ZOLA: What Might Be Fun Is A Republican On The Orleans School Board

There is a below-the-radar race that we have been keeping an eye on in New Orleans, and you should watch it, too. This one pits a Republican against a Democrat in the Lakeview-based District 3 spot on the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB). This may sound inconsequential until you realize that OPSB has a 450M dollar budget with a third of its schools at D or F level.

The race initially was a four-way contest with Democratic incumbent Sarah Usdin’s handpicked successor, former state department of education employee Democrat Olin Parker, squaring off against Republican Phil Brickman and black Democrat Kevin Griffin.  A white female Democratic candidate suddenly was pushed/dropped out and Griffin was disqualified by a lawsuit orchestrated by Parker supporters which made it a head-to-head race between Parker and Brickman. More on this dynamic in a bit.

Brickman is a longtime Republican (he ran in the 2007 state rep race eventually won by Nick Larusso) who has been a leader in the local Jewish community and is a public school parent. Local and state GOP leaders encouraged him to run this summer and Brickman qualified in late July.

Brickman quickly scooped up strong endorsements from Congressman Steve Scalise and State Representative Stephanie Hilferty, the  Orleans Parish Republican Party and the Greater New Orleans Republicans. An attorney running on platform of fiscal responsibility and accountability, Brickman casts himself as a budget hawk on education millages which are a sore subject to a tax-weary middle class in District 3. Those folks, particularly in Lakeview, have been hit with stiff property assessment increases by Orleans assessor Errol Williams.

Brickman also supports the all-charter model and has stated that he will work to create more quality schools by encouraging successful charter operators to expand existing campuses, open new campuses or take over failing schools.  This is imperative as OPSB sits on gobs of blighted and un-used property throughout the Crescent City.

Parker is a first-time candidate, and he’s a product of the educational industrial complex as a Louisiana Department of Education Employee for 8 years and has been funded by special interests and DC based education PAC’s. Whether this was a strategy or just a rookie mistake Parker has been touting endorsements from Mary Landrieu, BOLD, COUP, teachers unions like UTNO and Karen Carter Peterson in the Republican stronghold of Lakeview.

The cherry on top was a last-minute endorsement of Parker from LaToya Cantrell, which could turn the Parker-Brickman race into a referendum on City Hall.

“Da Destroya” is reviled in Lakeview. Everybody there knows the mayor views that neighborhood with thinly concealed disdain as it voted for Desiree Charbonnet in the last mayor’s election, and that disdain is easily seen in the malign neglect of Lakeview’s pothole-moonscape streets. So why the sudden and last minute endorsement from Cantrell? Well, we hear that the long lost 3rd candidate in the race, black Democrat Kevin Griffin, is still on the ballot despite his disqualification. The education and Democratic establishment that put Parker into the race may be panicking at the thought of Griffin siphoning votes from Parker which would give Brickman a clear path to victory.

It’s all great theater as a Brickman win would give the GOP a renewed foothold in Orleans Parish politics and hopefully helps rein in the OPSB while a Parker victory entrenches the status quo and helps shore up Cantrell’s support as we look forward to what is sure to be a hotly contested Mayor’s race next year.



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