Anyone who knows Mitch Landrieu knows he loves a challenge, which means being mayor of New Orleans must be his dream job. I can't imagine any other American mayor facing a taller order right now.
After eight years of Ray Nagin, some New Orleanians may have difficulty adjusting to a mayor who takes the job for what it is: a real job. In fact, one could argue that Landrieu has done more to improve city government in his first 100 days than Nagin did in eight years.
I'm not saying Landrieu had that in mind last week when his administration released a report on his first 100 days in office, but the contrast was glaring. Landrieu not only inherited a dysfunctional City Hall and Nagin's legacy of inertia (not to mention a $67 million deficit), but he also had to contend with the repercussions of the BP catastrophe.
Landrieu's claimed accomplishments filled a seven-page news release, and of course it contained the kind of glowing praise that only a mayoral communications team could muster. That said, Landrieu can rightfully take credit for a seismic shift in the way City Hall does business. For example:
• He hired a reform police chief after a committee conducted a national search. The new chief, Ronal Serpas, is an NOPD veteran with experience leading two other large police forces outside Louisiana. Serpas has sent a message through the ranks that misconduct will not be tolerated. The new mayor also invited the U.S. Justice Department to intervene (he prefers to say "partner") at NOPD to root out corruption and institute lasting reforms. This will take time, but the federal intervention is a major step toward cleaning house.
• He reinstituted a five-day workweek at City Hall and extended business hours until 6 p.m., despite Nagin's deficit, and he overhauled the city's procurement process. At the same time, he canceled some of Nagin's defective contracts and renegotiated others.
• His administration has vastly reduced a backlog of public record requests and welcomed reviews by the Office of Inspector General.
• He renegotiated the city's purchase of the old Methodist Hospital in eastern New Orleans (at less than half the price Nagin was going to pay) and will close that deal in the next week or two. And just last Friday, Aug. 13, he signed the long-sought public-private partnership for economic development — something Nagin promised to do (and reneged on) several times.
• He pressed LSU to redesign the "suburban" look of its new teaching hospital in Mid-City, and he convinced the state to relocate approximately 100 historic wood-frame homes that were slated for demolition in that neighborhood.
Looking ahead, Landrieu this week will announce the merger of the private New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau with the city's Tourism Marketing Commission, adding another key public-private partnership on the economic development front. (Disclosure: I have been a member of the CVB board since 2002.) He also helped make the proposed public-private partnership for NORD a reality by supporting an Oct. 2 charter referendum that will restructure the city's recreation department.
Perhaps most important of all, Landrieu has reached out to citizens, attending numerous town hall meetings and staying until everyone gets to ask a question. He perhaps senses that New Orleanians have felt disconnected from their leadership since Katrina, and he wants to re-establish that bond.
No doubt Landrieu will give us reasons to complain and criticize in the coming years, but for now he's off to a fine start.