Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial said Wednesday that city officials should do more to require major development projects to provide jobs to black workers as part of a larger effort to employ the estimated 52 percent of African-American males who are disengaged from the local workforce.
“Every new initiative and project that comes to fruition in this city, there’s got to be an economic inclusion discussion about the project,” he said.
Morial’s remarks came during a genial, 30-minute conversation with Mayor Mitch Landrieu that opened the three-day Rise Katrina 10 conference, organized by the Urban League.
The conference also marked the release of a new report put together by the Urban League of Greater New Orleans called “The State of Black New Orleans, 10-Years Post Katrina.”
Morial, who is president of the national organization, recounted instances where the city leveraged its land ownership to get such commitments for the construction of Harrah’s Casino, the convention center and the arena.
“Did they scream and holler? Of course,” he said, noting the governor threatened to cancel the arena project. “There were a lot of battles, but at the end of the day those projects yielded benefits.”
He asked why there are no similar concrete, trackable commitments for the Veterans Administration Hospital and University Medical Center projects in Mid-City.
“Is there a plan we can put our hands on to ensure that the jobs that are going to be created in that project are going to go the people of this city … to ensure that African-American men, who have high unemployment, are going to have meaningful opportunities?” he asked.
Landrieu said his administration has met with officials from UMC and the VA, as well as Oschner, Tulane and the Sewerage & Water Board to drive home the point that the top priority should be to hire locally.
Landrieu said he thinks the Mid-City projects could have the same level of employment impact as the Superdome and convention center projects had in their time, “if it’s handled the right way.”
He told the audience gathered at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans that the city has been working with Delgado Community College to prepare workers for when the Sewerage & Water Board begins repairs using an anticipated $1 billion settlement with the federal government.
Morial said that in fairness, Landrieu has only presided over half of the recovery, which was “managed for the first five years in a bumbling, stumbling and fumbling fashion,” he said, a jab at Morial’s successor and Landrieu’s predecessor, Ray Nagin, wh is now in federal prison.
Many of the recovery’s shortcomings — from the discriminatory elements of the Road Home program to the glacial pace of FEMA reimbursements — were baked into the system, he said.
Morial also said an increase in the minimum wage is long overdue, and that the city’s service workers should be rewarded for the industry’s growth and recovery — not just with the promise of more jobs, but with better wages for the ones they have.
“Too many people promote a negative stereotype that people in poverty in this city are only people who are unemployed,” he said. “Many of the people in poverty in this city are mothers; they’re grandmothers; they’re raising children; they’re working two jobs. They’re standing at the bus stop at 5:30 in the morning; they’re going to work on the weekends because they do not earn enough to pay for housing, for food and for clothing.”
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