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

‘Political leadership’ means risking not getting re-elected – or not being politically promoted –  in order to promote the common good.  Political leadership means doing what is best for the city despite the latest fad concept.  Only  a few of the greatest leaders in recent history have risked so much.  If  Mayor Moon Landrieu had paid attention to the conventional wisdom, New Orleans would have taken years longer to integrate city government at the highest levels.  If Mayor Dutch Morial had been persuaded by prevalent thinking, New Orleans would not enjoy the largest, single economic engine in the city’s history, the convention center, and would not be the international visitors’ center it is today.

Right now, New Orleans suffers from a dearth in real leadership.  The notion that we need our elected officials to work together has morphed into a bastardized backroom form of governance that has resulted in little to no progress for the city.  We see backroom-planned legislation that does nothing to fix the major problems facing the city.  The most significant legislation of the previous city council was introduced by City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell: the smoke-free ordinance, which  passed, to much fanfare.  And while a smoke-free New Orleans is a noble advancement, there are other, much more important matters that have seen no effort and little mention.  Our new council must transform this city.

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 53 percent  of black men who actually have jobs are locked in an economy that is tourism-based, providing mainly-menial jobs. The 47 percent unemployment rate among 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 percent reduction in violent crime, an 80 percent reduction in blight, increased city tax revenue by the millions and New Orleans becoming a model urban center for the world. But to achieve this, we need leadership from our new council members.

The last city council was 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 Gov. 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 for the good of Louisiana.  And New Orleans 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.

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 this city council can change that.  Instead of governing with an eye on the mayor’s seat or a promotion to the clerk’s office, 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 from the state legislature to change state law and allow the NOLA City Council to raise the minimum wage in this city for all major employers!

Why not create a jobs program funded by the tax increases from the hotel taxes, which would hire black men to fix the crumbling infrastructure?  Invest $4 million of CDBG blight reduction money into a training and hiring program for black men from New Orleans to repair houses and eliminate blight.  An improved water delivery system that saves millions and the elimination of blight would be just two immediate byproducts of such a training and hiring program.

Our most recent session in the state legislature is an example of what strong legislators can accomplish.  In fact, the last legislative session was the best performance by New Orleans area legislators in modern history. Led by J.P. Morrell, Dr. Joe Bouie, our local delegation produced life changing legislation. They held the line on taxes, curbed NOLA gentrification and helped remove racist non-unanimous jury laws from the books.  Our state is significantly changed and a better place to live because of their great work.  Our new city council must do the same!

Instead of meaningful and transformative legislation, personal ambition has relegated laws offered by the city council to the mundane and the popular.  Change requires courage, vision and leadership.  Putting African American men to work in New Orleans is good governance that makes sense for all of us.  Increased revenues, lower costs and reductions in crime and blight are just some of the bounties from meaningful legislation at City Hall. Remarkably, governing for these outcomes will generate the benefits of ascendency to higher office seemingly lusted for by some current legislators. Regardless, whatever the costs are to invest in African American men is it’s certainly cheaper than the status quo.