Mayor Mitch Landrieu delivered his annual State of the City address last week in the gymnasium of the Treme Center, the newly opened recreational facility in 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 address — the last of Landrieu's current term — also had a not-so-subtle subtext, and that was what the city (read: the mayor) hopes to accomplish by 2018, the tercentennial of the founding of New Orleans. Those goals, of course, are dependent on his re-election — and that was the implicit message of his speech.
In 2009, when there was a pre-qualifying scramble to see who would replace outgoing Mayor Ray Nagin, Landrieu initially said he had no plans to run. But when no clear frontrunner emerged from a field of seven potential or declared candidates, then-Lt. Gov. Landrieu jumped into the race shortly before qualifying opened and quickly put together a winning coalition. This time around, there's no major opponent to challenge Landrieu — unless his occasional irritant, City Council Vice President Stacy Head, decides to get in the race.
Despite a murder rate that remains stubbornly high, Landrieu is riding a wave of approval in public opinion polls. More than 70 percent of respondents in a University of New Orleans survey conducted last month said they approve or strongly approve of the mayor's performance. His popularity spans racial lines, with more than 80 percent of whites and 65 percent of blacks giving him high marks. (The poll didn't break down respondents by political party.)
Combine Landrieu's approval ratings with the natural advantages of incumbency and a flush war chest — his most recent filing with the Louisiana Ethics Administration, in February, showed he had just over $1 million on hand — and the mayor looks to be in good shape going into election season.
This year's State of the City address held no major policy initiatives, unlike in 2012, when the mayor used the speech to introduce "NOLA For Life," his new anti-crime program designed to bring the city's violent crime-fighting initiatives under one umbrella. (In his 2011 address, Landrieu 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.) NOLA For Life gets high marks for its success stories, but overall the local crime rate remains too high. Landrieu noted that murder is down 15 percent from this time last year, but he failed to mention the year-end numbers — 199 murders in 2011, 193 murders in 2012 ‚— and 2013 isn't looking much better, at least so far.
Landrieu proposed nothing as far-reaching as NOLA For Life in his latest speech. Instead, the mayor ticked off a list of accomplishments: the second round of the city's Small Business Assistance program; the return of the Circle Food Store in the 7th Ward (set to open by Thanksgiving, according to Landrieu); the efficacy of the "NOLA 311" phone assistance 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. (Not mentioned were the Lafitte Greenway project and the Bywater-Marigny riverfront park, two ongoing projects that have been mired in controversy and red tape. The Greenway is unlikely to be completed by its target date of next spring, and the riverfront park is similarly behind schedule.)
When it came to what the city would look like in 2018, Landrieu was full of ideas. "The goal: In five years," the mayor said, "make the jump from dream to reality and create a city for the ages." Those plans include "a world-class city with a world-class airport," the completion of the City Park Master Plan and the UMC Hospital in Mid-City, a new streetcar line on North Rampart Street and "the World Trade Center site remade into a world-class civic space." Certainly those 2018 goals should also include another Super Bowl in the Crescent City.
The unspoken conclusion, of course, was that Landrieu should lead the city for another four years. It was impossible to miss this larger point. The next mayoral primary is set for Feb. 1, 2014, with qualifying Dec. 11-13. With his latest State of the City speech, Landrieu made it clear the race starts now.