Steven Kennedy endorsement in House 93 race draws critics | Local Politics
The Orleans Parish Democratic Party’s endorsement of a House candidate who pleaded guilty to a domestic violence charge a decade ago has created a rift among local party members.
Members of the Orleans borough Democratic Executive Committee last week voted to endorse Steven Kennedy, one of six candidates vying to represent District 93 in a special election on February 18 to replace Royce Duplessis.
Several members of the 70-member committee have made allegations that the vote was invalid because it was conducted without a quorum. Concerns from dissenting members also include Kennedy’s 2013 conviction of domestic violence with strangulation.
The party has yet to release a confirmation of the race, according to Executive Committee Chair Lisa Ray Diggs, who declined to offer her own opinion on the matter or even confirm the committee’s confirmation for Kennedy.
Kennedy’s campaign manager and several other committee members confirmed the endorsement.
“My past is my past”
While local Democrats claim to belong to a troubled variety of groups, the official party organization’s cachet could give Kennedy an edge over the other four Democrats, to the dismay of some committee members.
“We are sending a very disturbing message to women that if we allow someone like this to be supported, we are willing to look past violence against women,” said Elizabeth Sangisetty, a member.
Kennedy is the owner of REO, LLC, a New Orleans-based real estate and policy consulting firm, and a board member of the New Orleans Business Alliance and the Industrial Development Board.
He is running for office and campaigning for the construction of affordable housing and for city contracts for disadvantaged business owners.
Critics have focused on six convictions in the Orleans Township Criminal District Court, including his guilty plea to domestic violence with strangulation in April 2013.
Kennedy declined an interview request. But in a brief phone call, he said, “My past is my past. My past has nothing to do with my future.”
In a press release last month, he portrayed the incident as part of a decades-long redemption story.
“Growing up in the St. Bernard housing development amidst the violence of the 1990s, Kennedy never intended to live past 18. After serving time in prison on April 9, 2013 on drug charges and a guilty plea to domestic violence, he began consciously making positive changes not only in his life but in New Orleans as well,” the press release reads.
The publication made no mention of a 2017 arrest on a domestic violence battery count. Later that year he pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace, a misdemeanor.
Kennedy is one of two candidates running for the House seat, along with Sibil Fox Richardson, who have already been convicted of a crime, and his campaign comes at a time of changing attitudes towards reintegrating those formerly incarcerated into society .
Still, the idea of backing a candidate with a domestic violence conviction “would cross the Rubicon for a lot of people,” said Ed Chervenak, a political scientist at the University of New Orleans.
Separately, the Orleans borough Democratic Executive Committee voted last week to endorse Kennedy, previously reported by WDSU-TV and the Uptown Messenger. Kennedy himself is a member of the committee.
Sangisetty said she stood up at that meeting to warn members about Kennedy’s history of domestic violence.
“The response was that the committee supported Steven Kennedy,” Sangisetty said. “I had a few members who were in the room and quietly thanked me for my comments.”
In the days that followed, the vote stoked some OPDEC members’ feelings that their leaders were stifling dissent, with claims that the committee did not have an adequate quorum on the vote, according to Alicia Plummer, a committee member.
“There was no quorum. There never was a quorum. Hours later, people would come in to cast their ballots. And they would change the rules to accommodate their wants and needs,” Plummer said.
Additionally, a longtime advocate against domestic violence added her voice to Sangisetty following the party’s vote, urging the party committee to reconsider.
“This support must be rescinded with a strong statement that OPDEC understands its duty as a political organization to support the most respected and qualified candidates for the offices they seek,” said Kim Sport, former chair of the state Domestic Violence Prevention Commission.
However, at a second meeting later this week, an attempt to challenge the approval on procedural grounds was quickly quashed, according to several members present.
The meeting at the Orleans County Civil District Courthouse became rowdy, and at one point security was called in.
Diggs, the party leader who also serves as the city’s second clerk, complained about “people trying to set the narrative” and dismissed the idea that there had been violations of the party’s charter.
But she declined to comment further. Like Diggs, none of the party executive would comment on the approval if asked for comment.
“I would say that the organization has spoken. I would remain silent on my personal opinion,” said Leslie Bouie, Executive Vice President of the Board of Directors.