Councilmember Jay Banks Discusses Important Issues District B Faces and What He Plans To Do if Reelected

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District B Councilmember Jay Banks stands firmly at the crossroads of New Orleans politics and culture.

Decades before running for office, he served as chief of staff for two legendary council stalwarts. He is a leader of a major political organization.

Banks success as a mainstay on New Orleans cultural scene are equally impressive – Zulu King, Jazz and Heritage Foundation board, WWOZ.

Despite the power and access to public funds District B leaders have always enjoyed, several of the district’s neighborhoods are still blighted, crime-ridden and in need of economic revival.

Four years ago Banks won a highly divisive District B election by 131 votes. Now Banks is being challenged by three strong women who believe they can better serve the voters.

Banks took time out from governing and the campaign to speak with District B voters.

Tell us about your background

I was born in District B and have lived in District B my entire life. My father, J. Herbert Banks, III was a stalwart in the civil rights movement. My mother, Gloria Bryant Banks, was the first black person to graduate from Tulane. I had three other siblings from my father and one by both my parents, Gralen, with whom I was raised. We were raised within a true village concept by my parents, grandparents, many relatives, neighbors and friends. From early on, they instilled in us the belief that you should help others whenever you can. I carry that belief to this day.

Where did you attend school?

I am a proud product of New Orleans Public Schools:
Henry W. Allen Elementary
Eleanor McMain Jr. High School
McMain Magnet Secondary School
Dillard University, BA
Springfield College, MS

What kind of work did you do after college?

I had a family to support, and the only job I could find immediately after graduation was on the janitorial crew at the Louisiana World Exposition, where my first task was shoveling horse manure. I eventually worked my way up to the Manager of Transportation, where I supervised a staff of 70.

What civic, social and community groups do you belong to?

Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, Inc.
Rho Phi Chapter of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
Acacia Lodge #248 of the Prince Hall Masons
Platta Temple #15 of the Shriners

In what neighborhood do you live?

My wife and I currently live in the Milan neighborhood. In 2006, we relocated from Broadmoor due to Katrina.

Are you active in a local church? Which one?

I am and have been a member of the New Zion Baptist Church my entire life.

What made you decide initially to run for City Council?

The love I have for this City and its people. I was very frustrated watching people who had lived here their whole lives no longer being able to continue to live here. I wholeheartedly welcome all of the new New Orleanians, but wanted to ensure that those who have been here are able to continue to live here.

What strengths do you bring to the office?

A proven and demonstrated record of service to New Orleans, extensive experience in performing the duties of a Councilmember, a true understanding of the functions and responsibilities of the branches of government, honesty, transparency, straight talk and the 100% commitment to make New Orleans better for all of our citizens.

If re-elected, what would be your first priority?

My first priority will remain, keeping neighbors in their neighborhoods. I’ll continue to build upon my legislative successes, especially inclusionary zoning. The next step is to create affordable home ownership opportunities, and we are working with many City departments and stakeholders to make that a reality. I will also continue my current efforts on outdoor live entertainment. We’ve been working with the Administration to codify and expand opportunities for our cultural community, while maintaining the quality of life for our neighborhoods.

How would you combat crime?

The war on crime has to be fought on two fronts. Currently, NOPD makes an arrest, and the arrested person is soon back out on the street with the possibility of the victimizing someone else, such as Portia Pollack. This tragedy, like too many others, clearly demonstrates that we must close the revolving door in the justice system. I am currently working with Criminal Court Judges to establish a fair but uniform standard for individuals to meet before they can be released on ankle monitors, additionally, presently, there is no one in charge of the ankle monitoring program and I am working with the Sheriff to have them administer the program. We will never arrest our way out of crime. We have to stop creating criminals. I am working to give young people realistic opportunities for success so that the option of criminal activity is one they never choose to consider.

How would you rebuild the police force?

To rebuild the New Orleans Police Department, there should be a focused effort to boost morale by incorporating pay incentives and rewards to officers and staff who perform well, including merit pay increases every year for officers with sufficient performance evaluations. The Department should also work with high schools to start a career path towards young people wanting to become a Police Officer. Hire them at 18 and let them start working within the police, fire and EMS departments until they are eligible to start the academy at age 21. This could result in them becoming vested in a plan to make this a career. Additionally, better utilize police officers for tasks where they are absolutely needed and employ other professionals such as the Crisis Intervention Strategy Task Force for non-life threatening issues.

Describe the District’s most critical infrastructure needs.

The one common denominator that everyone in New Orleans has is the drainage, sewer and water system. We live below sea level, in a tropical climate and global warming is increasing. The reality of water is one that we cannot elude. We have to focus on modernizing and maintaining a functioning water and drainage system, because if we are 6ft underwater, none of the other issues can be addressed.

What should happen to the James Singleton Charter School?

Every school should be held accountable to provide the highest quality education possible and Singleton should be held to that standard also.

Are utility rates too high?

Yes. We have seen clearly that electricity is a basic need. When we lose power, we lose the ability to use medical devices, refrigerators, and air conditioning. Losing power for an extended period of time is a matter of life and death. Access to power should not be dependent on paychecks, especially in a city where people work so hard to make ends meet.

Should Entergy reduce their profit margin?

Yes. I have worked and supported efforts to ensure that Entergy is not making disproportionate profits on the backs of the ratepayers. In the last rate case, I supported lowering ENO’s return on equity. I will continue to support measures that put people over profits.

How can the SWBNO better serve the community?

The SWBNO is far better today than it was when we started, but we still have a long way to go. For decades, the problems at the SWBNO were either kicked down the road or hidden. The culture at SWBNO has changed. The determination in fixing the system is real and the efforts will continue. Practical solutions, such as establishing customer service locations in neighborhoods, will allow residents to have more access to address their billing concerns. Communication to the public is essential. The SWBNO must continue to increase their communication with the public so that everyone has accurate information regarding problems and the progress being made to address them.

Are there too many STRs in District B?

Yes, a large percentage of the current STR locations were previously rented to or owned by local working families. Those families were forced out and can no longer live here. The magic of New Orleans comes from our culture, which is created by our people. Losing them will eventually result in New Orleans losing the very magic these STRs are trying to sell.

Are current STR laws being enforced? Do they need revision?

Unfortunately, enforcement of the current laws ranges from very little to none. The current laws would be helpful if they were enforced. I pushed for some of the most stringent laws we have in place, especially in District B zoning districts. There is always room for improvement, so I am very open to revisions, but enforcement of the laws is the critical missing piece.

How will you help reduce juvenile crime?

I will continue to work to expand educational opportunities and increase opportunities for safe and structured activities that engage our youth. We have to give the realistic opportunities for success that they can see so that crime never becomes an option.

How will you increase the availability of affordable housing?

I will work to expand the Inclusionary Zoning Policy that I introduced and passed on the Council. It incentivizes and requires that new developments include affordable housing units.

Are there enough high quality charter schools for every student to attend?

No, there are not enough high quality public education opportunities. More schools can result in smaller individual student populations which could in smaller student/teacher ratios.

How will you bring more economic development to the district?

By continuing to help prospective businesses through the sometimes very complicated zoning process while making sure that the resident’s needs, and quality of life is enhanced and not diminished by commercial development.

How will you reduce blight?

We have an affordable housing crisis. The fines on blighted property must be significant enough to encourage the owners to rehab them or they must be adjudicated to the city. Every blighted property that we can get control of must be renovated into a home that a working family can live in.

How can NORD increase programming at playgrounds and recreation centers?

The location of the activity is not the real issue. The real issue is keeping children involved in safe, structured, and constructive activities. I have and will continue to encourage NORD to partner with other entities who have the capacity to engage our youth. Keeping kids involved in constructive activities lessens the possibility that they will be involved in destructive activity.

How will you address the Opioid crisis?

The availability and education around the use of Narcan should be widely accessible, and I will continue advocating for removing any liability for those who administer lifesaving Narcan. I also support the full legalization of cannabis for recreational and medicinal purposes. When prescribed by a doctor, cannabis can be used as an alternative to opioids for pain management.

Why should people vote for you?

Qualifications, experience and commitment all matter. My record is clear. People running for office will make all kinds of promises about what they will do but the best way to judge is to look at what they have done. I have spent my life here in New Orleans and for the majority of it have been involved in helping others. I am not running as a pawn in a political vendetta or to stop an affordable housing project. I did not just develop an interest in helping others a couple of months before qualifying. My commitment to making New Orleans better is genuine, proven, and demonstrated. I talk straight, do what I say I will do and will always be honest.

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