Tomorrow is The Big Day in New Orleans — election day – and a very special election at that, because whether they narrow it to two choices for a run-off, or emerge with a clear winner, New Orleanians will be setting the stones on their path to the future.
For the many folks like Polimom, who left the city long before Katrina, it’s been a hard campaign to watch. I can’t easily come out and “endorse” anyone; my neighborhood, school, town, and job are not affected by the outcome there tomorrow.
I didn’t have to evacuate, only to remain away from a flooded home for weeks, desperate for information and knowing that everything I owned — a lifetime of memories — was gone and I could do nothing.
I haven’t been living in an unfamiliar place with Louisiana license plates and a homesick ache in my heart, wondering if people were eyeing me as a criminal or a “welfare queen” as I drove around with my home state like a brand on the back of my car.
Yet in spite of all of these things (or is it because of them?), I’ve been watching the coming election intensely — because no matter how steep and long the decline of the last two+ decades, the spark that is the soul of New Orleans is still there. The astoundingly tight-knit communities, beautiful architecture, and historically unique culture never left Polimom’s heart, and someday, I want to go home.
The reason I have not done so (and still don’t see how I can) has nothing to do with Katrina, and everything to do with how the city responded to the slowing of its economic engines decades ago. The results of many years’ muddled policies led to a host of problems, and they’re so tightly intertwined as to be virtually inseparable; a chicken and egg of massive proportions.
Whether one defines the chicken as crime, and the eggs as declining population, lost businesses, white flight, failed public education, and poverty, or starts with one of those eggs as the chicken, the city’s need is the same: a fresh and energetic start.
Does freshness and energy require a Republican, as suggested in the National Review Online this morning?
Voters in New Orleans go to the polls Saturday to choose the mayor who will shepherd the city through its slow and uncertain recovery. To give their city its best chance for renewal, old-line New Orleans Democrats should do the unthinkable. They should do what New Yorkers had to do to save their own city in 1993: suppress their natural instincts and vote for the Republican.
Many of the Democrats running for mayor seem to be of the government-can-fix-everything-for-you variety, and that’s not going to work for New Orleans. Local-level programs in even the most successful cities require money, and without a dynamic economy powered by new business and a working tax base, New Orleans doesn’t have that.
Polimom agrees that New Orleans could really use a Giuliani right about now, but is Couhig able to deliver, as the article suggests? Is his willingness to face down the crime problem enough of a reason to vote for him? Or should voters there go for Mitch Landrieu, who undeniably has the political connections to get some things done?
My instinct would be to go for Landrieu… except he’s part and parcel of the old-line political machine that created NOLA’s mess in the first place. What would he do differently? How does it help to have all the connections, if they result in a return to more of the same?
New Orleans needs a whole new look at how to do business there, and whether she’s right or not in her candidate recommendation, I can’t help agreeing with Nicole Gelinas’ conclusions:
If New Orleans wants a chance to lure back its vital working class and middle class, the city’s new mayor must stop this violent-crime resurgence. Otherwise, middle-class evacuees will stay put — and the time and money that New Orleans, Louisiana, and the federal government will spend building modern levees, as well as new housing and schools, will be wasted.
Without its middle-class residents, New Orleans will be a city of the rich, many of whom never left before or after Katrina, because they had already successfully insulated themselves both from violent crime and from hurricanes. But it will also be a city of the pre-Katrina underclass, many of whom are eager to return, because they’re finding life tough in their new cities. If the middle class won’t return, underclass evacuees will fill up any new government-funded housing, built with the best of intentions.
All the money in the world for housing and schools can’t save New Orleans unless the next mayor is tough enough on crime to make its working-class and middle-class evacuees feel confident about returning to their beleaguered city.
I just don’t know who can make this happen.