by Clancy DuBos
So now it’s up to Mayor Mitch Landrieu to appoint the interim New Orleans City Council member from District B. At least he won’t have a problem convening a quorum to reach his decision.
That doesn’t mean his decision-making process will be easy.
The choice falls to Landrieu because the council was unable to make the interim appointment within the required 30 days of former District B Council member Stacy Head taking her oath as the new at-large council member. By now everyone knows why: two council members — Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and Jon Johnson —boycotted council meetings since early May, thereby depriving the council of a quorum. Without a quorum, no appointment could be made. (Incidentally, District A Council member Susan Guidry was out of town on a previously scheduled vacation for part of May as well.)
Everyone is back at the table now, and the reasons that led to the walkout no longer matter. What matters now is that Landrieu gets to make the appointment. He is expected to make it this week, possibly as early as Tuesday.
Head stands by her recommendation of urban planner Errol George, who would give the council a third African-American member. Some, particularly in the black community, have concerns about George, however, starting with whether he is domiciled in District B. He ran for political office several years ago in eastern New Orleans and was registered to vote there until just a few weeks ago.
In all other respects, George is as qualified as any of the others being mentioned. That’s not to say questions about his domicile disqualify him; he may well be domiciled in District B. However, if there’s a legal challenge to his appointment, the courts will have to resolve that issue. That will take time — and potentially call into question lots of issues that he would be voting on as an interim council member (including the budget). In light of all the other controversies swirling about the council, Landrieu may decide that it’s not worth the risk.
It’s worth noting that George has worked in all of Landrieu’s campaigns, so it’s doubtful that the mayor has personal or political misgivings about him.
Meanwhile, lots of other names have been mentioned. I’m not going to list them here because I will surely leave someone out. Suffice it to say the mayor is getting plenty of suggestions. The list includes former elected officials, attorneys, business people — you name it. That speaks well of District B. It is home to many who qualify for public service.
Of course, politics plays a role as well. The mayor no doubt will appoint someone who he feels will work with him to help enact his reform agenda — at least, that’s how he will describe it. Critics will say he just wants a vote he can count on. Both views are correct, but there’s more to the equation.
Landrieu also must appoint someone who can hit the ground running, who can respond quickly and effectively to constituents’ questions and concerns. District B, like all districts, is diverse. It has some of New Orleans’ wealthiest and poorest citizens. It includes the CBD, Central City, parts of Mid-City, the Superdome and Arena, the Irish Channel, Gert Town and the new LSU/VA hospital complex.
The interim council member also will vote on the annual city budget, which, next to zoning matters, ranks as the most important (and often most challenging) council assignment.
As is the case with every mayoral appointment, Landrieu’s selection will be vetted not only by his team but also by everyone else — now and for the rest of the year.
Choose wisely, Mr. Mayor.