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It's the Patronage, Stupid 

If Marc Morial truly wants to save the city, let him prove it by fixing some things he can fix.

In the universe of facts that are so obvious they could hardly pass for "news," word that Marc Morial supports the effort to change the City Charter so that he can have another term as mayor of New Orleans ranks as a supernova.

His name is Morial. He's the mayor. He wants more than two terms.

Duh.

The only "news" was the identity of the "bait" that Morial will use to try to convince voters that three terms is a good idea: the rescue of New Orleans' troubled public schools.

Veteran School Board member Gail Glapion summed up the feelings of skeptics last week when she asked, if he's so interested in public education, where has he been for the past seven years?

Morial would respond, no doubt, that he's been fixing the city for the past seven years. To be sure, he gets well-deserved credit for hiring Police Chief Richard Pennington and turning around the troubled New Orleans Police Department. He set in motion the wheels that rid NOPD of literally scores of corrupt cops; some are in jail today. But there's still more work to be done there.

Hizzoner also kept an unfulfilled promise made by previous mayors to reform the City Charter. Some of those reforms -- particularly those dealing with patronage -- are yet to be fully implemented, however.

In other words, there's a lot left to be done in areas over which the mayor has clear authority, if not absolute dominion. Why would he want to base his quest for another term on something that he cannot control?

Several reasons.

The first and most obvious one is that his poll shows voters are upset about public education. Never mind that he has no legal authority to make it better. One of the oldest political tricks in the book is to figure out which way the people are headed, then race to the front so you can claim the mantle of leadership.

Second, by focusing on an "external" issue such as public education, he can steer debate -- and voters' attention -- away from any "internal" shortcomings.

Third, and perhaps most important, it just might work. Look at how deftly Gov. Mike Foster used teacher pay raises to grease the skids for Harrah's new contract and dockside riverboat casinos. You can sell Louisiana voters just about anything if you spin it as "helping public education."

For now, hizzoner is not offering any specifics. No surprise there. If he puts out too much information, somebody might analyze it.

I'm being cyncial, I know. But if Marc Morial truly wants to save the city, let him prove it by fixing some things he can fix. He could start by transforming New Orleans International Airport from a patronage trough for his cronies into a regional, multi-modal transportation center. Give it to the state, which can help it grow, in exchange for eliminating the "mandated costs" imposed on the city. That would save the city many millions, which could be plowed into NORD, street improvements, public safety and other needs.

Morial said last week he needs a public mandate to take on the public education issue.

Bull.

He needs a mandate to change the charter so that he can continue to dispense favors to his friends. This "3T" movement is not about education; it's about patronage.

If Morial wants to do something for public education, he needs only the time and the genuine desire to get involved. Come next May, he should have lots of time -- as a private citizen -- to help public schools.

We'll see then how committed he is.

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