By Jeff Thomas
Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has had two mayors. One is in jail, the other is shivers every time it rains. Each failed dramatically to deliver on their campaign promises. But now, for the first time in history, NOLA will have a woman to serve as mayor. Is this good? Does it matter? Can a woman lead the city effectively? The failures of the last two mayors proves that men can be disastrous. Each left our great city gasping for air.
But the sun comes up every morning. And like a fresh breeze, the hopes and dreams of our great city live in the thoughts and abilities of a woman. Beyond being a historical reference point, this fact is as inconsequential as the fact that both are African American. Too often we are bogged down by the superfluous to the detriment of the substance. Incidental intrigue aside, this election is the most important election in New Orleans’ modern history. Those last two mayors really had perfunctory jobs to accomplish. While each was free to elevate the lives of the citizenry, both were required to right the ship. Nagin oversaw the initial rebuilding of the housing and commercial building stock, while Landrieu balanced the budget and organized city hall finances.
But the next mayor and council must enact transformative new strategies and manually hoist our great city closer to its zenith. Old-school New Orleanians understand outrageous crime, escalating housing prices, crumbling infrastructure, and a dearth of good jobs mean we need to improve with Zephyr-like downhill speed and momentum. Instead, as shootings rise daily and locals and tourists sucker punched and robbed of their cash and phones, our city is steadily climbing the list of most dangerous places in the world.
Needs overflow but funds are scarce and finite. We must prioritize our spending. But more importantly, we need a dramatically new approach to generate the lift to get that train over the top of the hill. Despite their inability to get the train rolling down the hill, the good news is that Nagin and Landrieu did not let the train cataclysmically roll backward. But in many areas, the train seems to have precariously stalled.
Yet the opportunities are plentiful. Five key areas will determine the success of the next government.
- Economic Opportunity. The tipping point. The key. Fundamentally indispensable. Over the last 25 years, black male unemployment in NOLA has hovered around 50%. During that time, Black men have been the perpetrators of most of the crime in this city. Crime is a consequence of poverty. But our city has attacked black men with extreme policing as if crime is a byproduct of blackness. Until we provide paid job training, paid life skills training and real full time employment with middle class wages, crime will continue to increase.
- Infrastructure Repairs. The city has $2.4 billion FEMA dollars to repair the antiquated water delivery system and streets. This money must be properly spent. NOLA should have the best water and sewer system in the country. Our streets and municipal buildings should be state of the art and safe. We should also invest in storm protection and storm water management.
- Civil Service Reform. While the civil service hiring based policies that the city has had in place for over 200 years might seem antiquated, the foundations and principles are even more important than ever. Improvements in the areas of firing truly bad employees and hiring new employees faster can tweak and modernize the system to satisfy all parties. A creative emphasis on hiring New Orleans natives who have suffered chronic under and unemployment should be fast tracked.
- Taxes, Fees and Millages. An unintended consequence of the myriad of tax and fee increases implemented by the Landrieu administration has been an increase in crime. As Landrieu made the city increasingly more expensive, poor families were stressed. Water bills now start at $75 before any water consumption. Landlords pass millage increases onto tenants in the form of higher rents. Traffic cameras send huge fees by mail and booting incapacitates our most vulnerable. Yet the proliferation of tourist jobs still only pay minimum wages. Families struggle to survive. Now income from illegal markets and sucker punching are on the rise.
- Police Reform. We have a right sized jail and should invest in our officers by making their jobs easier. Instead of gun toting drug slinging renegades, we need middle income earning, home owners who complain about trash and loud noises from neighborhood bars. Police reform is citizen investment. Great jobs reduce poverty. Home owners are 75% less likely to commit any crime as compared to renters.
If there is something to be said about the fact that our next mayor will be a woman, it might be that a woman will be the first to bring us all together. Can we overcome our most obdurate differences like race to solve the universal drags like low paying jobs and inadequate drainage? After 300 years a woman might finally get us over this most significant hurdle. The improvements can be swift and euphoric. And the momentum she will ride could enable us to overcome the the one challenge which seems most intractable yet least meaningful. RACE. And the momentum may catapult us to never before seen thrills and accomplishments.