Many of us have been saying it for a long time, but now it has been verified through a recent public opinion poll—the citizens of New Orleans and political leadership are in two completely different places (literally and figuratively) when it comes to where to build a new LSU hospital. And it could have implications for the next round of municipal elections.
While city officials have been pushing the plan to build a new LSU hospital in Lower Mid-City, the citizens of New Orleans aren't buying it. Sixty percent of registered voters polled said that they favored building a new modern hospital within the shell of old Charity Hospital instead, with only 30 percent favoring LSU’s and the politicians’ plan. (The remainder didn’t know or didn’t respond to this question.)
Dr. Edward Renwick, a highly respected political scientist in New Orleans who is frequently sought-after for his analysis of the local electorate, surveyed 504 registered voters in Orleans Parish recently on, among other things, their attitudes about the LSU hospital plans, their views of elected officials, and how politicians’ stances on the hospital plans might affect the voters’ choice of the next mayor of New Orleans. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 points.
The voters of New Orleans are an engaged group of people—likely more engaged now than ever before. Ninety percent of those surveyed had heard a lot or a little about LSU’s plans. Eighty percent had heard about the alternative to rebuild within Charity’s shell. And given the choice, they favored a return to Charity two-to-one.
Further distancing themselves from the stance of the city’s current leadership, 64 percent of the voters surveyed said they would prefer a mayoral candidate in the next election who would consider alternatives to the LSU hospital plans, and not continue Mayor Nagin’s approach to push the LSU hospital plan into Lower Mid-City.
Two-to-one, registered voters said they believe that the Charity-rebuild option would cause faster recovery and economic development in the city’s Central Business District.
This is an important wake-up call for the city’s political leadership, the business community, state legislators, the governor, LSU, and federal officials. The citizens of New Orleans know what they want, and they don’t want what the chosen few are telling them they need to have.
The disparity between the citizens’ views and the positions of our leadership should be taken seriously. If the position of the current leadership doesn’t change, the voters will see to it that they get the representation they expect and deserve.
The poll was commissioned by Smart Growth for Louisiana, a non-profit New Orleans-based organization that supports citizen participation and transparency in planning. It was conducted July 20-27, 2009.
Walter W. Gallas, AICP, is the director of the New Orleans Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.