Interview With James Perry - Page 3
Written by Joe Longo
Thursday, 26 March 2009 20:34
|Interview With James Perry|
NF: Back to the film industry. The cynical view, and this comes from some friends of ours who work as extras and that sort of thing, is that the incentive to film here in New Orleans is that the labor’s very cheap. And obviously we’re not going to unionize anywhere south of New Jersey, but what steps can be taken? Bringing them here with tax incentives and all that sort of stuff, but at the same time paying the citizens of the city something that they can actually really live on and give them some security in these jobs.
JP: You know I had a great conversation with a gentleman who worked heavily on increasing the minimum wage here in New Orleans and he had moved on from the idea of increasing the minimum wage and was instead focused on how you give strong incentives for companies to increase the amount that they pay. So, for instance, in these tax credits, these tax programs that we make available, one of the ways you could take advantage of the credit is if you had, if this percentage of your job pays more than x, right? And so, in order to get the incentives, there were these additional steps that you have to take that made sure that you are really investing in workers in the city.
That really gets back to this issue of what a mayor’s principles are, right? And so if you have a mayor who’s really comfortable with the way that things operate in the city right now, for instance the tourism industry that survives basically on the backs of poor people, then of course we have a mayor that just says when the business comes it’s fine and we’re happy. But if you have a mayor that’s an advocate for poor people, then what happens is that each of these tax incentives includes specific regulations that require the company, in order to get this great benefit, to help move people out of poverty. And it’s not that difficult to do. You don’t have to be a brainiac to do it. It’s just that you have to actually care about poor people.
NF: NOLAFugees doesn’t particularly endorse anything, but we do support three sort-of "platforms," or three legs of the stool: gambling, miscegenation and insurance fraud.
NF: The theme of miscegenation we’ve talked about in terms of race relations. But gambling: Harrah’s, with a little hiccup there at the beginning, seems to me a good employer. I don’t say that because I like to play poker there. I spent the last five years there and I know people who like their jobs. And these are people who, if that place didn’t exist, they would be working in the Walgreens and the lower paying jobs on the ladder. So, they’re a good employer. Right after Katrina, Nagin sort of threw up a trial balloon about making Canal Street a sort of gambling district. Is that such a bad idea?
JP: I think so, actually, and the reason is that I think that…I’ll back up for a second and say that we can go down about this and come up with a number of different ideas that came up over the last ten or fifteen years to attract people to New Orleans that weren’t really inherent to New Orleans culture. So, Jazzland, which later became Six Flags and of course went out of business, is an example. For instance, opening the Riverwalk. Which is a fine shopping area and so forth, but when you look at it, all these things that don’t really relate to our culture just don’t attract people to the city, right? It just hasn’t been what they’ve done. I think that in terms of attracting people to the city, people come really because of the culture. I think that it’s a strong investment in our culture that actually attracts more people and that gets more money.
The second thing is that I think you have to look at the market for gambling and see whether or not we really can sustain a whole district. So before Harrah’s was here, we had a riverboat casino that docked off the Mississippi right at the end of Canal Street, and we had the Bally’s Casino out in New Orleans East, right. So Harrah’s comes in and both of those essentially go out of business, which perhaps indicates that we didn’t have the market to sustain both or all three, right? And who knows, perhaps great marketing could make us that we could, but on its face we couldn’t sustain all three. So it makes me very cautious about investing a whole lot of money in placing the whole essence of the economy on this kind of thing that we’ve seen already not do well. I think that we have a track record of investing in things that aren’t part of our traditional culture and seeing them not do well, but not investing in our culture, and then it still carries the day. So I think that, in terms of tourism, I think that’s really where it lies for us. And, you know, who knows? If some study comes across my desk that demonstrates that we can sustain another casino, then perhaps, but it’s hard for me to see it right now.
NF: I’d argue that gambling absolutely is part of our culture.
JP: (laughs) Well…perhaps historically, right? I think you’re right about that.
NF: To what extent are you into that “Reinventing The Crescent” planned riverfront development stretching from Poland Avenue up to Jackson. Does it all seem like a good idea? Would you tweak it?
JP: I think that on the whole, it’s a good idea. My hesitation is about the financing, and I think that this beautiful space along that stretch hasn’t been fully taken advantage of and that we could. My hesitation has been that so far folks have sought to use Community Development Block Grant funding in order to make it go forward. And that’s really money that was set aside to create housing opportunities in the city and it can be used to deal with creating housing opportunities, be it rental or home ownership. It can be used for job training, and it can be used to deal with blight. I can see how people can make the argument that you’re remedying blight, but that’s not the real intent of the CDBG money. And I think until you have more progress in the recovery of regular citizens’ homes, that’s not the appropriate place to use Community Development Block Grant money. I think perhaps that would have been a great shovel ready project in the stimulus package. I think that there may be some ways we can use…
NF: So we get it, right? And not send it back.
JP: Right, right. But I think that there’s also the case that if a private developer wanted to step in and partner, we could provide some public financing assistance to help a private developer do it so there could be some tax increment financing or something like that to help bridge the gap. But I’m really cautious about using the Community Development Block Grant money to do it, but I think it’s a great idea and a great plan.
NF: Have you looked at previous elections in New Orleans as maybe a historical model for getting elected in the fashion you’re hoping to get elected? Some sort of seismic change? Not to suggest your election would be seismic or anything, though you’re going to be coming from somewhere other than where previous Mayors have come.
JP: I’ve certainly looked at other campaigns, but I do think that this election, there’s nothing like it. I think that the election right after Hurricane Katrina was a new and very different realm and there wasn’t anything like it, and I think that’s where we are again. I think it’s going to be a while before people have a road map for the mayor’s race or for other races because of the kind of constant change and flux in the recovery. So, you know, when you look at Moon Landrieu’s race it’s very interesting, but different because he’s a white candidate who, for the first time, really offers civic opportunity to African-Americans in the city.
Dutch Morial’s race is, of course, very different because he’s the first African-American mayor, right? He had been the first in a lot of different areas, so again it’s very different and it’s a creation of the modern political machine that I just talked about essentially dying. And Sidney Barthelemy and Marc Morial are extensions in many ways of Dutch Morial’s win. But the city was just very, very different from the way it is now and the political territory was very, very different. I don’t see that many parallels. I’d love that if you see some of them to point them out, but I haven’t seen them and I’ve studied them, I think, fairly closely.
NF: Who are you anticipating for opponents?
JP: It changes every day; I’ll tell you who I think today, but if you would have asked me yesterday or if you ask me in a week it will eventually be different. I think that either Arnie Fielkow or Mitch Landrieu gets into the race. Before I had been feeling that it would be Fielkow and now I’m feeling like it would be less likely to be Fielkow. I really just don’t know either way about Mitch Landrieu. I’ve tried to get some commitment from him either way from him a number of times and haven’t been able to get anything. I think he legitimately doesn’t know.
think that also Austin Badon and Ed Murray are definitely in the race, I think there’s no ifs ands or buts there, I think they’re definitely going to get in. I’m curious to see what Roy Glapion Jr. is going to do. He certainly has a fundraising opportunity because his sister is in the Obama administration, but he hasn’t done anything civically engaging, particularly post-Katrina, but I think probably ever. So I find him to be a tough candidate to have an opportunity, so I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I hear a lot of rumbling about Rob Couhig and about John Georges and one or two other candidates who kind of come from the Uptown area. They haven’t really confirmed much either way, and I think for some of them because of name recognition and because of money they can afford to hold off and see how the race shapes up and then make a decision. I’ve also heard Judge Lombard is considering getting in, but I don’t know if that’s true or not.
NF: So it’s way too early.
JP: Yeah, you really just don’t know. And that had a lot to do with our decision to decide early to get in. Frankly, I wasn’t interested in running for mayor, but a group of us knew what we wanted in a mayoral candidate. All these names kept circulating, maybe a few more or a few less than the ones that are circulating now, but the things that we wanted in a candidate weren’t coming out of those names. Let me back up and say that the recovery hasn’t been successful, but where we have had success it has often been non-profit organizations and regular citizens that have led the success. So, we knew that if that’s what works, then we should promote what works. It should be someone from that sector, which makes it inherently difficult for a number of candidates who are already elected officials.
We also knew that New Orleans is essentially being crippled by the question of race and our inability to really address it, and I think that’s what we’ve seen around the e-mail debacle and the transparency debacle. None of these candidates seem prepared to stand up and say anything real about race and really confront it. Even if they’re wrong or right, just tell us where you stand so we can move on on the issue, and we couldn’t get that out of those folks. It’s stuff like that that gets us to the point of saying, “well, we have to make a decision to stand up and demonstrate leadership since other folks won’t.”
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