Building on past initiatives to stamp out disparities in New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Thursday unveiled a new strategy to foster racial and economic fairness within city government.
“In the new New Orleans, having an equitable government in place is a top priority,” Landrieu said in a statement accompanying the 16-page plan. “We understand that it is only when everyone is winning that New Orleans is at her best.”
The initiative, EquityNewOrleans, comes after nearly a year of discussions between residents and city officials about how to create a more equitable government — one that works to help all residents participate in city decision-making.
A just government also works to cancel out income and neighborhood inequities, and it dismantles institutional racism and discrimination wherever it exists, officials said.
Such steps are needed, they said, in light of the stark inequities that exist in New Orleans: 27 percent of the city's black residents live in areas of high poverty, while only 8 percent of white residents live in such areas, for example.
The plan to solve those problems, created with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Foundation for Louisiana, includes both new steps city officials will take and programs the Landrieu administration already has launched.
With a year to go in his final term, Landrieu will launch an “equity office” at City Hall that will guide city departments as they work to promote fairness, and will create measures by which to judge departments’ progress on that front.
His team will evaluate whether each department’s budget request in some way helps to reduce racial and other disparities. Officials also will require departments to create “equity plans,” hold racial equity training and take other actions.
Also included is an examination of racial disparities in the city’s hiring process. A study addressing that concern is due for release later this year.
City officials further plan to launch a “racial equity and community roundtable” to inform their work moving forward. The city already began convening meetings of residents to discuss racial issues through its Welcome Table Initiative, launched in 2014.
Although the new plan comes after extensive research — it was drawn up after officials examined best practices in other cities, talked with more than 300 residents and city employees, and examined lots of data — there’s no guarantee that any of it will achieve the lofty goals Landrieu has set.
Landrieu and others acknowledged the magnitude of what they hope to achieve before a roomful of onlookers Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Poydras Street, while at the same time pointing to past successes.
The mayor's economic opportunity strategy, for example, has led to a decrease in the percentage of unemployed black men, they said.
“This is not easy subject matter,” said Deputy Mayor Judy Reese Morse, who manages citywide initiatives for Landrieu’s office.“This is about as complex and challenging as it gets.”
In a speech touting the plan and other accomplishments, Landrieu urged those present to ask critical questions of his successor. Though voters will elect a new mayor this fall, Landrieu will serve until May 2018.
“Y’all got a mayor’s race coming up. Learn how to (say), ‘Don’t talk to me about what, talk to me about how,’ ” he said.
The entire city benefits when all of its people prosper, he added.
Had racial gaps in income been closed, for example, an estimated $18.4 billion could have been added to the region’s economy in 2014, according to data from PolicyLink, a national research and action institute, and the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California.