John Neely Kennedy speaks at the United State Senators candidates forum on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016


If John Kennedy really wanted to solve New Orleans' crime problem, he could have moved to the city from St. Tammany Parish in time to establish residency, and started putting together a campaign to succeed Mitch Landrieu as mayor.

That, of course, didn't happen.

Instead, the longtime state treasurer spent a dozen years trying to get elected to the U.S. Senate, and finally succeeded last year when he claimed the seat vacated by fellow Republican David Vitter, a political lifetime after Kennedy competed against Vitter for the same spot as a moderate Democrat.

So you'd think that, after waiting so long to get there, Kennedy would be all about Washington. Yet in the grand tradition of Vitter, Attorney General Jeff Landry, and other Republicans who supposedly have other concerns in the offices they actually hold, Kennedy is spending an awful lot of his time these days bashing city leaders over the intractable crime problem.

He has jumped on the bandwagon of Republicans decrying "sanctuary" policies that police say are aimed at focusing limiting local resources on local law enforcement and encouraging immigrants to cooperate with police.

In the Senate, he used his time questioning FBI director nominee Christopher Wray to decry the "extraordinary crime problem in New Orleans," and make the highly questionable claim that "we're rapidly becoming the murder and armed robbery capital of the western hemisphere."

In an interview with WWL-TV, he claimed that fighting crime isn't a priority for Landrieu, and advocated the constitutionally suspect practice of "stop and frisk."

Landrieu hasn't let any of this pass. In a blistering letter following Kennedy's Judiciary Committee questioning, the mayor said Kennedy should stop grandstanding and start doing what he can from the Senate, specifically directing federal money to the various crime-fighting initiatives already underway.

“As I have said many times, making New Orleans safe has been and will continue to be my number one priority," Landrieu wrote. "While it is campaign season, murder and violence should never become just another political football...I have been to too many funerals and consoled too many mothers at crime scenes, for a career politician like John Kennedy to pander from the peanut gallery, especially when he can actually do something to help."

The irony is that, while Landrieu makes a convenient punching bag, the city is getting ready to move on. And the electorate Kennedy is clearly playing to is very different from the one that will pick the city's next mayor this fall.

Yes, crime is shaping up as the major issue in that election, and all the major candidates — all Democrats, as is Landrieu — are also taking issue with the mayor's record.

But none of them are talking about it like Kennedy, who relied upon highly partisan sloganeering in his winning Senate race last year and who is widely rumored to be considering a run for governor.

Nor are responsible groups outside City Hall, such as Forward New Orleans, a coalition of civic organizations that has put together a platform it hopes all the candidates will endorse. In an editorial board meeting, I asked leaders of the group what they thought of Kennedy's stop-and-frisk comments, and they couldn't distance themselves fast enough.

That's not just because there's a federal civil rights consent decree now governing NOPD's operations. It's mainly because highly-charged rhetoric like Kennedy's is basically irrelevant to those on the ground, who are worried about less incendiary topics like staffing, recruiting, the wise deployment of resources, and creating opportunity and hope for young people so they won't resort to lawlessness.

You know, the kind of things you focus on when you're actually talking to the people who live with the problem every day — not simply talking about them.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.