With Saturday's primary election for mayor in the books, New Orleans has taken another big step away from the Mitch Landrieu era and toward whatever comes next.
With the field narrowed to two, even more attention will now focus on how the eventual winner will change city government. That's always the case at the end of a chief executive's second term, a milestone every modern-day New Orleans mayor has reached. Fatigue sets in, and voters focus on what they don't like much more than what they do.
We're watching the results of that dynamic play out in the extreme in Washington, where President Donald Trump is bent on dismantling anything his predecessor Barack Obama touched, often without bothering to think through the wisdom or implications of drastic change.
Nothing quite like that has happened in New Orleans, but Landrieu has bemoaned the history of new mayoral administrations coming in and throwing out much of what they find. So has former Mayor Marc Morial, another two-term mayor. Landrieu hasn't made an endorsement and may or may not in the runoff, but he has issued the call for the next mayor to stay the course on initiatives that are working.
City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell surged past former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonne…
And so far, there's evidence that may happen.
Of course, the candidates have criticized Landrieu. In the last week's closing television debate on WWL-TV, the top three primary hopefuls were asked to name the mayor's greatest failure, and each had a ready answer. Former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris faulted Landrieu for instituting a hiring freeze on cops early in his tenure, which has led to a staffing shortfall at the New Orleans Police Department. Former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet said he hasn't done enough to ensure transparency and accountability as president of the Sewerage & Water Board. City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell criticized Landrieu's approach to dealing with other officials, which she characterized as "divide and conquer."
All fair criticisms, and common ones. Landrieu has defended his hiring freeze as necessary given the city's dire financial picture, and he's acknowledged that the administration dropped the ball over at the S&WB. As for Cantrell's complaint, I have no way of knowing whether Landrieu intends to be imperious but it's not hard to find other political players who find him that way.
But if the candidates had no trouble coming up with criticisms, they also easily named the mayor's greatest accomplishment. Bagneris acknowledged that Landrieu did a good job getting the city's finances in order, and Charbonnet said he'd made City Hall more user-friendly. Cantrell lauded him for nurturing partnerships with outside foundations.
Like their criticisms, all three compliments are pretty widely held.
In fact, one noteworthy element of the campaign so far is the extent to which the candidates are acknowledging what's gone right over the last eight years. While they've focused on crime, they haven't bashed the leadership of Police Superintendent Michael Harrison. They've acknowledged progress in fiscal matters and are eagerly awaiting revenue from big projects Landrieu has pushed. They may not say so unprompted, but they're surely relieved that long-running challenges such as the firefighter's pension controversy have been settled.
A recent poll for The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV hints at why. Landrieu has a 57 approval rating among the 500 registered voters interviewed late last month, and Harrison's and NOPD's are even higher at 60 percent and 63 percent, respectively. Landrieu also earned positive marks from voters on managing city government, attracting new jobs and businesses and even his handling of the Confederate monuments issue. Voters were evenly split on how he's dealt with crime. Only Landrieu's handling of flooding and drainage drew negative reviews, which should come as no surprise given all the recent revelations over the water board's deep systemic shortcomings.
None of this is to suggest that change isn't still the name of the game here. Still, as we enter the race's final stage and prepare for the long transition, this is a good time to pause and remind ourselves that not everything should.