Mayor Mitch Landrieu delivered his 2017 State of the City at the Civic Theatre July 6.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu ended his final State of the City address with a familiar phrase, one that he's used at the end of previous State of the City speeches and throughout his terms as mayor of New Orleans; "Let's get back to work."
Each State of the City has revisited the previous year of his administration — highlighting infrastructure investments, crime prevention, recreation, homelessness and affordable housing, among other issues — and glimpsed his platform in the coming months and years ahead.
But for his final State of the City before he leaves office in 2018, Landrieu started from the beginning, then landed squarely at the future as New Orleans prepares to elect his successor.
Landrieu's speech at the Civic Theatre July 6 spanned the disarray and $97 million deficit he inherited in 2010 to the balanced budgets, job programs, hospitals, recreation centers, playgrounds and road projects in the years that followed — as well as the city's two ongoing "existential and immediate threats": climate change and violent crime.
Crime and public safety have remained at the forefront of the Landrieu administration, with a City Hall grappling with one of the highest murder rates while pumping billions of dollars on the New Orleans Police Department, crime prevention programs and reform efforts through the federal consent decree that aimed to at least bring the department up to constitutional standards and end its culture of corruption.
Landrieu said violent crime remains "the most difficult, the most immediate and the most urgent issue we face," and one Landrieu says should be a rallying point for the entire city. "There is no more important issue for us to totally rally around as a city," he said.
Though three pages of citations in his speech sourced Landrieu's accomplishments while in office, he spent the bulk of his speech defending his administration's attempts to curb violent crime, highlighting the work of NOLA for Life and Ceasefire, among other preventive programs.
"If young people don't have good opportunities, if there's no path to prosperity than crime and drugs," Landrieu said, "then we'll continue to be cursed with the same violence the city has been cursed with for generations."
But those public safety investments are "costing us a fortune," he said.
"This is not sustainable," he said. "This is why all elected officials, and I mean all, need to get on the same page with criminal justice reform."
Landrieu pressed the need for comprehensive criminal justice system reform, to change the "hangover from Jim Crow" that disproportionally jails poor people of color and jails people for nonviolent crimes while breaking up families.
But Landrieu acknowledged that those longer-term plans will likely take years to show progress. "No one is happy with where we are," he said. "People are afraid and I understand impatience and fear given the surge in violent crime. It's disturbing and it's unacceptable." Landrieu said immediate solutions include his recently announced plans for NOPD raises, overtime and recruitment.
Recruitment, however, was directed back to residents who have demanded NOPD add more officers to its ranks. "You need to show up," Landrieu said. "Step up to the plate and become a police officer."
The "enemy," he said, is not overseas or a Syrian refugee or undocumented immigrant, seemingly swiping at Attorney General Jeff Landry over their ongoing debate over "sanctuary" policies.
"They are our neighbors," Landrieu said. "We know these people. This starts at home."
If residents refuse to call out "bad behavior" and remain silent against "mount[ing] the best fight possible to end the culture of violence," Landrieu said, then New Orleans will continue to "struggle to make progress with a problem that has been with us a very, very long time."
"If there is no justice, there is no peace," Landrieu said.
Landrieu will release the city's Climate Action Strategy July 7, unveiling plans to cut the city's emissions in half by 2030. Landrieu has pointed to the city's climate change actions — including New Orleans' recent pact with 60 U.S. mayors to agree to the terms of the Paris climate accord despite President Donald Trump's withdrawal from it — as an example of cities taking the lead despite federal discord.
"No other city in the world has more at stake than New Orleans," Landrieu said, adding that the city need to "go a step further" in addressing the state's eroding coast and wetlands. "Anything less would be a grave betrayal to future generations."
But those challenges and the years-long plans to solve them will remain with the next administration and incoming New Orleans City Council members. "The candidates need to tell us how
they plan to take on these difficult challenges," Landrieu said. "Details, not sound bites."
The upcoming fall election is among "one of the most important of our lifetime," he said, and one Landrieu says he doesn't expect to sit out entirely. "I will be fully engaged and active," he said. "Not only to sprint to the finish line of my own term but to speak the truth about the challenges we face and what should come next."