The discovery by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome that people say intemperate or even hateful things on the internet may spark a useful conversation about how to disagree, particularly on the vexed subject of race relations.

Or not. It may just provoke voters to wonder if they have done the right thing, electing Broome not for uplifting sermonettes on society's ills, but to fix potholes, improve police and fire protection and the myriad other concrete things that a mayor is called upon to do. Draining the swamp of the internet is secondary to draining our real swamps around here.

"My goal as mayor-president is to unite people around our collective goals of progress and equity," Broome wrote. "While freedom of speech is one of the pillars that makes this country so beautiful, irresponsibility of such can be used as a tool to separate us as community."

The recipients of this statement, the "citizens of Baton Rouge," are almost certain to agree. They might well even applaud: "As your mayor-president, I stand against hatred, division, and words and actions that only further divide our community. I do not endorse or support the opinions of any individual or media outlet that would attempt to take us down a path of strife and contentiousness."

But what provoked all this? It came Friday, after mountains of national publicity over the decision by New Orleans elected officials to take on Jim Crow a century too late and remove prominent Confederate statues. The nasty rhetoric ensuing did not make New Orleans, the South or Southerners look very good.

But the Broome letter appeared not to be about the Crescent City: A Broome spokeswoman said the open letter was aimed at harsh rhetoric on social media.

Who knew that was a problem?

 

Say what you will about Donald Trump's intemperate tweets, they are relevant to the news, even if agitated on heavy-duty rinse in the president's mind. Her statement was serenely unconnected to current events.

Though Broome's letter promised to work toward laudable goals for the city, there was nothing in it about how to get there.

It's the difference between the approach toward problems of a lifelong legislator, compared to a leader in an executive capacity. Each might prefer inoffensive commitment to broad "collective goals" and rhetoric about the process. The executive, though, understands that a commitment to specific proposals is a fundamental part of kicking the process into action, even if people are made unhappy by a leader's decisions and priorities.

On the upside for the mayor, her frequent and harsh critics among the Hayride conservatives interpreted the statement as aimed at the divisive rhetoric of Gary Chambers, an occasional mayoral adviser who was carted from the Metro Council meeting because he wanted to sound off about the Alton Sterling decision by the U.S. Department of Justice.

So if the mayor's letter sowed confusion in the enemy camp, it was a victory for strategic vagueness.

But if it represents an above-the-fray attitude of making nice instead of making progress, people might really want to see more action from city hall.

Al Ater: There is great sadness in the State Capitol at the loss at 63 of the former legislator and interim secretary of state, who ran the 2006 election in New Orleans despite all the post-Katrina obstacles. But he was one of those of the old-school legislators who worked across party lines and whose word was his bond. That last appears to be receding in the building every day.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.