Drafted: Kaplan running for city council by popular demand

Running for office wasn’t originally Dana Kaplan’s idea, but she has embraced it.

In mid-July, a group formed “Draft Dana Kaplan for District B” on the New Orleans city council, and started gathering signatures to have her put on the ballot for next month’s special election. As the effort gained momentum, Kaplan decided to run, and eventually 1600 signatures were collected. It was the first time in a generation that a signature-based drive put someone on the ballot in New Orleans.

The District B seat was vacated by Stacy Head, who won an at-large seat, and the Nov. 6 vote will determine who will fill the remainder of Head’s term.

Kaplan will face three others, including Head’s former chief of staff, Eric Strachan. Also running are community organizer LaToya Cantrell and restaurateur Marlon Horton.

“I’m not someone who has had aspirations of running for office,” Kaplan said. “A number of colleagues and friends encouraged me to run,” and she was inspired by the amount of support she was receiving, and the diverse nature of that support.

Kaplan has been executive director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. Prior to joining JJPL, Dana worked for the Center for Constitutional Rights where she assisted in the development of the Safe Streets/Strong Communities initiative. Through work with the City Council, Dana helped create the Office of the Independent Police Monitor to provide accountability and independent monitoring to the New Orleans Police Department.

Her main issues focus on young people, violence and economic development.

Even with the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina, there is a lack of recreational opportunities and jobs for young people, she said. Violence remains a large problem, and that is an area where she has expertise. Economic development is “the foundation that underpins it all.”

While at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, she was working on a fellowship to improve the criminal justice system. She knew many people from New Orleans who were in that field, and they urged her to come to post-Katrina New Orleans for a couple of months to help rebuild the criminal justice system.

“I ended up falling in love with the city, the people, the culture,” she said. In 2007, she started with the Juvenile Justice Project.

The New York native feels “very lucky to immediately feel very at home in the New Orleans community — the Jewish community and the broader community.”

She believes “in the power of collaboration” and notes the Jewish community’s long history of working across community lines for the common good.

During the campaign, “I have absolutely loved being able to knock on neighbors’ doors and hear… what their hopes are for the city,” she said.

She has picked up support from groups including AFL-CIO, the United Teachers and several community leaders.

District B is a diverse place with “a lot of promise.” It includes the convention center and Superdome, and parts of Central City, Mid-City and Uptown.