Big chill far from over in city politics

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PHOTO BY ALEX WOODWARD
  • PHOTO BY ALEX WOODWARD

For months, New Orleanians feared a sudden rain storm more than anything else would overwhelm the city’s antiquated infrastructure. Now we know that an extended cold snap can be just as ominous.

Icy streets, busted pipes, low water pressure, boil water advisories, shuttered workplaces, and even tragic deaths ranked among winter’s harsh toll this week.

New Orleans was far from alone, though it was (literally) cold comfort to learn that we had lots of company. In Jefferson Parish, for example, the entire East Bank fell under a boil water advisory.
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport lost heat — and some functioning toilets — for several hours, but the news was far worse downtown, where high-rise hotels began turning away visitors.

The biggest problem with the big chill of 2018 is that we’ll be dealing with its aftermath long after the weather warms up. That’s particularly true of the city’s water and sewerage system.

“We have an old, tired system that hasn’t had the kind of deferred maintenance that a system requires,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. “It breaks.”

Hizzoner may as well have said, “Shit happens.”

That was bad enough, but apparently Landrieu couldn’t resist going further. “Unless and until we invest in the kinds of things we need, we’re going to continue to have a compromised system,” he added. “And we’re working through all that stuff right now.”

Landrieu has been in office almost eight years. Telling citizens who can’t wash clothes, can’t drink their tap water (if they can get any), and possibly can’t even flush their toilets that “we’re working through all that stuff” doesn’t inspire confidence. It only reinforces their frustration with the mayor who ran on the slogan, “I know what to do and I know how to do it.”

Nobody’s blaming Landrieu for the cold weather. At the same time, he bears a lot of responsibility for the current woes of the Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB). It’s true that the system is old and tired and has lacked deferred maintenance for years, but nearly eight of those years came under Landrieu’s stewardship.

Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell has correctly identified the S&WB’s woes as her number one challenge — which is saying a lot after her credit card debacle, her awkward political pas de deux with former state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, and her hit-and-run handling of a Jan. 11 City Council resolution that thrust her colleagues unwittingly into the Middle East conflict. (Cantrell authored the resolution, which was not placed on the council’s agenda, but she was conveniently absent when it was suddenly brought up for a vote.)

If Landrieu’s failure to tend to the S&WB since 2010 disappointed, Cantrell’s handling of her own political and policy affairs portends four years of chaos.

Cantrell calls her approach to governance “bottom up,” which evokes, perhaps appropriately, a common toast before swigging a stiff drink. New Orleanians may need quite a lot of alcohol in the coming months and years.

But if you take your booze on the rocks, be sure to boil the water first.


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