The upcoming New Orleans mayoral contest is sure to focus on which of outgoing Mayor Mitch Landrieu's policies and practices should be changed, and which should be preserved.
Here's a personal recommendation: I'd like to see the next mayor continue Landrieu's practice of going before voters in every City Council district each summer and answering their questions face to face as his administration prepares the following year's budget.
Mayor to host calls on 2018 budget plans
Landrieu's actually breaking with the tradition this summer, due to a shortened process dictated by the fall election calendar. Instead, he'll hold two telephone conference calls, this Tuesday night at 6 for residents in districts A, B and C, and Wednesday at 5 for those in D and E. Interested residents can sign up to participate at vekeo.com/mayorlandrieu.
There's always been some debate over just how much the citizen input influenced the budgeting process. But that aside, the meetings were often satisfying exercises in democracy, sometimes rowdy and unfiltered but usually substantive and respectful.
There's no question that the format played to Landrieu's strengths as a communicator and detail guy, probably never more so than when he first invited residents of Eastern New Orleans to a giant church during his first year in office. Landrieu used the occasion to seek support for a new, tougher anti-blight strategy that would err on the side of those who'd come home after Hurricane Katrina, not those who hadn't — and got it. He then turned things around and sought a commitment from the largely African-American crowd to have his back should the policy prompt charges of racism. He got that too.
Subsequent meetings generally weren't so dramatic, but they were often interesting.
The next mayor will surely have different strengths than Landrieu, although one contender, City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, displayed her own comfort with the q-and-a format during a recent series of public campaign meetings.
Maybe her opponents should consider taking it out for a test drive as well.