U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy was in New Orleans last week — not for a town hall or public constituents' meeting, which he has yet to hold in the state's largest city since he took office six months ago. No, he was here to talk with WWL-TV about the city's crime problem, which he once again said could turn New Orleans into "the next Detroit."
Kennedy previously used the "Detroit" slur in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the confirmation of FBI Director Christopher Wray. In that hearing, Kennedy also claimed hyperbolically that the Crescent City was becoming "the murder and armed robbery capital of the Western Hemisphere." Since Kennedy has been scarce around these parts after moving to Washington D.C., we thought we'd remind him of a few things.
• New Orleans' crime problem is real and troubling; that's not in dispute. But "the murder and armed robbery capital of the Western Hemisphere"? Hardly. We're not even the highest in the nation. In fact, our violent crime rate, even with the recent uptick, is still lower than it was at the end of former Police Chief Richard Pennington's tenure — and Pennington rightly remains a hero in the fight against crime.
• Detroit? That city declared bankruptcy in 2013 — while New Orleans' fiscal standing has soared. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has made mistakes like any mayor, but he inherited a fiscal disaster in 2010, and he worked with the City Council to fix it. New Orleans' finances are nothing like those of Detroit, nor is our crime problem.
Perhaps a better comparison would be the state's fiscal standing, which was downgraded by Moody's Investors Services to the nation's third-worst last year after eight years of mismanagement by former Gov. Bobby Jindal and his legislative allies. It's worth noting that Sen. Kennedy was treasurer of Louisiana for 16 years, under three governors. What, besides talk, did Kennedy actually do while Louisiana veered into a fiscal ditch? If Landrieu bears responsibility for crime, then surely Kennedy bears some responsibility for Louisiana's fiscal train wreck.
So far, Kennedy's tenure in Washington has produced little more than finger pointing and sound bites, though he's not the only demagogue taking potshots at our city. Last week, state Attorney General Jeff Landry appeared on a radio show in Acadiana to once again criticize what he calls New Orleans' "hug-a-thug" policies (his term for the NOPD's federal consent decree) and said, "The place is falling apart." Landry should talk about "falling apart." His much-publicized "task force" to clean up New Orleans produced only a handful of arrests before the AG pulled it out of the city.
Both Landry and Kennedy are said to be eying the 2019 gubernatorial race, and no doubt it plays well in some parts of the state to bad-mouth New Orleans. Still, it's Louisiana, not New Orleans, that falls at the bottom of so many lists. Those who aspire to lead our state should not falsely besmirch its largest and most economically important city.