By Jeff Thomas
The 2017 municipal election will go down in history. For the first time, the city elected an African American woman as mayor and a Vietnamese woman to a city council seat. Whether these are trivial or noteworthy facts depends upon the work of these two women. New Orleans can become the proud, progressive, prosperous Southern city of its potential or continue the centuries old customs of crime, corruption and carousing. Each possesses the talent and temerity to help our city soar.
And in a city known for its allegiance to locals in leadership, remarkably neither woman is a New Orleans native. From California, LaToya Cantrell arrived here for college at the great Xavier University of Louisiana. Cyndi Nguyen is a Vietnamese immigrant who arrived in New Orleans when she was 5 years old.
Mayor elect Cantrell and the new 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 are 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, New Orleans needs a dramatically new approach to generate the lift to get that train over the top of the hill. But in many areas, the train seems to have precariously stalled.
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. Consequently, 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 85% 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 one challenge which seems most intractable yet least meaningful. RACE. And the momentum may catapult us to never before seen thrills and accomplishments.