Sunday, March 21, 2010

No Easy Pickings

Posted By on Sun, Mar 21, 2010 at 6:34 PM

It’s a good thing Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu appears to be the New Orleans equivalent of the Happy Warrior. A less hopeful man might give up before even beginning the Herculean task of turning this city around.

Typically, a new mayor identifies a few big-picture, long-term goals and tries to marshal the forces needed to accomplish them. At the same time, a wise mayor also takes on some simpler tasks that can be accomplished quickly to give the new administration some early traction.

For Landrieu, the easy pickings are mostly slim pickings. About the only “easy” thing he could do right away is roll back Mayor Ray Nagin’s decision to extend parking meter hours to include Saturdays. Hopefully, Landrieu won’t have a problem reversing that one.

Beyond that, just about everything Landrieu has promised to do is going to be difficult, and some things will be more difficult than others. His biggest challenges at the outset will be reforming the New Orleans Police Department, starting with hiring a new police chief; stabilizing and then growing the city’s revenue base; reforming City Hall’s budgeting process (which may involve ceding some of his own authority); and sustaining the current momentum for public education reforms (even though education is not on his list of official duties).

That’s the really hard stuff.

The merely difficult stuff includes the following:

Terminating Nagin’s bad contracts. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but he’ll have lots of citizen support if he tries to cancel questionable deals inked by his predecessor — just as Nagin did with some of former Mayor Marc Morial’s late-term contracts. Nagin’s attempt to award a management contract for Municipal Auditorium’s restoration has already been sidetracked by the preferred contractor, Stuart Juneau, who voluntarily (and wisely) walked away from the table. Ditto for French Quarter sanitation contractor Sidney Torres, who balked at the chance to extend his contract for three years. Other contractors won’t give up so easily.

Signing the public-private partnership for NORD. Landrieu telegraphed his intentions by appointing businessmen Roy Glapion and Rod West as co-chairs of his transition team’s recreation task force. Glapion and West helped lead the team that fashioned the proposed NORD partnership. As easy as it sounds, there will be opposition in some quarters, and details remain — including how to pay for it all.

Signing the public-private partnership for economic development. The details of this effort are likely to be even trickier than those in the NORD partnership, as there’s already money on the table. For starters, this issue had racial overtones in the past (thanks in part to Nagin). Because it would change the way that local economic development grants are awarded, the new plan will test Landrieu’s “big tent” governing style.

Implementing contract reform. This includes transparency on professional service contracts, over which the mayor has virtually unfettered control. Here again, it will involve Landrieu ceding some of his power, and here again it will say a lot about his commitment to reform.

Moving up the citywide elections and inauguration schedule. The only thing needed to make this happen is for Landrieu to say he’s OK with it. Yet again, this will require him to give something up politically — nearly four months of his current or second term.

There are two recurring themes here: the “easy” stuff ain’t so easy; and much of it requires the new mayor to give up some of his power.

So far, Landrieu’s message to New Orleanians has been, “We can do this.” Here’s hoping the Happy Warrior has his own deep reservoir of hope — and an equally deep commitment to reform.

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