The New Year begins with Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco focused on big-ticket items for the city and the state, but both will be nagged throughout the year by other matters large and small. Their successes will be determined largely by their ability to stay focused on the big picture while tending to daily matters at the same time.
Nagin told me recently he hopes 2005 will see substantial progress on redeveloping the city's riverfront, boosting local employment through infrastructure improvements, and taking the idea of a medical district to the next level.
In the next few months, Blanco will have to negotiate a deal to keep the New Orleans Saints in town for another 15 years. Beyond that, she hopes to tackle health care reform and poverty -- two huge problems that have held Louisiana back for decades.
Both leaders also will have to tend to other important issues on a daily basis.
As Nagin enters the last year of his first term and begins his bid for re-election, the No. 1 issue of his campaign is already clearly defined: crime. New Orleans saw a significant drop in its murder rate during the tenure of Nagin's predecessor, Marc Morial (who brought in Nagin's 2002 mayoral opponent, former Police Chief Richard Pennington, to lead NOPD). Now, under Nagin and Police Chief Eddie Compass, we are regaining the ignoble title of the nation's murder capital.
In recent months, spats with various other elected officials -- particularly some on the City Council -- seem to have distracted the mayor and underscored his inability to grasp even the fundamentals of politics. If he's not careful, his sour relations with some City Council members (and other elected officials as well) could make him look like a guy who can't get along well enough to get things done. Above all, if he doesn't do something soon to get a handle on the city's crime problem, all his other efforts won't matter.
To the extent that he can make a difference, Nagin has done a good job of getting voters to buy into his plan for continued capital improvements. The $260 million bond issue that passed in November will keep his street repair program on track and provide good jobs in the construction sector. Meanwhile, he's looking for someone to champion the stalled drive to build a medical district along the Tulane Avenue corridor. His hopes of opening the riverfront to redevelopment recently got a boost, but he will need significant help from lawmakers and Blanco to make that happen. Happily, the mayor and the governor appear to be getting along fairly well these days, despite the fact that he did not support her in the 2003 elections.
For her part, Blanco is off to a very good start as governor. Her quiet demeanor hides an inner toughness and strength -- which she will need in great abundance, because her plate is just as full as Nagin's.
So far, Blanco has played her hand masterfully with Saints owner Tom Benson, but starting this week she will have to take the negotiations to the next level and present a concrete plan for keeping the team in New Orleans. On other fronts, her recent summit on poverty and last year's summit on health care focused on two of the state's most daunting challenges, but will any real change emerge from those gatherings? That will put all of Blanco's political and leadership skills to the test. The good news for Blanco is that she seems to do that multi-tasking thing very well -- and she has managed to avoid the kind of political traps that have distracted Nagin. As he enters the political season, Hizzoner would do well to take a few lessons from The Governess.
- Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco's successes will be determined largely by their ability to stay focused on the big picture while tending to daily matters.