The New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board drainage debacle has become an instant issue in this fall's mayor's race, and many candidates were quick last week to blame Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration for the problem.
The front runners in the race — former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris, City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet — fired off criticisms shortly after the Aug. 5 deluge that swamped several neighborhoods and overwhelmed the city’s pumping system.
Cantrell was among the first to weigh in, saying on social media that if elected, improving the city’s infrastructure would be a priority under her administration.
Bagneris and Charbonnet heaped scorn on S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant’s original statement that “climate change” was the culprit for the increasing frequency of floods that have left businesses, homes and cars sodden.
“We have been nonchalantly asked to accept a flooded city as the ‘new norm.’ I decline that invitation,” Charbonnet said in a message on Twitter.
The clamor grew louder after revelations that the S&WB had put out misleading statements about the capacity of the drainage system during the flood, even as Mayor Mitch Landrieu called for senior S&WB officials’ resignations and said he would hire a private firm to find out just what went wrong and to temporarily run the embattled agency.
Bagneris on Thursday urged Landrieu to hire two separate firms to conduct an assessment of the S&WB’s failures and to manage its operations in the short term.
“If one firm does both, we will never get a TRUE picture of what happened, only one firm’s analysis and how they can supposedly fix the problem,” he said.
Meanwhile, long-shot mayoral candidate Byron Stephan Cole, the son of activist Dyan French “Mama D” Cole, who died in May, took direct aim at Landrieu in an impassioned speech during the City Council’s Thursday meeting.
“We want Mitch rescinded, and we want (Grant) fired, where he does not get that money for his retirement package,” Cole said in an angry speech that recalled many of his mother's appearances before the council.
It was revealed last week that Grant, who has worked for various local and state government agencies for decades, will receive a pension of $175,000 a year when he retires Nov. 30.
Although the next mayor and council will be elected this fall, about four months earlier than in the past, Landrieu and the sitting council will still serve until May. It appeared Cole was calling for the mayor to give up his seat before then.
Brandon Dorrington, another mayoral candidate with little chance of winning, urged city officials to give as much attention to the state of the city’s drainage system as they plan to give to the city's tricentennnial celebration in 2018.