LaToya Listens: Lower 9th Ward

Despite pockets of rain throughout the day, the sun emerged in the Lower 9th Ward on time for day two of mayoral candidate LaToya Cantrell’s “LaToya Listens” tour.  It’s no accident that LaToya chose Burnell’s Lower 9th Ward Market as the location for her first tour stop outside her home neighborhood of Broadmoor. The neighborhood became a symbol of racial inequality during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, and the community has yet to fully recover.

About 35 people came by to listen, ask questions, or share concerns with LaToya.  Many of them expressed frustration at the neglect their neighborhood has contended with in recent years and wanted LaToya to talk about specific next steps in her plans for the area.

One attendee, Reverend Malcolm Collins, said locals have had enough of politicians who make promises to invest and prioritize the historic neighborhood.  To earn the support of the Lower 9th Ward, mayoral candidates must show clear, actionable leadership and commitment to an area that remains devastatingly blighted and underserved 12 years after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures.

These sentiments were clearly shared by many in attendance. Though topics ranged from pest control (specifically the presence of alligators in blighted neighborhood properties) to the controversial initiative for widening the industrial canal, there were common threads throughout.  From the young entrepreneur named Willie who shared his frustration with the lack of accountability and follow through demonstrated by the city government, to Ms. Vera Fulton who has lived in the Lower 9th since the 1920s, the citizens who came out to talk with LaToya all shared a deep connection and love for their neighborhood despite its shortcomings.

LaToya understands this kind of relationship, and she mentioned several times over the course of conversation that she knows what it’s like to love a city but feel like it doesn’t love her back.

She stressed, however, that things can change, starting with “low-hanging fruit” such as trash and dumping issues.  Until the city “gets the trash out of your eyes”, she said, how can locals ever feel like they are protected and valued? The path forward starts with creating hope, and you can’t create hope in an area filled with blight and decay.

It was clear that  LaToya already knew some of the attendees. But she wants this familiarity to breed accountability. Indeed, as resident  Kim Ford stated, the lack of accountability and transparency in recent years has lead the Lower 9th Ward to even consider ceding from New Orleans. LaToya strongly objected to the idea, saying that as mayor, she would commit to this neglected community and would expect residents to hold her accountable.

Ms. Ford’s concerns and commitment to change are understandable. Her stories of  local children who have to get up in time to catch a 4:30 AM bus to a far-off charter school were met with nods of recognition from other locals who have experienced the lack of services available in the neighborhood.

So what’s next for the Lower 9th Ward? With mayor LaToya Cantrell, a strategic plan would be developed to align neighborhood goals as set by the “fabric of the community”, the residents themselves, in tandem with the city government. To use that plan as a roadmap for to creating opportunities for business growth and homeownership. To simultaneously implant the prevention of illegal dumping and remediate blight and its associated issues.

The conversation went longer than scheduled, but LaToya appreciated the residents’ commitment to improving their beloved Lower 9th Ward. To restore and improve this working class community will take an engaged citizenry, resources and action. Last night made it clear that the first ingredient is already present, and LaToya would like to make the rest of the equation a reality.