Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu will need every ounce of his hallmark resilience and optimism once he takes office next Monday. The problems he will inherit from outgoing Mayor Ray Nagin are numerous — and daunting.
Nagin, in typical fashion, remained clueless and detached as he entered his final week in office. In an interview with WWL-TV that aired late last week, he referred to "this police thing" as the biggest problem awaiting Landrieu. That reference distills Nagin's half-hearted, flippant approach to the job he has held for the past four years.
"This police thing" includes not only a runaway murder rate but also a department that became increasingly dysfunctional on Nagin's watch. Recall that former Police Chief Richard Pennington turned around and cleaned up NOPD in the 1990s. The department he handed off to Nagin performed better and was far more trusted by citizens than the NOPD Nagin is turning over to Landrieu. Yet Nagin refers to NOPD and its many ills as if they're somebody else's problem, not his. That is the essence of detachment.
Landrieu said last week that NOPD needs to be "reorganized from top to bottom." That won't be easy. Landrieu admitted that it may even take signing a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. He said he welcomes the chance to work cooperatively with the feds to rebuild NOPD. "There are consent decrees and there are consent decrees," Landrieu said. "There is no one template for them. Some are hostile and some are cooperative."
Landrieu also heard April 22 from the 17 transition task forces he appointed to help him fashion public policy as mayor. It was interesting to note the ones that garnered the most applause from citizens who gathered inside the Mahalia Jackson Theater to hear them. Here's a sample:
• "Reinstitute citywide recycling." — from the Sustainable Energy and Environmental Task Force
• "The citizens of New Orleans should expect, in all city departments and with all city employees, an environment of responsive, effective and respectful customer service that exceeds expectations." — from the Customer Service Task Force
• "Facilitate completion of the VA and LSU hospitals and reestablish a hospital in New Orleans East." — from the Health Care Task Force
• "As a community, we must stop bickering and work to help educate all children." — from Education Task Force co-chair Sharon Latten Clark, who added that as her own recommendation
• "Prioritize the arrest and prosecution of violent offenders over nonviolent misdemeanor offenders." — from the Criminal Justice Task Force
• "Secure resources to expand mental health services." — from the Health Care Task Force
Perhaps the most eagerly awaited report was the last, from the NOPD Task Force — the one that will help Landrieu choose the next police chief. The committee had nothing new to announce, but Landrieu said afterward that the search for a new chief is on schedule. "I want to make sure we get the right person," Landrieu said. "I can't be rushed."
In his remarks to task force members afterward, Landrieu promised that their work represents "the beginning of our dialogue, not the end."
That comment — if Landrieu stands by it — contrasts sharply with Nagin's approach to governance. The outgoing mayor, despite coming into office with almost no political experience and no significant political relationships, famously listened to no one and tolerated no contrary opinions from his staff.
Landrieu, who lives and breathes politics, says he wants as much advice as he can get.
We can only hope that Landrieu will rank among the best of mayors; he follows a man who certainly ranks among our worst.