered a little more than $8 million in funding toward the new hospital earlier this year, Bishop recognizes that it isn’t enough. Bringing a hospital to serve New Orleans East, the Ninth Ward and other surrounding areas is a top concern, he says.
“That’s the biggest issue, and I am committed to working with the board to get that done—sooner rather than later,” he says. “It’s a $120 million project, and we’re trying to piecemeal and put together a package to move this thing forward,” he says.
One of the accomplishment Bishop points to during his time in the legislature include successfully thwarting efforts to merge SUNO and UNO.
Bishop, who serves as an associate vice chancellor at Southern University at New Orleans, earned his undergraduate degree there as well. He also earned a master’s in public administration from the University of Mississippi and his law degree from Ohio State University.
“I am going to wake up every day and work hard and do my level best for the people of district 99,” says Bishop, who has lived in the district most of his life. “I think I have my finger on the pulse of the average resident of the district.”
Samuel Cowart says he is a life-long resident of the 99th District who has always been involved in the community.
Cowart, who has served as president of the Desire Neighborhood Council and on other community boards, says he still sees too much lack in the area to be satisfied.
“We don’t have stores, services,” he says “We just haven’t had the kinds of things needed for us to thrive.”
Cowart is a graduate of Southern University at New Orleans.
If elected, he says economic development will be a chief concern and that he will be committed to working with local and state leaders to have a positive impact on the district.
STATE SENATE, 3rd DISTRICT
In the state Senate, the current District 3, now represented by Sen. J.P. Morrell, has been expanded to include District 2 seat, now represented by Sen. Cynthia Willard Lewis, as well as some parts of District 1.
The new district encompasses parts of three parishes—the Ninth Ward and parts of the eastern New Orleans in Orleans, swathes of the westbank in Jefferson and parts of St. Bernard.
The two lawmakers most impacted by chnages in the senatorial district boundaries in New Orleans are both vying to continue to represent the people of the area.
The Tribune recently sat down with Sen. J.P. Morrell and Sen. Cynthia Willard Lewis to discuss their bids to remain in Baton Rouge.
State Sen. J.P. Morrell
“The only way a region can move forward is to drag everyone along for the ride,” says state Senate District 3 Representative JP Morrell.
Morrell is focused on addressing crime and education issues, but specifically, blight in New Orleans east, the commercial fishing industry in St. Bernard and the hospital complex in Jefferson.
Morrell counts among his accomplishments legislation to protect children who testify in cases of violent crimes. The legislation and companion bill to protect their parents ensures that the names of the children who testify are removed from court records
“The number one issue that has to be addressed in our community is violent crime. It does not matter how much economic development is taking place, or how many new schools are being built, if a person is not safe moving from his home, to his car, to the work place, there is no way the city can succeed,” says Morrell.
The lawmaker is also proud of his positive working relationships with the current New Orleans city council who he says has a great understanding of what the state can do, and of the support he has of Jefferson parish elected representatives.
He plans to continue to work closely with everyone on all levels to provide solutions to problems of the district. He expresses this idea with a Jesse Jackson quote, “the hardest task of leadership is not to pick sides but to bring sides together.”
State Sen. Cynthia Willard-Lewis
Sen. Cynthia Willard Lewis says she has the ability to “serve the divergent interests of the district” in a way that honors all of its constituents.
She says she laid the groundwork for building that relationship when she offered an alternative redistricting plan that she says would have maintain the integrity of the impacted areas.
“There was a better way,” she says, adding that there was an upside to her failed effort that involved her working with lawmakers, businesses and organizations from Jefferson and St. Bernard Parishes. “But now, I already have relationships.”
She adds that because St. Bernard, New Orleans East and the Ninth Ward were among the heaviest hit areas in the region during Hurricane Katrina, the communities, parts of which are now in the same district, have similar needs.
“Many of our issues are their issues. It’s about finding common approaches that build on the similarities between the communities.”
Overriding issues that impact all areas include crime, healthcare, education and schools, Willard Lewis says, adding that she will focus on them all.
“The issues of jobs cross the Industrial Canal and the Mississippi River Bridge.”
One of her plans in that area is to work on redevelopment opportunities at Avondale Shipyard, which is expected to close in 2013. “We cannot afford to lose those jobs,” she says.
In the area of healthcare, Willard Lewis says she will focus on strengthening West Jefferson and Chalmette hospitals while working to get Methodist Hospital redeveloped and opened to serve the communities there.
As state Senator, Willard Lewis, who has served in the state House of Representatives and on the New Orleans City Council, authored legislation that would have started to move high performing RSD schools back into the hands of the Orleans Parish School Board. The billed never made it out of committee. However, she says, if elected she will again push for such a move.
“I authored that legislation last year, and will push for it again,” Willard Lewis says. “I believe that the voice of the people should always be honored.”