Launching his administration with an eloquent, Kennedy-esque address to the invitation-only gathering on the steps of historic Gallier Hall, Mitch Landrieu assumed the reins of leadership of a city still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina and a myriad of quality of life problems that were present long before the devastating storm system made landfall in 2005.
The younger Landrieu entered office not by being the lone man standing in a divisive election but supported by one of the broadest political mandates a non-incumbent has ever received.
The new mayor carried every neighborhood in the city and lost only a single precinct in his primary victory, carrying into office the votes and hopes of New Orleanians of all races, ideologies and incomes.
Only two other mayoral elections in the past 100 years are on the same level of importance as Landrieu’s win: Chep Morrison’s smashing the Ring’s decades of near-monopolistic control of city government and “Dutch” Morial’s election, marking the beginning of African-American ascendancy in city politics.
The greatest asset Landrieu has is the mandate he received at the polls as no one segment of the community put him in office.
It’s easier to govern when you win by a landslide than it is when victory comes by a sliver. Rather than having to work to build trust with voters on the other side of a 50-50 split that he has their best interests in mind, it was the voters who threw the keys to City Hall to Landrieu by virtual acclamation, signaling that they already trust him to do what’s right for the entire community.
To be the recipient of that level of support in a city known for its deep internal divisions is both humbling and sobering.
It’s also the best protection to have when someone marches into the City Council Chamber and makes the absurd accusation that transparency in government is a racist concept meant to hurt minority contractors. How Landrieu reacts to the political demagoguery invoked concerning policy and appointments will be an omen of what kind of leader he is going to be.
Landrieu will have eight years (a second term is practically a certainty- no sitting New Orleans mayor has lost a re-election bid since 1946) to utilize his vast experience in government, political courage, intellect, personal resilience and oratory skills to develop and sell to the public solutions to what ills the city.
Quick band-aid fixes will work about as well in addressing New Orleans’ long festering problems as the temporary levee plug along the Industrial Canal’s Lower Nine side during Hurricane Rita.