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Still Landing on His Feet


While his critics will sneer that he's fleeing town as federal investigators are looking into the dealings of his administration, the truth is Marc Morial has landed one of the plum jobs in America for a rising African-American political star.

The 45-year-old Morial last week was named president of the National Urban League, beating out more than 450 other applicants for the job. Some of those other applicants reportedly included current and former members of Congress, other big-city mayors and top executives from the private sector. Urban League leaders cited Morial's energy and record as mayor of New Orleans -- particularly his success in cleaning up the troubled and corrupt NOPD -- as proof that they hired the right person.

Morial and his family will move to New York, where the Urban League is headquartered, but he will spend a lot of time in Washington, D.C., and in the dozens of cities across America where the League has chapters.

Founded in 1910 to help African Americans enter the country's social and economic mainstream, the League has had a string of high-profile leaders. At the same time, it and other civil rights organizations have struggled to energize black as well as white followers in the wake of civil rights victories in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Morial is seen as a president who can reinvigorate the organization with his youth, his enthusiasm, his tireless work ethic, his natural campaigning and oratorical abilities, and his management skills. His management style is very hands-on, particularly in the early stages of a new endeavor, and that probably complements his new challenges at the League.

As for Morial's political ambitions, the new job fits him like one of his hallmark suits. With a Republican in the White House and the GOP in control of the U.S. House and Senate, this is probably the best job in the world for an ambitious African-American political player. His experience as mayor of New Orleans gives him credentials as an authority on the problems of urban America, and his stint as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors made him a budding national figure. Now, after almost a decade of being a big fish in a small pond, Marc Morial is big fish in the biggest pond of all.

Think of it this way: Marc Morial in the next few years could well become the leading spokesman and advocate for African Americans.

It's a natural progression in several ways, starting with age. The original civil rights leaders are mostly deceased, and their first generation of successors are old enough that young blacks don't automatically see them as heroes of their own generation. That's human nature. Morial is a young, hip, successful black leader who bridges the generational gap between the early civil rights pioneers and younger blacks who still feel the sting of discrimination but aren't old enough to have sat in or marched in protest.

Given Morial's considerable political skills on top of all that, his appointment should come as no surprise.

He's not wasting any time getting into his new groove, either.

"We won't wait for people to call us if we think we have to address an issue," Morial told the Associated Press. "It's going to take a little time to work on how we position ourselves, but we are going to be active as an advocate on a national level."

As mayor, Marc Morial had an uncanny knack for always landing on his feet. He's no longer mayor, but he obviously hasn't lost his touch.

After almost a decade of being a big fish in a small - pond, Marc Morial is big fish in the biggest pond of - all. - TRACIE MORRIS/YOUNG STUDIO
  • Tracie Morris/Young Studio
  • After almost a decade of being a big fish in a small pond, Marc Morial is big fish in the biggest pond of all.

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