New Orleans: Eight Years Later

City Leaders Reflect on the Landrieu Years as We Prepare for the Inauguration of Incoming Mayor Latoya Cantrell

By Edwin Buggage

A Changing of the Guard

New Orleans is on the eve of the changing of the guard; seeing the ending of one administration and the beginning of another. It has been eight years where the Landrieu Administration took office taking the reigns of leadership when the City was still in recovery mode of what was nearly 5 years after Hurricane Katrina. At that time the direction of the City was in many ways still uncertain.

Additionally, Landrieu’s predecessor, Ray Nagin, who is presently serving a jail sentence for bribery, fraud and money laundering. While this left a black eye on the City, many of the issues during his time in office came to the forefront, including: income inequality, lack of affordable housing and issues surround race and what the City would be moving forward became the ongoing debates the City would have until the present day. And as we move into the historical moment of the City celebrating 300 years and having our first female Mayor in LaToya Cantrell, many of these problems still persist and we will get to see how she captains the ship as she assumes the City’s highest office.

A Tale of Two Cities

While it has become a cliché to call New Orleans a Tale of Two Cities, it rings an undeniable truth when you look around the City. “What have happened is there are too many disparities in segments of the community and it has gotten much wider. There has been a great amount of economic boom that has taken place, but there is a very large segment of our community that hasn’t participated in any of that,” says Jay Banks, the newly elected councilmember from District B.

These sentiments have also been echoed by members of past administrations. “It has still been a tale of two cities where we have seen great progress in some parts of the City while other parts of the City are still languishing and not enjoying those dollars that were supposed to be invested Citywide. So as I look back while we have made economic progress that has not been shared by all members of the community and that is something that has to be addressed not only by the Mayor’s office but by all the stakeholders must make this a top priority,” says Kenya Smith. He served in the Nagin Administration in various senior executive positions including Executive Counsel to the Mayor, Deputy Mayor for Intergovernmental Relations and Deputy Mayor for Community Development.

Infrastructure and Making the City Whole

One can say that the Landrieu Administration was one that stayed clear of major scandals surrounding political corruption and that is a feat in itself given the history of politics in both the City and state. But the one thing that continued to be a problem on his watch was the crumbling infrastructure including the much-maligned Sewerage and Water Board where over a dozen years later a strong rain can devastate water pumps and streets are flooded. Can we imagine as we again are about to begin another hurricane season a City that is still not prepared even after the devastation of Katrina.

With a City that was 80% underwater after the storm and the levee failures that damaged so much of the City, looking back you see nearly billions of dollars earmarked for the City’s recovery that nearly 13 years later we have experienced an uneven recovery. “Coming from Katrina you look where we were close to devastation. I think for a very long time after that we were in a triage state sort of mindset. That is the right mindset to be in post-disaster. Infrastructure, no schools ready to go, so when you make triage decisions that are not always the most thoughtful decisions,” explains Jason Williams, City Councilmember-at-Large, of the reasons surrounding the uneven recover of the New Orleans.

He believes that this was the right direction to take but feels the City must begin to shift resources to help more people in need. “I don’t think the City, or the executive branch has been able to pivot from a triage mindset to make decisions for the next 20 years or next 50 years. I think what has been done was successful, but we must move to the next level and all people need to be part of that.”

Moving forward Williams thinks more resources need to be invested in empowering local people who are natives often left out of many of the initiatives aimed at spurring growth in the City. “We must work harder to incentivize the growth of our own entrepreneurs and small businesses giving those owners opportunities and they will hire locals who will spend their money in the City. We must also have more local DBE participation not only as sub-contractors on City contracts but as prime contractors as well, this can help build wealth for locals in our community.”

Housing and Race

The Big Easy is not so easy to live in these days as post-Katrina has bared out becoming the second most cost burdened City in the country after San Francisco. It is a sad state where once affordable housing existed now has seen a wave of gentrification that’s pushed out longtime City residents and also has displaced some to never return.

Jay Banks is dismayed by what he sees happening across the City and inside his district as it relates to housing. “Over the past eight years I have seen the acceleration of people being forced out or losing their homes and not being able to afford to stay in the most special place in the City; which is uptown New Orleans and that is terrifying to me. We have got to address it. People who have lived here their entire lives should have the opportunity to live where they want.”

Continuing Banks says speaking of his priorities once he is on the City Council, “It is not about blaming anyone, but it is about balancing the scales where everybody can benefit, that are economically able, have quality of life and having access to services. And that they can live in clean, safe and affordable neighborhoods. It is my intention to be a councilman for the entire district. I fully understand the needs of the Garden District are very important, but they are no more important than the needs of Gert Town and we’ve got to have a balance that everybody in the district matters regardless of race or socioeconomic status.

Moving in the Right Direction

Some believe while there are problems with the Landrieu Administration that they have laid the groundwork for initiatives that can benefit the citizens of New Orleans, and where fairness and equity are the goals. “This administration has taken on getting to the root of understanding crime particularly murder, identifying putting reforms in place for young people that may be susceptible. They have developed a youth violence reduction strategy, workforce development and support services and they partnered with community resource providers and non-profits with us being one of them,” says Erika McConduit, outgoing President and CEO of Urban League of Louisiana.

“The Cease Fire Program to stop retaliatory violence, working on racial justice and healing, taking the lead to remove Confederate Monuments, The Welcome Table Initiative, and community circles. I feel even if some things haven’t been as successful as others this administration, I can say they have put the time and resources in trying to dissect and understand the problems. I think this is something the next administration can build on.”

First Female Mayor and Working with the New Administration

The New Administration is an historic one as New Orleans will have its first female mayor. And while it should not be an issue, a woman in a leadership position must work harder than her male counterparts. “The reality is all women in leadership have to work harder to accomplish more with less, so I would encourage us all to provide as much support for women in leadership and not let that be an impediment to a successful administration. I think she is highly capable,” McConduit, says of the incoming Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

“I think the City is at a critical time that not just for this administration but for any after this we need to be sure to lay the groundwork for what it means to be a successful mayor whether or not you are a woman or a man the playing field should be level. It is in all our best interest; her success is in all of our best interest.”

Jay Banks, who has worked with the incoming mayor, sees this as a great opportunity to get things done for those in need. “I think LaToya gets it. I think she will be a valuable asset because she understands the issues I am talking about and I feel we will be working very closely together to try to bring out some real substantive changes. I feel very good that she is committed to the community and balancing the scales. She has shown this in her work in the community and on the council and I am sure she will continue this work as mayor.

The City’s future is in the hands of a new mayor and mostly new City Council, but it is important that the shaping of our City moving forward is a partnership between our elected official and all the stakeholders, that includes citizens, advocacy groups and the business community and others that means the future of the City is in all our hands and we must work together to shape it where we can have a better City for all and move forward together.

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