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Gambit at 35: A look back at 35 years of covering New Orleans – what's changed and what never will change 

click to enlarge The first issue of Gambit, photographed from our bound archives.

The first issue of Gambit, photographed from our bound archives.

With this issue, GAMBIT celebrates 35 years of covering New Orleans. Thirty-five years is a long time, but compared to New Orleans itself — which soon will turn 300 — we're still young. Looking back at our early issues, it's striking how little has changed in the city. Many of the problems that challenged us in 1981 still challenge us today.

  In its first issue of 1981, Gambit wrote about President Ronald Reagan's educational policy task force, whose recommendations included, "Congress should pass either a tuition tax credit or a voucher plan for parents of children who attend non-public schools." Vouchers remain controversial today. Crime, poverty, institutional racism, corrupt politics, flood protection, education and the impact of tourism on local life were among the topics Gambit covered that year. Clancy DuBos' first Politics column appeared as well. All that year, we wrote about government finances, which continue to vex our city and state today.

  We'll keep writing about the hot political topics and about the cultural life of this multicultural city, but this week we're looking back a bit. Kevin Allman looks at what was going on nationally and locally when Gambit debuted. Longtime contributor Blake Pontchartrain has come up with a 35-question New Orleans trivia quiz to mark the occasion. (In response to a frequent query, we've compiled a list of 35 people who absolutely, positively are not Blake Pontchartrain.)

  Food coverage has been a Gambit hallmark from Day One, and this week Helen Freund talks to three fixtures on the New Orleans culinary scene — Frank Brigtsen, Ti Adelaide Martin and Wayne Baquet Sr. — about changes they've observed over the years, for better and for worse. Also in this issue, Gambit co-owners Clancy and Margo DuBos reflect on our readers' (and our own) passion for New Orleans, and why our city needs a print alternative — owned by locals, written by locals, devoured by locals.

  In other respects, today's New Orleans would seem foreign to the readers of 1981. Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods marked a dividing line in the city's history, and we're now in Year 11 A.K. (After Katrina). One year before Gambit appeared, the New Orleans Saints had the nadir of all seasons, starting 0-14; would the fans who wore paper bags on their heads that year have believed it if they saw the Black and Gold go to the Super Bowl — and win?

  The city has always welcomed bohemians, artists and musicians, but the number of celebrities and well-known performers settling here in recent years would have been incomprehensible in the 1980s (or 1990s). Housing prices, once New Orleans' great bargain tradeoff for miserable summers and spotty city services, now are no bargain at all. In the months after Katrina's floodwaters receded, many wondered whether New Orleans could survive. Today, just as many wonder if this fragile, unique city can survive rapid gentrification.

  As we move forward, we'll continue to keep an eye on all these things with you, our readers — and we thank you for three and a half decades of loyal support.

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