Negotiating the Streets of Post-Katrina New Orleans Friday, Nov 24 2006 

000_0348_1.JPGAlthough the floodwaters generally came no further than Freret Street, all the streets in New Orleans, even 15 months after Hurricane Katrina, are more beaten and broken than ever. The path from downtown to Uptown is now a veritable obstacle course of potholes, lane closures, and broken stoplights. As a public service, we now share the following tips for negotiating the streets of post-Katrina New Orleans.

When leaving downtown on S. Rampart Street, look for the monster pothole surrounded by orange barriers in the right lane. That mess has been there for months now, and will probably be there for the indefinite future. You can either pull off to the shoulder and tread around to the right or wave into traffic on the left. Either way, it’s always an adventure. Maybe, just maybe, the city will fix the pothole and remove the barriers, since thousands of motorists are forced to dodge them every day.  More likely, someone may just lose it one day and plow right through them. Ten points to anyone who tries it. Have another favorite pothole? Feel free to share.

After the potholes, one can look forward to a series of unique traffic light systems. Our favorite is what we call the double light (pictured above). A double light does not alternate between red, yellow, and green. Rather, it is red and green at the same time. This type of light allows the motorist great flexibility, especially if he happens to drive a large SUV with good airbags.

Other lights may flash red or flash yellow. In other places around the country, a flashing red light functions the same as a stop sign. A flashing yellow light functions as a yield sign:

FLASHING LIGHTS: These lights may be either red or yellow.

Flashing Lights FLASHING RED: Stop, yield the right-of-way to traffic within the intersection or crosswalk and proceed when safe. This sign is used at dangerous intersections or when a stop sign alone is hard to see. They are also used at railroad crossings to warn of approaching trains. Stop. Never try to beat a train to a crossing.FLASHING YELLOW: Proceed with caution. This sign is used where caution is required.

In New Orleans, however, the geniuses in charge have put stop signs up in some of those intersection with flashing yellow lights, more or less rendering the intersections four-way stops.  So much for the whole “proceed on with caution” thing.

The good news is that motorists need not worry about those dangerous street cars on St. Charles Avenue. Sure, they were charming, but they were constantly plowing into unsuspecting motorists making left turns into the neutral ground, creating lawsuits and making lawyers rich. The Regional Transit Authority reports that although the Central Business loop of the St. Charles streetcar may be functional by the end of the year, Uptown will be street-car free until late 2007. Although it takes less than a year to repair and renovate the entire Superdome, it apparently takes over two years to fix the overhead lines on a four-mile streetcar track.

Update:  Since we began working on this story, progress has been made on St. Charles Avenue.  The street lights between Valence Street and Robert Street have finally been fixed, and some of the flashing yellow light/stop sign combinations have been replaced with flashing red lights.  Still dodging that pothole on S. Rampart Street though . . . .

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Crow Eaten as Troy Carter Finishes Fifth Wednesday, Nov 8 2006 

We are eating some boiled crow this morning after making the ridiculous prediction that Troy Carter would make the runoff in the Louisiana Second Congressional District race.  We were half right, because we predicted that Rep. Karen Carter would take one of the top two spots.  But we hoped the guy with $90,000 in his freezer would finish out of the running and Mr. Carter would slip in.  Instead, Mr. Carter finished a disappointing fifth, with only 12 percent of the vote.  He even finished behind a much younger Republican who had never run for office before (on a night that generally was not kind to Republicans).

Hurting Mr. Carter was his complete lack of get-out-the-vote effort, especially Uptown, where signs and supporters were non-existent.  His lack of a formal organization, like Jefferson’s Progressive Democrats, Karen Carter’s BOLD, Derrick Sheperd’s new “Marrero Machine,” and even Joe Lavigne’s GOP connections, obviously hurt him badly.

From a historical perspective, Mr. Carter’s performance should not have come as a surprise. He imploded in the 2002 mayor’s race, finishing almost exactly where he ended up last night: in fifth place, with 10 percent of the vote.

Next up:  Will Couhig Republicans swing their support to Jefferson like they did for Nagin?  Stay tuned.

Troy Carter for Congress Monday, Nov 6 2006 

In the Congressional race for Louisiana’s Second District, which is a safe Democratic seat that covers much of New Orleans and parts of Jefferson Parish, former state representative and city councilman Troy Carter is the best candidate to defeat and replace the soon-to-indicted Bill Jefferson.  A hard worker with no alphabet soup baggage (BOLD, LIFE, SOUL, etc.) , Carter is a smart and experienced politician and entrepreneur.  Endorsed by the likes of Arnold Fielkow and Harry Lee, he will fight on the issues important to the city, like flood protection and offshore oil royalties.  He will be a safe Democratic vote on social issues and will work with Republicans on economic issues.  And he gets bonus points for his having a beautiful wife (former news anchor Melanie Saunders) and cute kids.

Forget the conventional wisdom that he can’t win – two independent polls a couple of weeks ago had him running second – and that state representative Karen Carter will make the runoff with Jefferson.  Although Rep. Carter has the support of the state Democratic party and even a few Republicans, and whatever is left of the BOLD political machine, she was horrible in the debates and has taken some serious shots for her ties to a law firm that advises the City Council on utility regulation pursuant to a no-bid contract.  Like most politicians in this town, her father was also a politician – one of the seven assessors – which is reason enough to be wary.

The other challenger with a decent shot is state senator and anti-butt crack crusader Derrick Shepard.  He has lined up the support of a bunch of Jefferson Parish politicians and has a “Marrero Machine” that could get cranked up and put him in the runoff.  But until he can show us he’s got some Uptown cred – like campaigning on the corner of Napolean and St. Charles for starters – we’ll stay away for now.

On the Republican side, lawyer Joe Lavigne did a good job raising money and was in a position to make some waves, but he make a devastating rookie mistake with a  ridiculous radio ad ripping President Bush on Iraq and Katrina.  Although he earned points with people who would never vote for him (like Your Right Hand Thief), he alienated his base and left all but the most faithful GOPers scrambling for a candidate that can actually beat Dollar Bill.

Speaking of Dollar Bill, we’re still waiting for the honorable explanation as to why he had $90,000 in his freezer and why people are telling judges they bribed him and are going to jail.  It really is a shame the guy is evidently such a thief, because he is a skilled and talented legislator (from Uptown) who would work with Republicans and used to have considerable influence on the Hill, before soon-to-be Speaker Pelosi booted him off Ways and Means.

If New Orleanians do the right thing, Jefferson will be a lame duck around this time tomorrow night, and the feds, who are either painfully slow or are, more likely, waiting for the election to run its course before bringing an indictment, can move in and do their thing.

A prediction for this the last non-partisan open primary for a Congressional race in Louisiana?  (The state is moving to the more traditional closed party primary in two years.)  Both Carters make the runoff.  Jefferson third, Shepard fourth, Lavigne fifth.  TC goes to DC in Dec.

Vote Yes for Amendment #7 Friday, Nov 3 2006 

In April 2004, long before before Hurricane Katrina was even a tropical wave, the Times-Picayune ran an excellent series on the waste and corruption of Orleans Parish’s unique system of having seven elected tax assessors. An excerpt:

For example, former Saints quarterback Archie Manning has contributed $1,250 to the campaign of 4th District Assessor Betty Jefferson since 1998 and also gave to her predecessor, Ronnie Burke. Manning has lived for 22 years in a galleried Greek Revival mansion in the Garden District, where he and his wife raised three sons, including NFL Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning. Archie Manning paid $450,000 for the home in 1982, but 16 years later, Burke valued it at $285,000 — saving Manning almost $3,000 a year in taxes.

Although Garden District property has appreciated dramatically in recent years, Manning’s assessment has risen at a gentler pace. Jefferson bumped it up four years ago to $331,200. This year, she nudged it up another 9 percent. Jefferson still puts the value at 20 percent less than what Manning paid for it.

Manning did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Jefferson said the suggestion that donations influence assessments is ludicrous.

“Are you kidding? No, donations do not play a part,” she said. “They have nothing to do with assessments, absolutely nothing.”

A response to the comments of the Honorable Betty Jefferson (the sister of the guy who had $90,000 in his freezer) is best made in video form:

With the help of Louisiana Legislature and yes, our governor, we finally have a chance to amend the Louisiana Constitution and fix this ridiculous situation. Every dollar horded by the Archie Mannings of New Orleans, either through political influence, assessor incompetence or just plain dumb luck, is a dollar that could fix a school or pay a cop. (Curiously, unlike most other residents, Archie Manning’s 2007 assessment cannot be found on the assessors’ website.)

On Tuesday, Louisiana voters will vote on whether to consolidate the seven fiefdoms into one. As the amendment primarily affects Orleans Parish, it must pass both statewide and in Orleans Parish. The Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans makes the following points in favor of the amendment:

  • The current system is unfair to taxpayers, home buyers, and those rebuilding homes, and costly and wasteful in a time of fiscal crisis for the city.
  • The establishment of an objective, fair system utilizing best practices will be efficient and cost effective, and will create a favorable climate for investment and business, resulting in an increase of revenues for the city and improved city services
  • State law requires uniformity for property assessments. There will be a city wide reassessment mandated by the La. Tax Commission.
  • All other parishes and large cities across America have only one assessor.
  • It is easier to hold one assessor accountable. Why pay 7 to do the job of 1?
  • The job of assessor should not be political; it is simply to determine fair market value.
  • The amendment will reduce favoritism for a few. With an objective system, there is no need for cozy relationships or deals for some and not others.

We agree. The best argument against consolidation we’ve heard comes from a Couhig Republican in Algiers, who worries that with a parish-wide election we’ll just get another Marlin Gusman-type hack who’ll favor his friends anyway. But we’ll take that chance and deal with that kind of problem if it comes up. The only bad thing about the amendment is that it does not take effect until 2010.

This assessor mess has been a pet issue for The Weathers Report, which even registered www.oneassessor.com as an addon website domain nearly a year ago. It’s now time to finish the job. Vote Yes on Amendment #7.