DSA New Orleans 2021 March 20 Special Election

Voter Guide

Gretna City Council Member

District 1

4-year term

It’s another exercise in “continuity of government” for Gretna, Louisiana, the arrest capital of the United States. The incumbent mayor, police chief, and city council are almost all returning to office unopposed. The last mayoral challenger was then-18-year-old Marine & Maritime Academy senior William Boartfield, Jr., who ran in 2017 to undo a system that arrested people at 14-times the rate of a typical American town, and collected nearly triple the amount per resident in municipal court fines and fees as Ferguson, MO’s extractive court system. Last time, incumbent Mayor Belinda Constant’s longtime friends Ethan and Jennifer Cheramie successfully sued to disqualify Boartfield and hand their friend re-election.This time, Council District 1 is the only seat being challenged.

Incumbent Rudy Smith (D) took office in fall of 2020 after being appointed by the City Council to fill the seat of Milton Crosby, who retired. Brevity of service aside, Smith is the politically established candidate in this race. He is a member of the Jefferson Parish Democratic Executive Committee and has previously served as a postmaster for Westwego and Gretna, on the Gretna Historic District Commission, and on the Gretna Planning and Zoning Commission. The Jefferson Parish Democratic Executive Committee has not endorsed either candidate, but they did endorse Smith’s 2010 bid for this City Council seat. Smith is drawing from a larger pool of campaign funds than his opponent, having loaned his own campaign $10,000. He also received $1,500 from Gretna Chief of Police Arthur Lawson, who presided over the force during Hurricane Katrina when police blocked people fleeing New Orleans.

Miguel “Roche” Romar (D) is running as a political outsider, pointing to her experience as a teacher and mother to inform her work on the city council. The Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO endorsed Romar. Leo Jones Jr., the disqualified third candidate in this race who previously held this seat for ten years starting in 1987, also threw his support behind Romar. When first elected, Jones was the first Black city council member in Gretna, and the seat has been held exclusively by Black men since.

In a candidate forum held by the Jefferson Parish Democratic Executive Committee, neither candidate had much to say on reform of Gretna’s criminal punishment system, with Romar making a vague promise to push for programs to “encourage relationships” with law enforcement. Smith suggested he would not push the city to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), calling them a “rogue organization” and declaring he would do whatever it took to protect his constituents. Asked about improving education, Smith spoke about training for teachers, up-to-date facilities, and special programs for struggling students, whereas Romar advocated for less cuts to educational budgets, more afterschool and mentorship programs, and diverse education around entering the local workforce.

Westwego City Council Member

District 2

4-year term

Ted J. Munch (R) previously ran for Mayor in 2017, lost in the primary, and ended up putting some money into Joe Peoples’ runoff win. Munch had been a councilman of District 2 for 36 years, often running unopposed, until being unseated by Nobles in 2013. His cousin is the chief of police.

Johnny S. Nobles (R) has served as council member for District 2 since 2013. He previously ran mostly self-funded campaigns for District 2 and police chief in 2001. He has received endorsements from the AFL-CIO and Jefferson Parish Republican Party this round. He, in turn, has endorsed Eddie Connick for State Representative on his Facebook page. On the plus side, Nobles joined his colleagues in a unanimous vote against a proposed Wahuna chemical distillery in 2020,. On the minus side, his social media presence is heavy on Trump material and maskless gatherings during COVID.

Westwego City Council Member

District 3

4-year term

Norman J. Fonseca (D) is an Air Conditioning and Heating Tech. He has run for Westwego City Council District 3 in 2001, 2005, 2009, and most recently 2017. He held this seat from 2014 until 2017. In 2017, he received no outside funding, spending only $509 of his own money on his campaign. He has a history of sharing racist immigration posts and Trump memes on Facebook.

Lisa Valence (R) is a former teacher and elementary school principal. She has represented Westwego district 3 from 2001-2009, then as a Democrat, was elected again as a Republican in 2017. Valence has been endorsed by GNO AFL-CIO and was part of the aforementioned unanimous city council vote in January 2020 to deny Chinese firm Wahuna Chemical a permit to build a new plant in Westwego.

Westwego City Council Member

District 4

4-year term

Current Councilmember Matthew Rivere is not running for re-election in this district. Instead, independent candidate and commercial crab fisherman Harris Camardelle (NP) is running against Republican and former Westwego city superintendent, Roberty Utley (R).

Camardelle has highlighted running an independent campaign on his Facebook page and wants to ensure the boat launch is maintained for commercial fishermen. Camardelle has also shared posts supporting police chief Dwayne Munch and wants to ensure police “have all the resources they need.”

Utley has highlighted building more parks and supporting more youth programming at parks in his campaign literature. He is endorsed by GNO AFL-CIO and the Jefferson Parish GOP.

Westwego City Council Member

District 5

4-year term

Johnnie Lynn Thibodeaux (R) is a legal secretary, office manager, and the incumbent councilmember in this seat since 2017.. The Gretna law firm where she worked, Greenberg & LaPeyronnie, was her biggest contributor to that campaign. She says that she enjoys working there, and that her biggest satisfaction comes from fighting insurance denials. She supports Medicare for All.

Thibodeaux was part of the 2020 vote opposing the Wahuna company’s plans to come to Westwego. She cited concerns about safety and the specific chemical being distilled. While she would like to see more businesses open in her community, she doesn’t necessarily think that companies should be given money as generously through the current ITEP system as they have been, and would prefer that the incentive be reviewed every two years. She has referred to the Westwego chief of police as her best friend.

Robert ‘Bobby B’ Bonvillian (R) is a retired 58-year resident of Westwego. This is his first time running for public office, although he has previously volunteered with campaigns for city council and mayor (but would not say which). He is an avid fisherman, and is proud of Westwego’s Bayou Segnette for having some of the best bass fishing in the world.

Recreation is important to him, and he’d like to see playgrounds fixed up around town. Fishing seems to be a major point in his recreation plan (he wants to start a fishing program for kids), and it also appears in his COVID relief plan (he points out that it’s a great way to social distance). His central concern about COVID is getting people out of the house and back to work — including teachers, who he says are not medical professionals and shouldn’t have the authority to keep kids out of school.

He opposed the Wahuna plant, but is not opposed to ITEP, and thinks that people should be back in the oil fields.

Robert ‘Rob’ Heffker (R) is an auditor in the oil industry, part-time residential contractor, and sometimes sells fireworks on Facebook. He also uses social media to post pictures of police cars, and his campaign uses a ‘distressed’ font reminiscent of the “Punisher” thin blue line flag. He lost his 2017 race for the District 5 seat, but is running again on an empty platform that includes milquetoast phrases such as “Family First” and “United by a Common Goal.” His website foregrounds “listening,” but he has been unavailable for phone calls, won’t give you his email address, and has not filed his campaign finance reports.

Westwego Mayor

4-year term

Joe Peoples (R) is the incumbent, after taking office in 2017. Prior to his election, he was a longtime mechanic, business owner and volunteer firefighter who also spent a decade working as the maintenance supervisor of the Westwego’s Police Department’s vehicles. He carries the endorsement of Westwego Chief of Police Dwayne “Poncho” Munch Sr. and Ross “Frog” Babin, 2020 Westwego Employee of the Year.

Peoples’ term as Mayor has been a mixed bag. With Peoples’ facilitation, Westwego’s City Council voted down a proposed chemical plant that had concerned residents, an encouraging move in a state that too often pushes for the profits of industry over the well-being of its people. But in October, a sexual harassment complaint was filed against him by a city employee. Peoples admitted to making an inappropriate remark but blamed his behavior on his medication. He later revamped the city code to make workplace harassment clearer and easier to report.

Running with the slogan “Progress Over Politics,” Peoples has highlighted his improvements on the local sewer plant, installing guardrails, and the construction of a playground at Louis H Marrero park. He has also advertised Westwego’s purchase and restoration of an unsightly lot that formerly housed an asphalt plant, but may become a dog park in the future. As part of these municipal improvements, he proposed a $500 fine on the feeding of stray cats. He did clarify he did not wish for stray cats to be euthanized but did want them to be picked up in order to be spayed and neutered.

Robert E. Billiot (R) is a former state legislator and former Westwego mayor. Termed out of his legislative job in 2020, he is running for mayor again. As a state rep, Billiot’sy anti-choice record includes co-sponsoring of two anti-choice bills: LA House Bill 133, which restricted the right to an abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, and LA House Bill 425, which led to an amendment to our state constitution explicitly denying any protections for abortion (the right to abortion is still tenuously protected federally).

Billiot has been endorsed by the Jefferson Republican Executive Committee, republican state senator Patrick Connick, and former republican state senator John Alario, Jr. He also carries the endorsement of the Crime Fighters of Louisiana, a “victim rights organization” devoted to the rabid endorsement of a harsher criminal punishment system. The group has advocated bringing in the National Guard to fight crime in New Orleans. In 2020, the group was awarded a legally questionable contract to install privately owned surveillance cameras in the city of Lafayette that will share information with police.

In his campaign, Billiot has backed up his commitment to improving city infrastructure by pointing to state funding for city improvements that he secured as a state representative. In his only campaign video, which features a chilled-out ambient techno soundtrack and no actual footage or audio of the candidate, Billiot highlights the funds collected for projects like installing and repairing fire hydrants, improving drainage, building playgrounds and a fire station, as well as improving Westwego City Hall, the Westwego Performing Arts Center, and the Wetlands Harbor Activities Recreation Facility (WHARF) project.