NEW ORLEANS — The city has seen much success during the past year but still faces several challenges, including a “dysfunctional” criminal justice system, crumbling infrastructure and roads, reforms for the Sewerage & Water Board and firefighter pensions and the murder rate.
That was the message from Mayor Mitch Landrieu during his annual state of the city address, the last one of his first term as the city’s leader. Landrieu delivered his speech in the gymnasium of the newly renovated Treme Center, which he cut the ribbon on last week and during a period in which his job approval rating is 70 percent, according to a recent University of New Orleans survey.
Much of his speech focused on what the city has accomplished in recent years, including attracting more residents and jobs, but it also took a look at the city during its tricentennial year in 2018, perhaps previewing what Landrieu envisions for the city if elected to a second term.
“Everywhere you look, progress is being made,” Landrieu said. “The people of New Orleans have found a way to win, and you know something — we like it.”
He said that last year 9,000 people made the city their home, while there have been 4,000 new jobs and “world class” companies such as GE Capital relocating here.
The city also has launched its second round of Small Business Assistance loans in an effort to grow local companies, Landrieu said.
The mayor also touted improvements at City Hall, including new contracting procedures, a one-stop shop for permitting and land use issues, a reduction in the number of blighted properties and a controversial taxi cab reform package.
He said that the city’s second soft mortgage program has begun “working again,” and 268 people and families have been able to buy their first homes.
But for all the positives Landrieu noted, he said there is “no challenge more urgent and important than murder and violent crime.”
Murder, he said, is down more than 25 percent compared with this time in 2011 and is down 15 percent from this time last year.
“But this is not good enough, and remember, this problem won’t be solved overnight,” Landrieu said.
He said the New Orleans Police Department is working side by side with federal and state law enforcement, the Orleans Parish district attorney and the U.S. attorney to “go after and dismantle known violent groups or gangs” in the city, while targeting 649 of the “most violent offenders.”
“This is our message to them: Stop the shooting, or else we are coming for you and all of your friends,” Landrieu said.
The city’s NOLA for Life Program, which Landrieu debuted during last year’s state of the city address, continues efforts to be proactive when it comes to crime prevention, the mayor said.
While Landrieu did not mention that he is trying to get out of a federal consent decree for the NOPD, he did say reforms for the department are already underway, including the addition of more homicide detectives and an overhaul of the paid-detail system, while adding FBI agents to the Public Integrity Bureau, which reviews claims of officer misconduct.
“We’re not waiting for anyone or anything, not even the Department of Justice,” Landrieu said. “We are moving forward.”
Referring to the Orleans Parish Prison consent decree, something that Landrieu said the city cannot afford, the mayor said the city deserves a prison that protects people and their rights. “I believe this is more about management than money,” he said, taking a jab at Sheriff Marlin Gusman.
“All that not withstanding, I have faith we can find a solution to the police and sheriff consent decrees,” Landrieu said. “After all, this is what we do down here in New Orleans — we find a way or make one.”
Beyond the present, Landrieu said, the city must look to its future, especially as it prepares to celebrate its tricentennial in 2018.
“The goal — in five years, make the jump from dream to reality and create a city for the ages,” Landrieu said.
Landrieu said he envisions a new airport, something for which plans were recently announced. He also said he sees a “growing” Federal City in Algiers that will be a “great economic engine” for the region.
And a plan to either renovate or demolish the World Trade Center at the foot of Canal Street would be a “world-class civic space” in Landrieu’s vision. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.
But, Landrieu said, the future of New Orleans “resides beyond a new airport, Federal City ... (or) a newly designed riverfront.”
The true measure of success, he said, will be the condition of the city’s neighborhoods and how its families are doing.
“We will leave a remarkable legacy, and in 2018 our 300th anniversary promises to be a milestone in our history,” Landrieu said.