by Kevin Allman
Mayor Mitch Landrieu delivered his annual State of the City address this afternoon in the gymnasium of the Treme Center, the newly opened recreational facility at the rear of Armstrong Park. It was a fitting backdrop for a speech that was heavy on the city's (read: the mayor's) accomplishments over the last year, but this year's SOTC — the last of Landrieu's term — had a not-so-sub-subtext, and that was the future: specifically, what the city (read: the mayor) hopes to accomplish by 2018, the tricentennial of the founding of New Orleans.
Last year's SOTC introduced "NOLA For Life," the major new policy designed to bring the city's various violent crimefighting initiatives under one umbrella. (At the 2011 SOTC, Landrieu had named former city councilman James Carter to be the city's first Criminal Justice Commissioner, a position that was quietly dissolved last September after Carter left the administration.)
Nothing as grandiose as NOLA For Life was proposed this year, at least in specifics. But when it came to what the city would look like in 2018, Landrieu was full of ideas, including "a world-class city with a world-class airport," the completion of the City Park Master Plan and the UMC Hospital in Mid-City, new streetcar lines and "the World Trade Center site remade into a world-class civic space." (Not mentioned, for whatever reason: the Lafitte Greenway project and the Bywater-Marigny riverfront park.)
"The goal: In five years," Landrieu said, "make the jump from dream to reality and create a city for the ages."
Unspoken: who would lead the city for the next five years, but it was impossible not to catch Landrieu's larger point. The next mayoral election is set for March 2014.
Among this year's accomplishments, the mayor said, were the second round of the city's Small Business Assistance program; the return of the Circle Food Store in the Seventh Ward (set to open by Thanksgiving, according to Landrieu); the remaking of the NOLA 311 assistance phone service; the long-promised "one stop shop" for City Hall permitting (homebuilders who have visited it "almost stroked out," Landrieu boasted); "nearly" 60 miles of bike lanes; three balanced budgets in a row; and a long list of new municipal buildings and facilities.
Despite the talk about NOLA For Life's successes, though, the crime rate remains stubborn; Landrieu noted that murder is down 15 percent from this time last year, though he elided the actual year-end numbers (199 murders in 2011; 193 murders in 2012). Landrieu did tout a doubling in the number of New Orleans Police Department homicide detectives and the start of an overhaul of the paid detail system — and he managed a swipe at Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman: "Just as the people of this city deserve a good police department that polices constitutionally and keeps them safe, we also have a responsibility to have a prison that does the same," Landrieu said. "I believe this is more about management than money."
But the focus on 2018 — "In 2018, I see the beating heart of New Orleans," Landrieu said, "our neighborhoods happy and healthy, with children playing in safe streets" — made it clear that a second term is very much on the mayor's mind. And, whether he intended it or not, much of this year's SOTC was, if not a campaign speech for a second term, the pilings for a second-term platform to run what he called "the coolest city in America."