When Mitch Landrieu became mayor of New Orleans in 2010, the city was broke, still reeling from hurricane devastation — and for many years troubled not only with the petty corruption of Ray Nagin but population decline, crime and other urban ills.
Landrieu has achieved, by dint of timing and talent, what the typical politician can only dream of: He is a genuinely historic figure in the life of his city.
Not all the problems of New Orleans are solved. In a talk with The Advocate's editorial board, Landrieu acknowledged that, but wanted to point out the progress, particularly long-term problems he's tackled "so that mayors of the future will face decisions that are much easier."
Easier, not easy. But it is a striking contrast that Landrieu's new counterpart in Baton Rouge — like him, a veteran of the State Capitol — is on a veritable Easy Street.
Sharon Weston Broome inherits an economy that, if not booming, with an unemployment rate above the national average, is still robust. Even the devastating impact of major flooding that occurred before she took office in January, bringing with it complications with dealing with the federal aid bureaucracy, is nothing compared to what Landrieu faced.
Sales tax collections for the first four months of the year were up 9.1 percent — from $60.4 million last year to just under $66 million in 2017, according to figures from the city-parish Finance Department. Although the pace of post-flood replacements of cars and refrigerators and the like appears to be slowing, it's a significant income stream for Broome's first year.
Sometimes, she claps along to evangelical music and hymns. Other times, she kneels in stained glass sanctuaries. And once or twice, she has ev…
While the dislocations in New Orleans post-Katrina were epic, and those of the capital city not in that league, Baton Rouge had a really rough 2016, with the assassination of police officers and unaccustomed marches and protests.
Broome has characteristically tried to straddle the city's racial divides, pushing for changes at the police department but preaching unity. She can plausibly say that her style has succeeded, as protest was muted at the July anniversary of Alton Sterling's shooting.
But Landrieu and Broome, who were very different styles of operators in the Legislature, continue to show how different they are in city office. Landrieu was the policy driver, carrying controversial legislation; Broome, so cautious and close-to-the-vest that she was the despair of lobbyists who wanted early commitments on bills.
Broome takes some stands but with an exquisite caution, on her own political timetable. She bonds with Metro Council members in church visits, but such apolitical religiosity is not apt to confer the blessings of tranquility on council racial battles like that over the mismanaged Council on Aging. Broome supports the agency's politically connected management, probably with some risk of future embarrassment as the bad audits and investigations continue.
Not for her the late-in-his-term jihad against General Lee by Mitch Landrieu. She plumps for the status quo most of the time, BRPD policies being a notable exception. She doesn't want to move the Baton Rouge Zoo. Even an issue she championed in the Legislature, smoke-free casinos and bars, is soft-pedaled now that she is mayor.
Maybe her predecessor Kip Holden made some enemies when he called people idiots to their faces, but his intentions could not be misinterpreted. Six months in, Broome has a lower profile, despite a commendable level of reaching out and visiting community groups.
Of course, the biggest contrast between Landrieu and Broome is that she has a future, only beginning her first term. The latter has the terminal political diagnosis of term limits; his successor will be chosen from those signing up in this week's qualifying.
But if anything, Landrieu's clamoring even more for the public's attention, giving a well-regarded speech at the National Conference of Mayors and then releasing a wide-ranging climate change plan for the city, not to mention putting Confederate monuments in the boneyard.
Don't expect Sharon Weston Broome to be so heated up by global warming that she will put a 16-foot mercury thermometer on the levee as the new Red Stick. Not her style. She will do things very differently — if she decides to do things. The danger is that political caution will cede the city-parish government agenda to others. That's something Landrieu would never tolerate.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With one eye toward New Orleans’ perilous state when he took office seven years ago, and the other fixed on the candidates running this fall t…