'I think I can' banner

As Tropical Storm Harvey slings heavy rain toward New Orleans, a humorous banner has been hung from the Broad Street pumping station.

Photo via WWL-TV/Katie Moore

Sometime during or soon after Hurricane Katrina, a leak materialized on my thankfully unflooded New Orleans street. Water started bubbling up and pooling at the foot of my neighbor's driveway, and I figured that, with everything else that was happening, it would continue to do so in perpetuity.

But in those early days after the storm, help was arriving from all over, and one morning a truck from Portland, Oregon pulled up and visiting workers emerged to patch the hole. The truck bore Portland's supremely confident slogan: "The city that works." 

Nobody would ever say such a thing about New Orleans and hope to be taken seriously, but I think most residents figured the city has been at least moving in that direction. This was supposed to be Mayor Mitch Landrieu's calling card, his brand. Amid rampant frustration over Ray Nagin's post-K leadership, voters went for the guy who said he knew what do to and he knew how to do it. Nearly eight years later, Landrieu's record in many areas has borne that out.

But not at the Sewerage & Water Board, a state-created agency led by the city's mayor. Landrieu backed changes to the board's governance structure and maneuvered to put the deputy mayor who oversaw public works at its helm. The changes, though, did little to change its underlying culture and functionality as the city has seen over and over again since the Aug. 5 flood.

The incident led to a cascade of alarming revelations about the agency's failing equipment, its readiness to handle a basic afternoon rain, let alone a major storm, and its basic honesty. Heads rolled, including those of that deputy mayor, Cedric Grant. And the question arose: Would the demoralizing revelations affect voters' lasting assessment of Landrieu, who said he was as blindsided as anyone by the depth of the S&WB's operational problems?

Early indications are that it might not.

The news for the mayor isn't all good. In a new poll taken for the New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV, just over half the 500 registered voters interviewed by the Clarus Research group said they disapprove of how Landrieu has handled recent flooding and drainage pump issues.

But when asked who bears the bulk of the blame, 51 percent cited the board, while only 16 percent named Landrieu personally (another 24 percent volunteered that they blame Landrieu, the board and the City Council).

Pollster Ron Faucheux likened Landrieu's success at separating himself as "a remarkable example of political jiu-jitsu." And indeed, despite the crisis, Landrieu still got good marks for his management of city government in general, with 51 percent approving and with 34 percent disapproving.

Meanwhile, 82 percent expressed disapproval of the S&WB's performance. You've got to wonder what it would take for the 12 percent who approve to change their minds.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.