Thursday, February 11, 2010
New Orleans, Louisiana
WHEN THE CHEERING STOPS IN NEW ORLEANS,
WHAT WILL THE NEW MAYOR DO?
What a week for Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu! How could anyone create a better scenario to begin rebuilding and renewal in New Orleans? An overwhelming first primary victory, the saints win the Super bowl, and Mardi Gras just days away. The new Mayor is on an unbelievable roll right now with accolades raining down on Landrieu and the city of New Orleans. But what do you do when the cheering stops, the crowds go home, and the street sweepers move in? Can all the good will generated this week be harnessed and contained? How do you keep hopes alive for so many who have been so disappointed over the breakdown and failure of the New Orleans political leadership in recent years?
The problem goes deeper than merely casting aside the shadow of Ray Nagin. Sure, he will go down in history as one of the worst and most dysfunctional leaders in the city’s history. They were talking about Ray when the called New Orleans the city that care forgot. He just didn’t seem to give a damn. His useless junkets all over the world, his massive waste of taxpayer dollars, and his incompetent staff all add up to a stained legacy that Landrieu will have to quickly wipe away and bury.
In his first press conference just hours after his resounding victory, Landrieu put crime prevention on the front burner as his top priority – and with full justification. New Orleans is known throughout the world as one of the worst American cities for violent crime. For years, there have been more murders in New Orleans than in cities several times larger. Baton Rouge, which has grown to almost the size of New Orleans, has one third the murder rate.
The good news for Landrieu is that there are plenty of groups ready and willing to help and financially contribute. Sheriffs in surrounding parishes have been, for years, trying to get The Mayor and the Chief of Police in New Orleans to sit down and discuss a coordinated crime prevention plan with a regional crime lab and multi parish juvenile detention facilities. All the parishes in the New Orleans area were on board except the city itself. As one sheriff told me: “We would go to Washington to coordinate getting more federal funds, and New Orleans never showed up. They just didn’t seem interested.”
There is a whole list of practical and effective approaches that could be easily and cheaply be applied in New Orleans. Tulane University criminologist Peter Scharf has a litany of programs that are working nationwide in some of the country’s safest cities. More police officers on the beat with coordinated neighborhood watch programs tied in to hundreds of home computers that have video cameras on front and back porches is an approach that works well in many other cities. There are existing local crime prevention groups that have been frustrated by a lack of interest from the political leadership in the past that are aching to get back to work. The new Mayor just has to ask for their help.
Here is some advice for the new Mayor. Take the afternoon off, go to Blockbuster’s and rent a video. Alright, alright, but just hear me out on this one. Not just any video. I want the Mitch Landrieu to rent “City Hall” that stars Al Pacino. Now trust me on this, Mayor. Pacino plays the part of the Mayor of New York, and the city faces a major crime wave with drive-by murders on a regular basis. Al says enough is enough. He becomes a PVLF. A positive, visible, local force.
And in the movie, Al is everywhere. No, not in Washington, China, Cuba or Jamaica like Ray Nagin. In and all over his city. When a murder takes place, he is on the crime scene. When innocent victims are murdered, he is preaching at the funeral. He is walking the streets of the city, in coffee houses, in restaurants, being verbal and visual one on one, and visiting with small groups. Simply letting the people of his city know that he is in charge, he cares, he empathizes with their concerns, and he is trying to do everything in his power to solve one insurmountable problem after the other.
Of course it’s not just that simple. But it’s a beginning, Mitch. If you are there and the folks you represent believe you are giving it your best effort, they are going to be much more willing to do their part. And these people you represent can be of tremendous help if you motivate them.
Another suggestion, Mitch. Don’t leave education in New Orleans to the educators. Even with the ballyhooed success of charter schools, New Orleans kids are being shortchanged. The mayor is not in charge of the schools, but he does have a bully pulpit. And Mayor, you can talk all the economic development you want, but the foundation for more and better paying jobs is a well trained and educated workforce. There have been too many news articles about corruption and waste in the school system.
Many competent business execs want to help, but were rebuffed by Nagin. There is talent galore that is willing to pitch in on a volunteer basis. One of the strengths of New Orleans is the number of young people who have gravitated to the Crescent City to begin “start up” businesses. Landrieu should have no trouble bringing in many of the city’s best and brightest in a public-private partnership of ideas and new programs. Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden can be a great resource for tapping into younger members of the private sector, as he has so effectively done in Baton Rouge. And he wants to help: “I realize that without a viable and healthy New Orleans, the entire state is held back.”
Few elected officials begin a new office with so much public support and enthusiasm. The New Orleans story has been played out for weeks as part of the Super Bowl hype. Isn’t it something that the most un-American of cities has given the nation America’s team? And now, with the right leadership, New Orleans can well assert to be American’s favorite city. Not the city that care forgot, but a special place that the whole country has adopted and genuinely cares about. So go for it, Mayor Landrieu. You have the chance of a lifetime.
WHO DAT? Well we find out that the NFL has a favorite in the coming Louisiana Senate race. The National Football League’s political action committee, established in 2008, has contributed $1,500 to Congressman Charlie Melancon, who is running for US Senate against incumbent David Vitter. Was Saints owner Tom Benson on board with the NFL decision? Are the Saints supporting Melancon? What does Senator Vitter have to say about this slight? We will hear a lot more in the weeks to come.
And the Saints are already listed as a 10/1 shot at repeating as Super Bowl champ, tied with the New England Patriots. The Colts, who lost to the Saints Sunday, are 13/2 favorites for the fall. Already, we are still not getting all the respect. The Colts? Who Dat?
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the south. To read past columns going back to 2002, go to www.jimbrownla.com.