It's our custom to begin the year with New Year's resolutions for public officials. This time, though, we're taking a different approach. This will be a year for New Orleanians to take the long-term view, so for 2010 we offer you, our readers, some suggested resolutions.
The elections are upon us. In eight weeks, we will know who our next mayor will be. (If there isn't a runoff, we may know in less than a month.) With the holidays, the Saints' streak and now the Carnival season, people have much to watch. Between the playoffs and Mardi Gras, take some time to learn about the person who's about to take the keys from Ray Nagin. As bad as things are, they can get worse.
Along with a new mayor comes a new police chief, and voters should hold candidates' feet to the fire on this issue. It's not enough to spout rhetoric about reform and accountability. By now all mayoral candidates should have a short list of people they would ask to take over the troubled NOPD. While the right chief may already work at NOPD, candidates must show us they've considered a national search and are serious about reducing crime.
Another important election on Feb. 6 is that of assessor. New Orleans is about to consolidate its historic seven assessors' offices into one. Although the new single assessor won't take office until December 2010, this will be a dramatic as well as historic change. The overarching goal is greater fairness as well as uniformity in appraisals, but reform won't come unless voters choose the right person for the job. Then there are the City Council races, starting with the at-large contest, which features three veterans (Jackie Clarkson, Arnie Fielkow and Cynthia Willard-Lewis) and four newcomers vying for two seats. The five other council races also offer distinct choices, and they'll all participate in public and online forums between now and Election Day. Take time to follow the issues.
This is also the year in which the New Orleans Master Plan will begin to take shape, one of the most ambitious master plans ever undertaken by an American city. In October, the City Planning Commission put off the next hearing on the plan until Jan. 26. The Master Plan is intended to be a blueprint for civic growth through 2030 and will include a complete revamp of a zoning plan that hasn't been altered in nearly 30 years. Citizens helped write the draft, but they need to remain engaged to stay the course.
Amazingly, the master plan doesn't get into specifics on one of the biggest urban developments ever plotted in New Orleans: the new LSU/VA teaching hospital. LSU's plan takes out a wide swath of Lower Mid-City adjacent to downtown and doesn't include the Charity Hospital building — to the chagrin of preservationists. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has filed a lawsuit to stop work on LSU's current plan. The group proposes a footprint which includes Charity, spares about half the homes that would face the wrecking ball under LSU's plan and may spur walkability in the area (which could stimulate small local businesses). All New Orleanians, not just Mid-City and downtown residents, should educate themselves about both plans and make their voices heard.
Finally: The Saints have reignited a civic spirit in New Orleans. That's a feeling worth keeping all year, not just during football season. Right now, your neighbors may need you more than ever. Because of unemployment and the recession, area food banks are running critically short of staple items, and local shelters took in overwhelming numbers of stray animals in 2009. If you have time or a few bucks to spare, consider lending a hand to these worthy causes. Many infirm and elderly also need help with basic errands. If you can offer a ride to a grocery store or pharmacy, do so — and help everyone in your neighborhood by cleaning the catch basins on your street. Last month, the wettest December on record, showed the importance of that.
If we adopt just a few of these resolutions, it'll matter less if (or when) politicians finally meet our expectations. Happy 2010, New Orleans.