On the fourth day of the ancient Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, President Barack Obama told an audience of 500 people that freedom can prevail over tyranny. Hope can triumph over despair. Light can prevail over darkness. Today we are seeking the light in two divisive issues, Donald Trump’s controversial call to block the entry of all Muslim refugees to the United States, and the best solution on our very own monument controversy. Though very different, both issues are bringing out the best and worst in people and reminding us of dark times in our past.
Yesterday’s announcements about the rise of armed robberies and that Councilmembers Jason Williams and Susan Guidry want to prioritize funding for 911 operators both illustrate the importance of better funding agencies involved in criminal justice. “We are one mistake away from disaster and tragedy,” said Williams, who serves as Council President. “And it is unacceptable.” Today as the City Council debates amendments to the 2016 budget (which will be voted on December 1st), additional dollars for the woefully underfunded Public Defenders office and the Orleans Parish Prison will also be on their radar screen. With the already lengthy wait inmates already face for public defender services, inmates could have filed a class action suit demanding speedier trials.
Dr. Jeffery Rouse, New Orleans’ recently elected Coroner, is one of the standouts among a new generation of leaders in the city. He is bringing sunshine, energy and a new concept of community service to an office that had become a medical slum under former Coroner Dr. Frank Minyard. Dr. Rouse brings great academic credentials to the office – a 1992 Jesuit High School valedictorian and a Duke University Phi Beta Kappa. Dr. Rouse is energetic, optimistic and visionary. He is completely reorganizing the office and has convinced fellow Jesuit alum Mayor Mitch Landrieu to grant a 23-percent budget increase to the perennially underfunded Coroner’s Office.
Sybil Haydel Morial would have led a very privileged life growing up in New Orleans in the 1940’s and 1950’s had it not been for the South’s all-encompassing Jim Crow laws. Her father, Dr. Clarence C. Haydel, was a well-respected surgeon in the community; her mother, Eudora, was an accomplished housewife who loved to cook, garden and entertain in the family’s well-appointed home. Sybil was surrounded by many loving aunts, uncles and cousins as well as her older sister Jean who suffered an untimely death. She attended the best Catholic schools, spent the summers in the country, traveled to Europe and had a memorable debut. As a teenager, Sybil enjoyed the company of family friend Ambassador Andrew Young who wrote the foreword to the memoir before his death.
For many New Orleanians life has never been the same since Hurricane Katrina destroyed their homes, their neighborhoods, their schools, and their sense of community. Katrina was an experience they do not want to relive on this or any other anniversary. For them, the grief process is ongoing. African Americans especially feel the rules were stacked against them, making their recovery even harder. What do we remember most about Katrina?
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to do a better job of estimating the risks of flooding around the U.S. With the upcoming 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina – much of whose destruction was caused by poorly engineered and maintained levees – we naturally think about the heavy losses to our region, what it has taken to rebuild, and all the people who died or have not been able to return. Metro New Orleans is now relatively lucky. Katrina and other subsequent storms sent a strong message to the federal government that billions must be spent to upgrade the levee system in all our coastal parishes. While many improvements have been made, our federal government’s approach is still to be reactive rather than proactive. Working with Congress, the Army Corps must develop new national flood risk standards to better prepare all communities for the inevitable.
It’s no secret to political insiders that State Treasurer John Kennedy has his eyes set on David Vitter’s U.S. Senate seat if Vitter is elected governor. Vitter would be in a unique position to recommend his successor and could easily select Louisiana’s popular Republican State Treasurer. Kennedy is now running a television commercial that depicts himself as a statesman worthy of voters’ support. Kennedy is also starting to be a stand-in for Vitter, defending the U.S. Senator on several tough issues. We should all expect more of that coziness as the campaign continues.
Today’s debate at the New Orleans City Council is another symbolic step in the long-term struggle for New Orleans’ working poor to earn the living wage they deserve to support their families. Though New Orleans has enjoyed unprecedented growth since Hurricane Katrina as well as an influx of skilled young professionals, we still rank second in income inequity among 300 U.S. cities. In fact, income disparity in New Orleans has increased in recent years, according to the New Orleans Data Center. What family can survive on $7.25 per hour, the current federal minimum wage? Most of New Orleans low-income wage earners are renters.
If Saturday night’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner is any indication, Louisiana Democrats feel their time is coming again soon. Recent polls show State Rep. John Bel Edwards neck ‘n neck with U.S. Senator David Vitter. “We can only go up from here,” Edwards told the packed ballroom. Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden is saving his money for the run-off in the Lt. Governor’s race and presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders delivered his fiery brand of liberalism to a large, enthusiastic, stomping, waving, cheering crowd at the Pontchartrain Center Sunday. Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave a rousing opening speech at the J-J Dinner where he praised his sister, former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, who was also feted by her appreciative friends from across the state.
Scrappy New Orleans entrepreneur Kishore “Mike” Motwani’s $8.175 million purchase this week of Oz, New Orleans premiere gay dance club, this week is another sign that this often-despised self-made millionaire puts his money where his mouth is. Much to the dismay of ardent preservationists, Motwani is living the American Dream by remaking downtown New Orleans in his own image. In the mid 1970’s, established French Quarter merchants who were trying to uplift the French Quarter’s business profile often called Motwani an outsider, a contrarian rascal who operated low-end but profitable t-shirt shops in the French Quarter. Forty years later, Motwani is still an outsider but has grown into a well-established real estate mogul and diversified entrepreneur with a long list of French Quarter and Canal Street properties. The Motwani brand, Magnolia Enterprises, still operates T-shirt shops but also offers a wide variety of other Chinese-made merchandise that tourists love to take home.