Interview With James Perry - Page 2
Written by Joe Longo
Thursday, 26 March 2009 20:34
|Interview With James Perry|
NF: Something that seemed to galvanize Obama’s campaign was a generational difference as much as the fact that he was going be the first black president. You look back at it now and you saw that the biggest conflicts he had in his campaign were with some of the civil right leaders of the previous generation. Do you have a plan or an idea for how to deal with the older generation of civil rights folks who may be uncomfortable with the direction you are going and what you’re trying to accomplish?
JP: We are having conversations with those folks all the time and I think that what will happen and what is happening is that people look toward the work that I’ve done. Even before hurricane Katrina, but especially after hurricane Katrina, if you compiled a list of some of the most effective civil rights work in the city, it’s hard not to include a number of the cases that the organization that I run has litigated. So if that’s the case, I think it’s difficult for a civil rights leader to argue that we’re not really committed to this cause and not really committed to social justice. So I think that we’re gonna have great headway there. I know that I’ve talked to a number of people who have been involved in civil rights in New Orleans for a long time and its become clear to a lot of them that it's time to train the next generation and then pass the reins of leadership to the next generation and so what were saying is that this is the opportunity and this is the time, and a lot of folks are open to that idea.
NF: Every candidate hopes to “transcend” race during the campaign but it seems unreasonable to think that race won’t play a role in the 2010 Mayoral election if any of the previous few elections and the tone of the City Council is any indicator. Are you prepared for that eventuality? Do you have a way of dealing with that when you get to it?
JP: Yeah, absolutely. It has in some ways a lot to do with my decision to run, and we just have not had someone who has ever been in the city of New Orleans who has provided leadership around race where they focus on uniting rather than segmenting parts of the population. My social work is as a civil rights advocate and one of the keys in our advocacy work is that we couldn’t be successful in litigating any of our cases without a partnership along race lines, right? We needed white folks and black folks frankly to win every case that we’ve won, and we’ve won every case, so that’s the approach that we would take if we were running the city is that we would come in and we would want everybody to participate. I’ll give you a very specific example of how that plays out or how that would have played out with how things happened recently with the City Council, because you’re probably very familiar with this transparency issue and with Councilman Fielkow trying to get the ordinance passed to change the transparency rules. What happens is, of course, that Councilman Fielkow is unable to really get, particularly, African Americans on his side right? And so mostly conservatives and white folks say “yes, lets get transparency in this contracting process” and mostly African-Americans say “well, why now with this mayor when it hasn’t been the case with any other mayor?”
NF: Sort of the same thing that played out with the Inspector General?
JP: Right, same arguments. So now the argument is right, that we do need more transparency, but the problem was that he couldn’t build the alliance. He couldn’t make the argument effectively to both communities. He could only make it to one community, right? Well, a civil rights advocate, I think, can make the argument effectively to both communities. And it really comes up around this issue of racial mistrust. The reason why people are antsy on both sides is about mistrust across race lines, and so our thinking is that you make all the information available, and when you demonstrate that you have nothing to hide, that’s how you create trust across race lines, when you put all the information out there. And so we actually think that transparency is a great thing and it’s actually the way that you get people of all races involved and engaged because they realize, well hey, there isn’t anything that’s going on that’s mischievous or illegal or anything because we can see every bit of data, and so that’s the argument that he (Fielkow) needed to make in every single community, but failing to do neighborhood meetings where he talked to people in every single community means that it doesn’t get through and it’s certainly to the detriment of the city. I think that that’s something that I would have particularly been able to do.
NF: Does some of the mistrust come from the straight inability to communicate? One of the things we do at NOLAFugees when we’re sitting around the office drinking beer in the daytime is watch the City Council. On a pure level of watching people not understand each other, there’s no better example. When Veronica White talks to Stacy Head it’s like they’re on two different frequencies and they feed off one another’s hostility toward each other. It’s not so much mistrust. It’s almost as if they don’t have an informal area to communicate with each other, so that when they do step in front of the microphone when the cameras are on them in their formal mode, they don’t have any sort of relationship. Is that part of the problem?
JP: I think so, and when you talk about mistrust I think that you can easily replace that with miscommunication, right? Or you can say that mistrust is the result of bad communication or bad data. It could be a number of things that result or cause the mistrust to happen. I think that that’s a factor, but whichever one it is I think we still come back to the same answer which is that making more information available makes it easier for people to get over the communication hump. For instance if these two folks sit here and speak the wrong language to each other and don’t understand each other but then the data is there and they look at the data and they can both understand the data then they say “oh I get it” and it works out now. And so it’s all the more reason, be it mistrust or miscommunication, that all the data should be available.
I would say at least about that initial encounter between Ms. White and Ms. Head is that, at its most basic level, all that was happening was that Councilwoman Head was saying was "can I get this information? Can I get this data?” She may not have been saying it in the most reasonable way, but that’s all she was saying, and Mrs. White was saying, “Oh, well, I’ve done my best to make it available.”
In a Perry Administration she wouldn’t have had to ask because all the data would have been available, not just to the City Council but to every citizen, because it would’ve been open-sourced information available online and so there wouldn’t have been the opportunity for the mistrust to even build. And here’s the case. It might be that you see that data and see that there are things that the administration is doing well and there will be times where you look and see that the administration isn’t doing well, but making the data available is how you figure it out, and once you can assess that then you can perform better, but I think it goes back to making all of the info available.
NF: Your campaign seems to have the potential to galvanize new arrivals to the city, the post-Katrina idealists. Your campaign coordinator (Nathan Rothstein) is a new arrival himself, relatively speaking. If you rely on new arrivals to sort of help you get elected, what are your plans for giving them incentives to stay?
JP: I’ll say first that we don’t intend to exclusively rely on new arrivals. We intend to target every single group, and so some of the early work has been with a lot of new arrivals simply because a lot of them are engaged in a lot of the online networking we have done. But we think that our base is really New Orleanians who have been here and lived here for some time. Now, when it comes to this idea of getting people to stay, it’s not just the young professionals who are from out of town, but it’s also locals. Why should they stay if the economy is failing? But we desperately need them because we have this huge infrastructure problem where we have enough infrastructure for 625,000 people, the peak population of the city, but we only have 300,000 or so citizens, so there are a few things that we want to do.
The first is that we want to invest in some of the things that have already been successful here. For instance, the Louisiana film tax credit we think is an incredibly successful program, but it works anywhere in the state. So what is it that draws a company to come and do their film here in New Orleans instead of in Shreveport? So we would do a physical tax district for the film industry and we put it in a storm-damaged neighborhood, and so there would be additional incentives for companies that shot their films here and then even more incentives, tax incentives and finance programs, for folks who want to relocate their physical businesses here to New Orleans. So that’s one example because you have a lot of young professionals who are coming here because of the film opportunities. Once we saw the film tax credit do well, we shouldn’t have stopped there. The state of Louisiana should’ve passed additional tax credits. We should have passed them in internet technology, we should have passed them for social entrepreneurship, any area of industry we can think of we should have passed tax credits for them.
Of course all of them wouldn’t have been successful, but really quickly, just like with the tax credit, we’d have seen a few of them be successful and as soon as any of them becomes successful on a state level then we should make another physical district and we should locate these physical districts mostly in storm damaged areas of the city so we cause investment in the storm damaged areas, but we also cause investment in the city in general. And, so that process is one process that will ensure local jobs and ensure jobs in the city, and most of those jobs are going to be jobs for college educated folks and there will also be, of course, jobs for folks that aren’t college educated. So that’s one way that I think you end up getting people to invest in and to stay here.
The other thing is, I think, the Port of New Orleans. I think that mayors have not historically put enough focus on partnering with the port. So, there are just millions of dollars worth of goods that come through New Orleans in the port on a daily basis and for the most part they come in and go right through and we don’t even touch them, right? Well, I think that there are two main investments that we can make that will cause us to be able to get some business from the port. The first is that when ships are coming through, they have to get their goods off the ship and either onto either on to a truck or onto a railroad car, right? And we don’t have the kind of intermodal tools that gets stuff from the boat to the truck or the boat to the railroad. So, people actually come through New Orleans and go to another port because they have better intermodal processes. So we should invest in the intermodal processes and the city should actually make an investment or back the investment so that the city actually gets a cut of it, but it’s also that we create some business opportunities there, because there are businesses at every other port in the country and all that they do is just move goods from one mode of transportation to another.So I think that’s one investment for us to make.
The second is that a lot of these goods come in as raw goods and they go onto some other place in America so that they can be made into something. And so we need to add value to the raw goods so that they can be used, so that whatever is being done somewhere else, they can say you can do it right here in New Orleans. And I think that the best place for us; we have this vast area in New Orleans East that’s completely underused and I think one of the best things we can do is to figure out what most of the goods are that are coming through the port and then offer business incentives for folks to do production that adds value to those goods. And so we’ll have to set up, again, physical districts that wait for those goods, and I think New Orleans East is a great place to do that because we have so much vast, vacant land.
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