VCPORA & FQC Interviews with Candidates for Louisiana State Senate District 4

VCPORA and French Quarter Citizens

Interviews with Candidates for Louisiana State Senate District 4

ELECTION IS SATURDAY, October 24 – PLEASE VOTE!

 

The election for Senate District 4, which includes the French Quarter, is Saturday, October 24. Two major candidates are running to replace Sen. Ed Murray, who is term-limited out. This election is critical: the winner will represent the French Quarter our as our state senator for the next 6 years. Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents and Associates (VCPORA), and French Quarter Citizens (French Quarter Citizens) interviewed candidates Wesley Bishop and Erich Caulfield to discuss their views on issues important to the French Quarter. We have summarized the results of these interviews and are distributing them to our members and to others in hopes of providing deeper insight into the candidates, and enabling citizens to make more informed decisions at the polls. We have done our best to accurately convey the candidates’ responses, and have edited for length and clarity.

As nonprofit 501(c) 3 organizations, neither VCPORA nor French Quarter Citizens can or does make any endorsements in elections for office; our purpose is to share information.

Please keep in mind that our summaries may not have fully captured all the subtleties of the candidate’s positions; we encourage you to review the candidates’ campaign materials, attend forums and other presentations, and, if possible, talk to the candidates themselves.

Representative Wesley Bishop

http://www.wesleybishop.org/about.html

 

Erich Caulfield

http://caulfield2015.com/

 


Tell us about your background and qualifications.


Representative Wesley Bishop

Rep. Bishop calls himself a product of the Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans East, and has spent the last 5 years serving House District 99. His bachelors degree is from Southern University at New Orleans, where he was student body president. He received his Masters of Public Administration at the University of Mississippi and his law degree from Ohio State. He also attended the Institute for Educational Management at Harvard University.   Speaking to his rise in public service, he said that it was a long way from the Lower 9th to Harvard. He believes that every young person should have the opportunity to live their dream and be treated with honor, dignity, and respect. The city benefitted him, and he wants to return the favor. The first in his family to graduate college, Rep. Bishop is an attorney and college professor, having held a variety of positions at Southern University.

Erich Caulfield

Mr. Caulfield, who originally hailed from Baton Rouge, refers to himself as his “mother’s son.” She was a nurse for 40 years, including home health care, which had a significant impact on him as he frequently joined her on her visits to the elderly and infirm. He got his undergraduate degree in physics and mathematics at Morehouse College, and went on to get his MS and PhD in electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he now serves on the board. He served as a White House Fellow and was also Chief Policy Advisor to former Newark mayor Cory Booker. He also led the 25 person New Orleans chapter of Strong Cities Strong Communities. Mr. Caulfield believes that politics is about giving people a better shot at the American dream and that everyone deserves that shot


Are you familiar with the French Quarter? What do you believe are the French Quarter’s special problems?


Representative Wesley Bishop

Rep. Bishop knows that crime is the biggest issue in the city, and that the voters in the French Quarter will be deciding whether to impose a tax (the Economic Development District) at the polls this Saturday. The French Quarter is the jewel of New Orleans, he says. Although he’s here only a few times a year, it’s the first place he goes when people come visit. When the city hosts large scale events like the Super Bowl, Bayou Classic, etc., it’s clear that the food, music, and culture of New Orleans are embodied in the French Quarter. As goes the French Quarter, so goes New Orleans, and we need to present these issues in a way so that people in other parts of town understand that everyone benefits. Economic development is also key and directly related to crime – 52% of young black men are unemployed. When legitimate means of making a living aren’t available, they turn to illegitimate means.

 

Erich Caulfield

Mr. Caulfield knows that crime is a top issue everywhere, but particularly here in the French Quarter.   Illegal short-term rentals have become a major issue in neighborhoods across the city but particularly here.   The French Quarter also faces special pressures related to its entertainment district, including noise issues in general.   He’s been a regular attendee of neighborhood meetings across Senate District 4 over the past 6 months in an effort to understand from citizens what their priorities are.

 

 

 


Can you tell us why you feel that the voters who live in our historic neighborhoods, or who care about New Orleans’ historic neighborhoods, should vote for you?


Representative Wesley Bishop

Rep. Bishop believes that he has a proven record of delivering for his district, which includes some of the poorest in the city, and their issues are extremely important. He cited several examples:

  • Fought to have Sidney Collier Technical College in New Orleans East reopened
  • Fought Gov. Jindal’s effort to merge public colleges in New Orleans
  • Worked to bring a hospital to New Orleans East
  • Helped get operating money for the University Medical Center
  • Helped get Wal-Mart in New Orleans East.

 

Erich Caulfield

Mr. Caulfield , who notes that he is a proud resident of Bayou St. John, says that New Orleans, and the French Quarter, are the jewel of Louisiana.   The Quarter encapsulates every culture. We have to be careful to protect and preserve our culture and our architecture, and he has the sensitivity to fight for it.

He’s been directly responsible for creating jobs in New Orleans; worked to cut time for psychiatric patients in emergency rooms; stabilized the city’s safety net for healthcare funding for the most vulnerable. He believes that the way to improve neighborhoods is to empower those living there to make them better.


People come from around the world for the historic architecture, both in the French Quarter and in other parts of the city. What commitment can you make regarding protecting our architecture in the French Quarter and our other historic neighborhoods? 


Representative Wesley Bishop

We have to preserve and maintain our unique culture. Economic development has to work hand in hand with agencies and organizations, people who have more answers than we do. When an issue came up, he’d contact those people. His ideal is to lean on residents and experts to figure out what needs to be done.

Erich Caulfield

He appreciates the architecture of New Orleans.   The flavor of the city is changed by overly commercializing it. When you change that, you change culture of a place. There needs to be balance in development, but when you go too far, you become something different than New Orleans, and that’s not why he moved back.


Tax credits have played an important role in stimulating preservation of the French Quarter’s historic buildings, but were abolished for residential properties several years ago and yet retained for commercial developers. Would you support restoration of tax credits for residents to restore historic structures?


Representative Wesley Bishop

It was tough to deal with taxes in the last legislative session due to the enormous deficit. We’ve gone from a $1B surplus to a $1B deficit.   There needs to be a give and take to reach compromise, and compromise is most evident when both sides are a little unhappy.

Erich Caulfield

This matter goes back to the culture of the city. Getting rid of the residential tax credit doesn’t make sense to him. There is a definite shortage of affordable housing (and the definition of affordable should be expanded). It is already expensive to build in this city, so we shouldn’t be making it more so.


Did you or would you have supported the Hospitality Zone, a 2012 proposal in that would have provided funds for French Quarter infrastructure but transferred decision-making authority from elected officials to a board appointed by politicians and the tourism industry?


 

Representative Wesley Bishop

He didn’t like it, noting that it’s easy to impose a tax if you’re not the one to pay for it. He used the example of Canal St. He has talked to business people here and on Bourbon St. and how that would impose a burden on them rather than on state.

Erich Caulfield

He’s familiar with the proposal because he was working at City Hall when it came up. He remembers stiff resistance.


Describe your thinking on State legislative responsibility for public safety and police presence in the French Quarter? How would you support greater public safety in the French Quarter?


Representative Wesley Bishop

Rep. Bishop believes that NOPD needs more officers on the street. He also liked Austin Badon’s plan from a few years ago for a permanent State Police presence in French Quarter. If Louisiana makes so much money off the French Quarter, why doesn’t the state protect it? Because this area provides a disproportionate benefit, it should get disproportionate protection. There are $7 billion in tax credits in New Orleans – we are the only city in the state that merits this kind of attention.

Erich Caulfield

There are two ways to think about it. The vast majority of revenue raised here goes to other parts of the state. Others in the state feel that we get too much. Our sales tax and general revenue go to Baton Rouge – this is not true for any other part of any other city. We need a reinvestment to make sure there are State Troopers and safety. It makes sense that the city can’t handle it at this time. If we turned out lights in French Quarter for a week, it would have an astronomical impact on state. Those kinds of investments make sense to him.

 


Would you support empowering neighborhood organizations and residents to strengthen compliance with on-the-books quality-of-life and other ordinances by changing state law to (1) give neighborhood organizations standing to pursue last-resort legal action against bad actors and (2) provide residents a “private right of action” to pursue remedies against bad actors when city authorities are unwilling or unable to enforce existing statues?


Representative Wesley Bishop

After getting clarification on these issues, Rep. Bishop said that he would find the best way would be to do it consistently throughout state and/or country. He would want a point person, or someone who knows exactly what’s going on. If the local delegation is in lockstep, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Erich Caulfield

As a problem solver, Mr. Caulfield would look to solve this in a more immediate way than a legislative fix.   There is perhaps a micro fix through class action. He recalled his neighborhood organization suing a bad actor over a liquor store, which resulted in retaliation. In concept, he’d be behind it; in a practical sense, anything that offers protection for people from these kinds of things would be a good thing. He wondered if there might be any solution in empowering a neighborhood organization through power of attorney.


Would you support legislation to allow municipalities the flexibility to increase the maximum fines for municipal offenses from $500 to $5000, which would be a meaningful deterrent?


Representative Wesley Bishop

He would be in support, but as a practical matter, thinks that he might advise a different way of approaching this.

Erich Caulfield

He thinks this makes sense. The cost of living/doing business in New Orleans is different than in other parts of the state. Allowing municipalities to make this kind of change would be good.


Illegal short-term rentals, facilitated by national internet rental platforms such as AirBnB, have ballooned in recent years, undercutting local and legal businesses, displacing long-term renters and residents, and diminishing the availability and affordability of housing. Would you support action at the state level to require internet platforms to share usage information with local authorities, clarify that state consumer protection laws apply to short-term rentals, and strengthen enforcement of state laws so that all those offering short-term rentals have the equivalent liability and operating requirements?


Representative Wesley Bishop

Rep. Bishop was astonished at the high numbers of illegal STRs nightly and believes now is the perfect time to try to solve issues like this. With the legislative session beginning in March, we could start to work now on an instrument to deal with this at the state level.

Erich Caulfield

Mr. Caulfield believes that STRs are businesses, so they should be subject to the same regulations as hotels. There is also the safety issue. Requiring them to report occupancy and other makes sense, as does requiring operators to pay taxes. It’s necessary to address both safety and regulation.


Describe measures you would support aimed at retaining and attracting long-term residents and families to the French Quarter.


Representative Wesley Bishop

New Orleans needs to be an affordable place to live overall. He constantly gets calls from people trying to move back, and yet we are not in an economic position to get them back. We need more affordable housing, but how do we pay for it? If we decided this was more important than other things, we’d be able to get it. There are Road Home issues, rebuilding, HANO programs and Section 8 subsidies. He’s especially interested in getting trade skills to move forward. Getting 10% of the people who want to come back would provide a big benefit. What does it take to get individual to relocate? We need to move the school system forward.

 

Erich Caulfield

This is twofold: people move to French Quarter for culture. We need to support and preserve it, especially those parts that make it attractive. We have to be smart about preservation. We must stabilize crime to reduce it, and there are certain types of crime in French Quarter. Everything that New Orleans represents to the world is something special and worth fighting for.


Describe your relationship with our elected and appoint officials, including the Mayor, the City Council, and other members of the New Orleans legislative delegation, and discuss how you would manage this relationship? How would you work with your constituents and with neighborhood associations?


Representative Wesley Bishop

Rep. Bishop’s relationship with the mayor is “pretty good.” He agrees with the mayor when it serves his constituency, and disagrees when it doesn’t .

This relationship works because two months before the legislative session, the mayor sits with the entire New Orleans delegation, so they move forward on matters already agreed upon. Issues are vetted with staff before they make it forward. He has the endorsements of all five district City Council Members.   Because he’s been in office for 5 years, he’s worked with many neighborhood organizations in his district, including the NPN. As a legislator, he knows that he needs to just listen and let the people tell him what they think. Bywater and Marigny are in his district now; most districts have similar concerns. He is proud of the Lower 9th ward Redevelopment Act.

 

Erich Caulfield

Mr. Caulfield’s relationship with the mayor is cordial, and he believes that Mayor Landrieu has a favorable opinion of him and his work. The City Council unanimously voted for him as their representative in the New Orleans Business Alliance. He is on the board of the Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association. He’s been going to meetings in Marigny, Bywater, Lakeview, and New Orleans East meetings for several months to learn about the issues in District 4.

 


The French Quarter Management District is a state-created entity that has some residential representation and a majority business representation. What role do you believe they should play in speaking for the French Quarter? (This question may require some elaboration based on candidate’s prior knowledge of FQMD and its mission.)


Representative Wesley Bishop

He asked for an education, and listened to the group’s description and concerns.

Erich Caulfield

He had little awareness of it, and asked us to elaborate.


Closing remarks and questions for the panel


Representative Wesley Bishop

Last week, he met with Bourbon Street bar owners and representatives, and understands that there is division on many issues. He has seen this before in other areas of his district and tries to mediate. He asked for the top five issues that we would agree with the Bourbon Street bars upon. He asked our feelings on the proposed EDD tax, and we let him know that both VCPORA and FQC were in support. He believes it will pass; everyone he’s talked to supports it.

 

For the past twenty-four years, Sen. Murray has represented this area. When it became time for him to retire, he talked to Rep. Bishop and said that he would be the best person to continue to advocate and champion for those he represents. He likes to work in small groups with those who have the best information. He wants to champion those issues and would like to visit with us more regularly. When people are trying to get things done, they don’t care if he’s state rep, they call to get something done and he has to bring that strength.

Erich Caulfield

Mr. Caulfield wanted to know what our issues were.   From what he understood, they are crime, preservation, development, short-term rentals, and protecting the French Quarter as a neighborhood. After hearing that the hardest part is finding balance between residents and development, he asked what the difference is now from earlier. After the group explained the increases in tourism, increased out-of-town ownership and management of many businesses, he asked, “Would it be fair to say that what we’re guarding against is becoming Las Vegas with gumbo?” He understands that the French Quarter is first and foremost a neighborhood.

 

State Senate District 4 Map