Landrieu trashes contractor, and other New Orleans area political news

Landrieu dumps on demolition vendor

You don’t often hear a mayor talk about a specific contractor like this: “I don’t like Hamp’s, I’m just going to say it straight out.”

That was Mayor Mitch Landrieu laying into Hamp’s Construction this week during his first public meeting to discuss next year’s city budget. Landrieu holds meetings in each City Council District every year, giving residents a chance to gripe about busted street lights, potholes and other sources of aggravation the city should tend to.

Hamp’s came up because someone asked about the Higgins Gate on Westbend Parkway, the blighted apartment complex. When Landrieu got around to addressing it, he held it up as an example of bad actors sapping taxpayer money, first calling out the developer who abandoned the property and then Hamp’s for walking away from the cleanup job.

Landrieu said the situation with Hamp’s came about in part because of his own effort to clean up how City Hall hands out contracts. It’s not whom you know anymore, the mayor insisted, but who bids the lowest. “And guess who won the bid?” Landrieu asked the crowd, “Hamp’s won the bid.”

Landrieu even called out Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris by name for siding with Hamp’s when the dispute went to court.

What Landrieu apparently did not expect was that Charlie Hampton, owner of Hamp’s Construction, would be in the room while he explained all this. Hampton stood up from the crowd and asked if he could respond.

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” Landrieu said, then suggested that they talk afterward.

Mayor, chief laud drop in N.O. murder rate

A full month and a half after the news media took note of a significant drop in New Orleans’ sky-high murder rate during the first half of 2013, the New Orleans Police Department and the Landrieu administration issued a news release Friday hailing the improvement.

In prepared statements sent to the media, both Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas expressed cautious optimism that their strategies for reducing killings on the city’s streets are having an impact.

“This update suggests that NOLA FOR LIFE, our comprehensive murder reduction strategy launched in 2012, is seeing early signs of progress and positive results,” Landrieu said.

Serpas called the 21 percent drop in murders during the first six months of 2013 compared with 2012 “a noteworthy fall,” adding, “I’m confident we will stay on this path and see a significant drop in the murder total at the end of this year.”

If the rate of killings seen so far this year doesn’t change, New Orleans will record around 140 murders by the end of 2013.

That’s still a huge number, to be sure, but it would be the lowest number the city has had in decades.

The mayor issued a statement similar to the one he issued Friday in early July, when The Advocate and other news outlets took note of the murder decrease.

Friday’s news release was apparently prompted by the NOPD’s completion of the major crime counts it sends to the FBI after each quarter. Overall, the crime counts show crime in the city fairly steady, with a 2 percent drop in violent crime during the first six months of the year and a 5 percent increase in property crimes.

Cantrell retires to make run for judge’s seat

Orleans Parish Magistrate Commissioner Harry Cantrell retired this week after 15 years, clearing the way for him to run for judge.

Cantrell submitted his retirement papers earlier this week, just before qualifying for election.

Criminal District Court has an internal rule forbidding commissioners, who are appointed, from running for public office.

Cantrell announced his intention to seek the seat several weeks ago. He submitted his papers to the clerk’s office on Wednesday, the first day candidates were allowed to qualify for the Oct. 19 election.

He will face off against two others in the race to replace Magistrate Judge Gerard Hansen, who is retiring after nearly four decades on the bench.

There are three other magistrate commissioners, who set bonds and oversee preliminary criminal matters soon after a defendant is booked.

Cantrell will be up against former Criminal District Court Judge Morris Reed and former Municipal Court prosecutor Mark Vicknair.

Kenner recruits ‘zombies’ amid economic effort

An effort to reinvigorate Kenner is moving along, complete with construction projects, a charter school and zombies.

While more traditionally associated with post-apocalyptic horror movies, the undead got a shout-out from Mayor Mike Yenni as he discussed the progress Kenner has made with the city’s Economic Development Committee Friday morning.

With a focus on bringing a younger crowd to the city, Yenni touted Kenner’s first “zombie run” on Sept. 21.

The event, which has popped up in cities across the country, pits runners portraying zombies against others scrambling to outrun them through a 5-kilometer obstacle course in the city’s Laketown.

Organizers have already registered thousands of participants, Yenni said. That means lots of young people who’ll be exposed to the city, many for the first time, he said.

“This is only in its first year; I see it growing pretty significantly,” Yenni said.

As for more traditional economic development, the meeting featured a status report on Kenner 2030, a long-range plan to revitalize the city and bring in new residents. Many aspects of that proposal, including a major bond issue to fund road, drainage and beautification improvements and the founding of a new charter school, are already underway.

Consultants with GCR, who helped draft the plan and are guiding it through the process, cautioned the committee that while much has been done, longer-term projects will require patience as the process moves along.

Next on the agenda? Moving forward with the sale of property around Louis Armstrong International Airport bought under an federal program to avoid problems with noise from the airport, improving and promoting Laketown and working on the city’s parks.

Yenni said Friday the process has been moving more quickly than he expected.

“We’re a lot further than I thought we’d be three years ago,” Yenni said.

Compiled by staff writers Andrew Vanacore, Claire Galofaro, Jeff Adelson and Gordon Russell.