Former Loyola Chief of Staff runs for City Council seat

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Maria Paula Marino

Lesli Harris poses in front of Weinmann Hall, Tulane’s Law School, on Oct. 22, 2021. Harris teaches courses on trademark law in Weinmann Hall. Harris is the former chief of staff for Loyola and retired from her position in early 2021 to return to her law practice and run for city council.

This November Loyola students might see a familiar name on their ballots for New Orleans City Council. Loyola’s former Chief of Staff, Lesli Harris, is running for the District B seat on New Orleans City Council

Harris said her platform is rooted in communication, transparency, and accountability and plans to use these skills to address problems related to infrastructure, violent crime, affordable housing, and clean energy.

Harris said tackling these issues is exciting to her. She said managing Loyola and “helping to run the small city” prepared her to start this new chapter in politics.

“I enjoy big large puzzles and Loyola was a big, large puzzle to try to solve. I’ve worked on litigation that’s been multiple puzzles, so it’s something that I really enjoy and I’m talented at, and it’s hard for a woman to say I have a talent in this,” Harris said.

Harris said she never aspired to have a career in politics. However, she said her public service work in the city of New Orleans, her legal experience, and her work at Loyola contributed to her decision to run for City Council.

Harris was Chief of Staff for Loyola from 2018 to 2021. During her time at Loyola, Harris said she had to refine her leadership skills and solve complex problems affecting the university. She said she learned how to build teams and listen to the various constituents across Loyola University.

Harris has always been involved in public service ever since she can remember, volunteering as a member of various boards throughout her career, she said. She is currently serving as the Vice President of the Young Artists Young Aspirations Arts Center, which teaches art and entrepreneurship to high school and middle school students in New Orleans.

Harris said the tremendous support of her neighbors and the community of District B was key for her to step forward and become a candidate for City Council.

According to the City Council District Maps, District B includes the Xavier University area, some portions of Mid-City and the Central Business District, Central City, the Garden District, and the Irish Channel.

Harris said she has lived in the District B area since she graduated from Tulane Law School in 2002. She said she saw a need in her community for someone that was able to speak for a variety of voices and raise the community’s common concerns.

“I think it’s important to be able to understand the voices of everybody and to listen closely to get a common need solved,” Harris said.

Harris said there are many common needs in District B that need solutions, like crime, infrastructure, and the blinking lights that aren’t working downtown.

“Having problem-solving skills, especially large complex problems, that’s something that’s really exciting to me. There are a lot of problems in District B, but New Orleans is such a special place that I think the problems are solvable, and we really have to solve them for the people here,” Harris said.

In January 2021, she decided to leave Loyola and continue pursuing her career in law at the Kelly Hart & Pitre law firm full time.

Harris said her experience as a lawyer has prepared her to approach more complex issues. She said she focuses on cases related to entertainment and intellectual property law which can be complex subjects.

As a Black woman pursuing a leadership role, Harris said she has had to reflect on how people see her, first as a woman and secondly as a person of color.

Harris said she has dealt with various microaggressions while running for the District B City Council position. She said one example of this was being called Lesli rather than Mrs. Harris in debates.

“It’s these little microaggressions that we as women of color will encounter, and I’ve encountered this my entire career, so I have learned how to toughen up and have the skin to let that roll off. These are microaggressions that will continue to happen when I’m city councilperson,” Harris said.

Despite these experiences, Harris said she will continue her campaign for a District B that is more involved and reflective of its community.

“You can’t back down, and you have to learn how to stand up to bullies. You need to learn how to ask the questions based on the facts and get the answers,” Harris said.

The upcoming primary elections will be held on Nov. 13, 2021. If there is no majority vote winner during the primary election, the two candidates with the most votes host a general election on Dec. 11, 2021 to determine the winner.