In an address light on policy proposals but brimming with reflections on progress the city has made in the five years since he took office, Mayor Mitch Landrieu used his annual State of the City address Thursday to announce plans for the city’s commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and to declare that — a decade after the devastating storm — New Orleans is “no longer recovering, no longer rebuilding.”
“Now, we are creating,” Landrieu told an audience at the recently refurbished Carver Theater that included members of his senior staff, the City Council and residents.
Landrieu did not outline any major initiatives in the speech, which comes at the end of the first year of his second term in office. But the speech provided the introduction for “Katrina 10 — Resilient New Orleans,” a three-month effort to “commemorate the lives lost, honor those who helped us survive, acknowledge the work that has been done in our unprecedented recovery and ensure that we continue to build on our progress.”
The initiative’s website, www. katrina10.org, is a place to showcase the city’s growth and recovery since the storm.
“The trauma will never fully heal, but Katrina didn’t create all our problems,” Landrieu said. “They have been generations in the making, and over the last 10 years, our progress has been anything but a straight line. There have been many fits and starts, big sacrifices and incredible successes.”
Landrieu listed several examples of how the city has changed since he took office five years ago, most of them things he has mentioned in other addresses over the years.
The city has witnessed a climb in its high school graduation rate, a sharp reduction in its homeless population, a budget swing from deficit to surplus, a retail and restaurant building boom, and a spike in sales tax revenue since he took office, Landrieu said. He also pointed to the recently reopened St. Roch Market, the soon-to-be-redeveloped World Trade Center building and the successes of several entrepreneurs as welcome evidence of progress and change.
“It didn’t happen by accident,” he said “It is all part of our larger approach to government — cut, reorganize and then invest the savings in what matters most so we can grow.”
Despite those achievements, Landrieu said there still remains “no higher priority” than making the city safe. He said New Orleans police officers will be among the best-paid in the state by the beginning of next year, after a pair of raises announced earlier this month increases their salaries by 10 percent on top of a 5 percent increase that went into effect this year.
“Five years ago, we were either the No. 1 or No. 2 murder capital in America,” Landrieu added. “In 2014, we hit a 43-year low for murder, even though, for us, one murder in this city is too many.”
Landrieu’s address included a moment of silence for New Orleans police Officer Rodney Thomas and Housing Authority of New Orleans Officer James Bennett Jr. Thomas was killed last summer when a car slammed into him as he tried to direct traffic away from a wreck on Interstate 10. The car sped away after it hit him. Bennett was shot last week while working an overtime patrol near the Guste housing complex under redevelopment. NOPD officers found him dead in his car.
Landrieu didn’t avoid addressing arguably the two biggest fiscal issues facing his administration: the federal consent decree for the Sheriff’s Office and the firefighters pension fund.
The city owes money to both but is arguing in court that it shouldn’t have to pay.
“If a judge orders the city to pay $26 million to the firefighters pension fund, that money needs to come from somewhere,” Landrieu said.
The money could, instead, be used to reconstruct 60 blocks of streets, repair streetlights for 10 years, fill 650,000 potholes or hire more than 400 new police recruits, he said.
Other “unfinished business,” Landrieu said, includes economic development, housing affordability and infrastructure.
On the issue of affordable housing, he said the city “must be ever mindful to ensure that New Orleans remains a city that is welcoming to all.”
“Diversity is our great strength, and our proud neighborhoods should be a rich blend of young and old, culture bearers, police officers, teachers, nurses, workers in the tourism industry and persons with special needs,” he said. “So, moving forward, we’ve got to keep this diversity by ramping up affordable housing production.”
Landrieu didn’t announce a new plan in that regard, but he did note that the recently adopted comprehensive zoning ordinance encourages and, in some instances, requires affordable housing in “hot neighborhoods.”
As he did in an address on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday earlier this year, Landrieu also called for “racial reconciliation.”
“A house divided against itself cannot stand, but to heal our divisions, we must be able to hear each other, see each other, understand each other and feel each other,” he said.
Landrieu dedicated a large chunk of his address to praising various people he said represented the importance of the “pathways to prosperity” initiatives the city has launched in recent years to shrink the unemployment rate, particularly among black men.
He also recognized a graduating Cohen High School senior, Jairron Isaac, who — despite growing up in a home with parents who sold drugs and did time in prison — will be attending Morehouse College in Atlanta in the fall.
“The world deserves a better New Orleans,” Landrieu said. “It’s time for us to claim it, to own it, to accept the awesome responsibility that history has laid at our doorstep.”