“It’s not you, it’s me,” is such a timeworn phrase that it’s become a cliché. Still, if delivered sincerely, the sentiment can go over well.
In telling her constituents that she’s finally abandoned her controversial plan to hire former New Orleans police superintendent Warren Riley into a high-level administration post over homeland security, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell chose a different strategy. The subtext of her message was more like this: it’s not me, it’s you.
Well before Cantrell was set to announce Riley’s hiring, she’d made him a $180,000 offer and he’d accepted. According to the statement he put out Wednesday, Riley even took part in an official meeting before Cantrell announced that she’d put his hiring on pause, citing an “uptick” in constituent concern.
Most of the complaints centered on Riley's lack of demonstrated concern over the cover-up of the Danziger Bridge shootings of innocent civilians by New Orleans cops just after Hurricane Katrina. More broadly, the police department was in such sorry shape by the time he left that the feds were ready to take drastic action had new mayor Mitch Landrieu not agreed to a far-reaching consent decree. Yes, Riley has added emergency management experience with FEMA to his resume since leaving city government eight years ago, but the thought of putting him over the superintendent who has been overseeing the consent decree reforms should have been a non-starter.
Yet in announcing her final decision to rescind her offer, Cantrell spent the first part of her statement reiterating Riley’s “unique” and “undeniable” qualifications, and went on to suggest that the “uptick” was less rational than emotional.
Here in New Orleans, "the pain is too great,” she said in the written statement. “The untreated and lingering trauma so many of our residents still struggle with, the post-traumatic stress that still informs how we all look back to that flashpoint, makes it untenable to move forward with Mr. Riley as part of our new administration.”
What really made the situation untenable isn't the lingering trauma but the reality of what happened on Riley's watch, and the problem lies with the new mayor, not the people she represents. The sooner Cantrell acknowledges that and learns from her rookie mistake, the better.