Mitch Landrieu appears headed for a short honeymoon as New Orleans' new mayor. Part of the reason is his own doing, but most of it is for reasons totally beyond his control. On its face, Landrieu getting a short honeymoon seems unfair, particularly after the spectacularly incompetent Ray Nagin enjoyed a prolonged one. Nobody said life, or politics, was fair.
In the realm of things he cannot control, Landrieu inherited a city government that is dysfunctional beyond description. Part of that is structural; part reflects Nagin's bad judgment. The former mayor dismantled the chief administrative office early in his tenure, parceling out the CAO's duties among several other aides — in contravention of the City Charter, which effectively makes the CAO akin to a city manager.
Changing the lines of authority in an administration is not unique to Nagin. Landrieu is doing it, too. Nagin's sin was doling out responsibilities to aides who mostly had very little, if any, experience in city government. The results speak for themselves.
Fiscally, Nagin did an excellent job of keeping the city out of bankruptcy after Hurricane Katrina. Then he turned around in his final months and spent the city into a $25 million hole — and that's just what we know about so far.
Then there's the matter of managing expectations. After four post-K years of Nagin's ineptitude, citizen expectations of Landrieu — whose campaign mantra was, "I know what to do and I know how to do it" — are extremely high. At the same time, citizens' tolerance and patience is at an all-time low, and the list of things that need to be done right now is quite long.
On top of all that comes the Gulf oil disaster. Enough said.
Which brings us to the things Landrieu can control. Let's start with his appointments. He has taken some heat for naming his sister-in-law, Aimee Quirk, as his economic development chief. He responds that she is incredibly competent and took a six-figure pay cut to join his team. If she is as competent as Landrieu says, all will be fine. But, as Stephanie Grace noted recently in The Times-Picayune, the bar for Quirk is automatically higher. Landrieu may not think that's fair, but his years in public life should have taught him to expect nothing else.
As for the disparity between public-sector salaries and those in the private sector, every mayor and governor faces that problem. He should get over it. Complaining about it sounds whiny.
Another thing Landrieu can control is how he responds to adversity. He gets high marks for his actions after Katrina, and he's known to keep a cool head in the midst of a crisis. That's a great quality in a mayor. On another level, Landrieu does not take criticism well. Like it or not, his relationship with the media will affect the public's perception of him.
Every mayor starts out with sky-high hopes but a finite amount of political capital. In the course of making tough decisions, every mayor uses up his or her political capital. At some point, the honeymoon just ends.
The good news for Landrieu is he is still very much in his honeymoon period, and there's a lot he can do to extend it. The latest news out of NOPD is a good example: First District Cmdr. Maj. Robert E. Norton III last week issued an "open invitation" to the public and the media to attend his district's weekly COMSTAT meetings. (See Commentary, p. 7, for more on NOPD and COMSTAT.) Talk about a breath of fresh air.
Here's hoping Landrieu stays focused on the things he can control. We could all use a honeymoon.