18-Year-Old Running For Gretna Mayor
GRETNA, LA (AP) — The majority of Gretna's elected leadership — the five incumbents on the City Council and the police chief — have each been automatically returned to office after no one filed to run against them last week.
But things didn't go quite that way for Mayor Belinda Constant.
The Advocate’s Chad Calder reports William Boartfield, Jr., an 18-year-old high school senior and state Green Party co-chairman, qualified to run against Constant, a Democrat and former councilwoman finishing up her first term as mayor.
Boartfield says he will run on a platform of criminal justice reform, a decision he said was fueled by a recent profile of Gretna and its Police Department in the online publication Fusion. In the article, reporter Mark Gimein wrote that Gretna's 6,566 adult arrests in 2013 gave it an arrest rate 14 times that of a typical American city.
In the article, titled "Welcome to the arrest capital of the United States," Gimein also noted that two-thirds of those arrested were black and that there were eight arrests of black adults for every nine living in the city, though not everyone arrested in Gretna lives there. Gimein also detailed the vast array of fines in Jefferson Parish and the way they often pile up on residents who are arrested, leading to more arrests and more fines.
The story noted that in 2013, Gretna took in $5.77 million in municipal court fines and fees, about $324 per resident.
Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown's fatal shooting by police in 2014 prompted protests, riots and national scrutiny of the local Police Department and its dependence on fees and fines, took in $2.46 million in municipal court fines and fees, or about $117 for every resident.
"It is tempting to look at the money that Gretna takes in and see there the motivation for a criminal justice system that appears devoted to maximizing arrests for the smallest crimes," the story said.
Deputy Police Chief Anthony Christiana said it costs upward of $125 per hour to make the arrests, and he and Chief Arthur Lawson defended a policing strategy devoted to spotting problems before they occur.
Boartfield, a Gretna native who will graduate from the New Orleans Military & Maritime Academy this spring, said he knew Gretna was "very serious" in its policing but didn't realize the effect on the community.
"It's kind of a shock when you hear your hometown is profiting off the criminal justice system," he said. "When I saw that article, I said, 'If no one's going to do it, then I'm going to be the one to do it.' "
Boartfield said he will not campaign against police officers but will focus on changes he believes would make the city safer for police and residents, including raising the pay of officers, increasing their training with an emphasis on de-escalation tactics and using body cameras.
Boartfield said that as mayor, he would propose laws but would leave the job of top cop to someone with law enforcement experience.
Boartfield said he also would look for ways to lower taxes on Gretna's residents and push to eliminate laws that impinge on private property rights, such as limits on signs.
He said he would reverse a 2015 pay raise for the mayor's position, dropping the salary back down from $90,000 to $70,000.
Boartfield said he is prepared for some resistance from law enforcement or allegations that he is anti-police. "That's not true at all," he said. "I'm pro-justice."
Asked whether he considers himself a long shot, Boartfield said he expects he won't be taken seriously by the political establishment. But he said he hopes to attract votes from people who do not vote regularly.
"There has to be something that is keeping people from voting in these elections, and I think I can be the one to get them out to the polls," he said.