Put Our Men to Work

By Jeff Thomas

Most politicians wish to rise up the ranks and ascend to the highest office possible.

In theory, the pol who has aspirations to be mayor might start in the state legislature, and move to a city council district seat and then get elected to an at large city council seat.  The pol would have then finally have the name recognition and experience to run for mayor. In the interim, the pol should offer meaningful or transformative legislation that moves the city forward.

Political leadership means risking re-election or political promotion to promote the common good.  Political leadership means doing what is best for the city despite the latest fad concept.  Only some of the greatest in recent history have achieved such status.  If Mayor Moon Landrieu had listened to conventional ideas, New Orleans would have taken years longer to integrate city government at the highest levels.  If Mayor Dutch Morial had been persuaded by the prevailing wisdom, the New Orleans market would not have the largest economic engine in the city’s history, the convention center, and would not be the international visitors’ center it is today.

Currently, New Orleans is suffering from a dearth of leadership.  The notion that we need our elected officials to work together has morphed into a homogenous back-room form of government that has resulted in little progress for the city.  We see back-room planned legislation that does nothing to fix the major problems facing the city.  The most significant recent legislation, introduced by a city council person LaToya Cantrell, was the smoke-free ordinance which recently passed with much fanfare.  And while a smoke- free New Orleans is a noble advancement, there are other more important matters that have seen no effort and little mention.

The biggest problem New Orleans faces is a lack of economic opportunity for African American men.  This jobs privation is the driving force behind crime, blight, city budget shortfalls, and failing schools. And far too many of those 47%  of black men who actually have jobs are locked in an economy that is tourism based and provides mainly menial jobs. The 53% unemployment rate amongst African American men is not only beyond recession levels but has created a permanent underclass that perpetuates a vicious cycle of poverty. If the council creates jobs for black men, we can expect a 60% reduction in violent crime, an 80% reduction in blight, increased city tax revenue by millions and New Orleans becoming a model urban center in the world. We need leadership from our council members.

Instead, we have a city council that seems aspirational rather than progressive. When politicians act in politically motivated ways, we are left the Louisiana mess.  Historically we citizens suffer when Louisiana politicians seek higher office.  Remember when former Governor Bobby Jindal resorted to bleaching his skin in an effort to attract more voters and guided the state on the political expediency du jure.  Common core great.  Common core communist plot.  Tax revenues shrinking – cut taxes.  The state was forced to make drastic budget cuts because the governor led with an eye on the Presidency instead of the good of Louisiana.  And New Orleans has suffered similarly during Mitch Landrieu’s tenure.  Governing with an eye on the presidency, Landrieu pushed creative but regressive revenue producing schemes like traffic cameras and aggressive parking enforcement tactics that only balanced the budget on the backs of poor citizens.  Instead of support the citizens got fines and fees.  Crime and poverty increased significantly under the Landrieu administration.

And for too long the problems of the now entrenched black male underclass in New Orleans is a permanent anchor on the city’s budget.  Progressive legislation from the city council can change that.  Instead of governing with an eye on the mayor’s seat or an at large position, we need meaningful jobs creation legislation and investment in the city.  HOTELS IN NEW ORLEANS ARE THE MOST PROFITABLE IN THE WORLD!!  High rates and occupancy coupled with low wages create extreme profit for corporations that send these profits out of state. Yet in New Orleans, there are 65,000 families that earn less than $17,500 for full time work.  The city council should introduce legislation seeking approval by the state legislature to change state law to allow the NOLA city council to raise the minimum wage in this city for all major employers!

Why not create a jobs program with the tax increases from the Sewerage and Water Board to hire black men to fix the crumbling infrastructure.  Invest 4 million of CDBG blight reduction money into a training and hiring black from men New Orleans to repair houses and eliminate blight.  An improved water delivery system that saves millions and elimination of blight are just two immediate byproducts.

Instead of meaningful and transformative legislation, personal ambition has relegated laws offered by the city council to the mundane and popular.  Change requires courage, vision and leadership.  Putting African American men to work in New Orleans is good government and makes sense for all of us.  Increased revenues, lower costs, reductions in crime and blight are just some of the byproducts of meaningful legislation from city hall.  Remarkably, governing for these outcomes will generate the benefits of ascendency to higher office. And the costs to invest in African American men is cheaper than the status quo.