WASHINGTON – Fourteen Louisiana mayors, legislators and community leaders were invited to the White House Wednesday to kick off Washington Mardi Gras.
“We share happiness with the rest of the world. They can’t understand what it is that we are about to do,” Mitch Landrieu, the former New Orleans mayor who now handles infrastructure for President Joe Biden, told the gathering of early arrivals for the annual carnival event that much of Louisiana’s political and business elite attend.
Washington Mardi Gras begins Thursday and ends with a formal ball on Saturday night.
“Four days of commiserating and working really, really, hard,” Landrieu added to much laughter.
Washington Mardi Gras is like “government day” for high schoolers or “Big Block of Cheese Day” from the Obama years, in which state, local and parish officials ostensibly visit with Louisiana’s congressional delegation. But mostly they party and build personal relationships in social, rather than in business, settings with officials who work in the federal agencies that provide nearly half of the revenue state government uses each year.
Landrieu listed the half-dozen or so Louisiana natives who hold positions in the Biden administration, including Shalanda Young, the head of the Office of Management and Budget, and United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
“We got lots of Louisiana folks up here that help the federal government understand what it’s like to grow up in the South, the challenges the Southern states have,” Landrieu said.
Mayors Sharon Weston Broome, of Baton Rouge, and Belinda Constant, of Gretna, along with Lafayette state Rep. Vincent Pierre and Rep. Kyle Green, of Marrero, were among those attending the White House’s “Communities in Action: Building a Better Louisiana” event.
Rochelle Ford, who on Friday will become president of Dillard University, also was at the meeting that included prominent Biden administration aides, including Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the Biden Administration's White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator. Jha discussed the recently announced plans to move toward a once-a-year vaccination against COVID.
They heard reports about Biden administration programs, such as money to pay for air monitoring in communities next to manufacturers using hazardous materials. And providing the money necessary to clean up 49 unfunded Superfund sites, 60% of which are in low-income communities.
Broome, who got off the plane and headed directly to the White House, was asked to discuss how the City of Baton Rouge used money from the trillion-dollar American Rescue Plan Act, which was passed to help towns, cities, businesses, impacted by the COVID pandemic as well as those unemployed when businesses shut down. She said the city-parish spent $56 million on cleaning out sewers and drainage outlets to help prevent flooding. Some of the money went to law enforcement. It was spending Baton Rouge could not afford on its own.
After the meeting Broome said the Biden Administration was good about getting the money into the hands of local officials, which sped up getting the projects completed.
Broome said she plans to meet Thursday with the two congressmen who represent Baton Rouge: U.S. Reps. Garret Graves, a Republican, and Troy Carter, a Democrat. Afterward, Broome and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber is hosting a hospitality suite to visit with officials who have come for the Mardi Gras event. She also is meeting with parish presidents.
The four announced Republican gubernatorial candidates also are here and holding fundraising events. They also are spending time hobnobbing with politicians and corporate officials.
“It’s a good place to speed date,” said Mandeville Republican state Rep. Richard Nelson upon arrival. He has planned a fundraiser but mostly Nelson said he’s wanting to visit with officials from around the state.
Candidates Attorney General Jeff Landry and State Treasurer John Schroder are holding fundraisers Wednesday night. State Sen. Sharon Hewitt holds hers Thursday afternoon.
Even politicians not running for governor are holding meet and greet events.
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, R-Baton Rouge, is hosting a breakfast, while Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, Public Service Commissioner Craig Greene, R-Baton Rouge, are serving cocktails at events.