Over the last three decades, Gambit has covered New Orleans in its own way — sometimes seriously, sometimes irreverently. But the paper has always been there for the big (and small) stories. The following isn't an exhaustive history of the major events in the city over the last 30 years, or even the biggest stories in Gambit: it's a snapshot, a sort of scrapbook in words that captures what New Orleanians were talking about during a particular week in the past.
On July 9, 1982, Pan Am Flight 759 crashed upon takeoff from New Orleans International Airport, killing 145 people on the airplane and eight in the Kenner neighborhood where the plane fell apart.
It was 4:13, Friday July 9, a quiet time when most people were preoccupied with winding down the work week. At television stations around town newspeople were preparing to deliver an uneventful day's worth of news — filing for the fall elections, a racketeering investigation, problems with the sale of Flint-Goodrich Hospital, a tenuous peace in the Middle East. At the radio stations, gold-voiced announcers were guiding the early afternoon traffic home. It was a propitious time — work was over, the weekend was here.
Then the phones began to ring.
— July 17, 1982
In the elections of November 1983, Gambit saw a bright future for an up-and-coming 27-year-old politician, endorsing her for re-election in the District 90 race for the state House of Representatives.
Mary Landrieu is understandably annoyed by constant reminders that she is her father's daughter, but, after all, that is a small price to pay for the name recognition and political organization which helped to make her one of our youngest state representatives. The question when one inherits so much is what she makes of it, and Landrieu impresses us as a tough, street-smart and a savvy politician who also understands her district, cares about its people and programs and wants to help. We think she makes a positive contribution by her presence in the legislature and her work in the district and we endorse her strongly.
— Oct. 18, 1983
The 1984 World's Fair was plagued with problems from the start, including bad publicity and low attendance. Gambit's Errol Laborde covered the last hour of the fair, which he termed "the Cuisinart of expositions."
It was quite a scene — Lindy Boggs, Seymour D'Fair and Irma Thomas swaying arm in arm on the stage of the amphitheater singing in unison "Auld Lang Syne." Around them stood a hundred or so other people all joining in as the fair reached its last moments. Then suddenly the stage's backdrop opened, revealing the river, from which bright flares were fired providing a curtain of sparkling red and yellow. The popping sound and the applause from the crowd was overcome by Thomas, who by then had moved towards the band and on cue began signing Lionel Richie's "All Night Long," just as Richie himself had done for the closing of the Olympics. Those on stage shuffled to the melody but the mood was mixed — the music suggested party, but the party was over.
— Nov. 17, 1984
We feel compelled to notice our own uneasiness about so well-spoken a candidate.
— Gambit's editorial board on mayoral candidate Bill Jefferson, Jan. 25, 1986. The paper endorsed his opponent, City Councilman Sidney Barthelemy.
Pope John Paul II made a pastoral visit to New Orleans in September 1987 on a blazingly hot weekend; New Orleans police estimated the crowd at the outdoor Mass at the University of New Orleans to be 130,000, half the expected number. Editor Errol Laborde was among them. (The New York Times noted: "The Pontiff also had the misfortune to schedule his visit here on a triple-header athletic weekend: Tulane University, Louisiana State University and the New Orleans Saints professional team all had home games this weekend.")
Already it had been a full day. By this time I had seen the Pope twice, once during his procession along Canal Street and again at the Youth Rally in the Dome. Both times my first impression was the same, sadness, real sadness at seeing this man seemingly caged in the Popemobile. I had seen pictures of the vehicle before, but pictures don't provide the context of a cheering crowd, one in which people and the Pope want to touch each other. But there he was, this prelate in a glass booth. John Paul was freed from the vehicle as he climbed the platform in the Dome from which he could be seen in the flesh. He appeared to be happy, but the very happiest may have been two aged nuns near the front row. I will never forget the glows on their faces. They were not a part of the favored hierarchy that shuttles to Rome; after a lifetime of service they were finally seeing their Pope shuttling to them.
— Sept. 22, 1987
On May 11, 1988, the third floor of the Cabildo, along with its trademark cupola, burned in a spectacular fire. The Cabildo would not reopen to the public for six years.
We've seen big fires in the city before, but we don't recall seeing one in which the possible loss of a building itself aroused so much emotion in so many people as the fire last week in the Cabildo. There is no building that is as representative of the city as the Cabildo. History was made there; history was preserved there. The fire presented a cruel metaphor as a city ravaged by the economy saw its historic public building being ravaged by flames.
— May 17, 1988
In 1990, Gambit editors looked ahead to the gubernatorial race one year away and saw what was coming ... and they didn't like it. One year later, they held their noses and urged readers to re-elect Edwards.
The prospect of an Edwin Edwards-David Duke runoff in next year's race for governor has a lot of folks in both political parties scared stiff. Edwards is doing all he can to encourage (some would say "sucker") Duke into the race because the former KKK leader might be the only candidate Edwards has a shot at beating. Pollsters tell Gambit that Edwards' acceptability among voters hasn't improved at all since he left office in 1988, but if the field for governor next year is crowded, Louisiana's open primary system will likely afford the two extremes — Edwards and Duke — a ticket to the runoff.
— Oct. 16, 1990
For many voters, the choice between Edwin Edwards and David Duke is not a pleasant one. We've heard many say they will sit this one out, refusing to choose between two candidates they dislike. But that would be the worst choice of all.
We must elect Edwin Edwards. David Duke paints himself as an alternative to the notion of "politics as usual," but in truth he is the worst kind of menace: he is a neo-Nazi. Electing Duke governor would mean a living death for Louisiana. It would make us the South Africa of the Western Hemisphere — a hellhole of racial and religious intolerance where no right-minded business leader would locate ...
To all who would sit out this election, don't. It has been said that for evil to triumph, all that is necessary is for good men and women to do nothing. The Nazis did not take over Germany because Germans were inherently evil; they took over because, in the face of rising anger about hard economic times, good men and women didn't do enough to channel the anger into productive venues. As the poet Yeats wrote in the years before Hitler's rise: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." We must not let it happen here.
— Oct. 29, 1991
1992's Hurricane Andrew was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since Camille in 1969. It tore up southern Florida, re-entered the Gulf of Mexico and made a second landfall southwest of Morgan City — but not before giving metro New Orleans the jitters.
New Orleans got lucky last week. Hurricane Andrew, which ravaged south Florida and much of south Louisiana, spared the Crescent City most of its fury. We got wet, we lost power, but for the most part the metropolitan area escaped the full force of the storm. Many of our neighbors to the south were not so lucky.
— Sept. 1, 1992
Police had braced for potential trouble during Carnival 1992. Councilwoman Dorothy Mae Taylor had championed the passage of a nondiscrimination ordinance applied to the city's "luncheon clubs," which were the public faces of several old-line krewes. As a result, Comus and Momus, two of the city's oldest krewes, gave up parading.
People expected trouble. The whole country had heard about racial tensions emanating from the dispute over the so-called Mardi Gras ordinance banning discrimination along racial and gender lines. Two krewes elected not to roll. Some of their members privately cited fears for their safety in the wake of the controversy over the ordinance. ...
So what happened in New Orleans in the wake of all this tension? ... Nothing. Nothing, that is, except another enjoyable — and racially harmonious — Mardi Gras.
— March 10, 1992
In 1994, New Orleans was wracked with crime and economic woes and people were looking for fresh solutions. Mitch Landrieu made his first bid for mayor that year. When Landrieu did not make it past the primary and the race came down to businessman Donald Mintz and then-state Sen. Marc Morial, Gambit endorsed Morial, who went on to two terms as mayor. Earlier, the paper offered this endorsement of the then-33-year-old Landrieu.
Mitch Landrieu is smart, energetic and courageous. He has proposed a comprehensive plan for revitalizing New Orleans — a plan that addresses everything from economic development to race relations, from the new casino to NOPD, crime, NORD and more. His proposals are not pie-in-the-sky promises, but real solutions forged by a young man who has faced the heat of legislative battle many times since he was elected to the Louisiana house of representatives in 1987. While still a new lawmaker, he was among the first to challenge David Duke's racist demagoguery at every legislative turn, and he did it with the class and skill of a veteran.
— Jan. 18, 1994
Harrah's New Orleans opened its new "temporary casino" in the Municipal Auditorium in May 1995. Gambit noted the opening in an editorial titled "A Wary Welcome":
Despite the obvious short-term benefits, we remain concerned about how the casino will play out over the long haul. Will it be the boom that revives New Orleans, or will it become a money drain that compounds our economic woes and social ills?
— Apr. 25, 1995
On May 8, 1995, New Orleans was hit with a freak rainstorm that flooded many parts of the city and the outlying suburbs with as much as 24 inches of water.
In New Orleans, five people died Monday in storm-related incidents, including two found under the railroad underpass on the riverbound Pontchartrain Expressway. ... Jefferson Parish was hit nearly as hard, particularly along Jefferson and Airline Highways. Some Kenner subdivisions had 90 percent of their homes flooded, and Harahan and Metairie reported widespread flooding, especially along Veterans Boulevard. ... If there can be any good news, it is that the storm did not hit the city on Sunday or earlier — when thousands of people filled the Fair Grounds for the annual Jazz Fest.
— May 16, 1995
On Dec. 14, 1996, on a clear afternoon, the freighter Bright Field slammed into the Riverwalk Mall, which was filled with pre-Christmas Saturday shoppers. It was perhaps the only thing that could distract the city from a particularly bloody Thanksgiving week. Fourteen people were slain in the city, including three young employees at the French Quarter branch of the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen, as people were shopping in the French Market just feet away from the restaurant. It was soon determined the robbery was led by a co-worker of the three.
The savagery of the crime jolted the populace and galvanized a citizens' march on City Hall, even as African Americans wondered aloud why there hadn't been similar outrage for murders in black neighborhoods. On Dec. 10, Gambit addressed the violence in an editorial addressed to slain Pizza Kitchen workers Santana Meaux, Michael Witcoskie and Cara LoPiccolo.
To Santana, Cara and Michael,
You will not be forgotten.
We promise. It is an unfortunate truism in our city today that the outrage of one heinous crime is too soon, too often forgotten by the jarring effect of another.
On Thanksgiving Eve, just days before you died, Molly Elliot, a 28-year-old advertising executive, was carjacked, robbed, raped and murdered, allegedly by a parking lot attendant at the downtown garage where she routinely parked her car for work.
The day after Thanksgiving, security guards Anaise Wheeler, 40, and Leroy Turner, 28, were both shot to death in the parking lot of an eastern New Orleans nightclub as they tried to stop thieves from breaking into a car.
The horror that you and other good people have suffered must not be in vain. We pray that we will have the dignity, courage and wisdom to face the crime crisis that felled you, for we are a more angry and frightened people since you left us.
— Dec. 10, 1996
In the 2002 mayoral race, Gambit bypassed familiar names like state Sen. Paulette Irons, police chief Richard Pennington and city councilman Jim Singleton, instead endorsing a little-known longshot candidate.
As mayor, [Ray] Nagin will eliminate many of the mayor's 300 unclassified appointees — and use the savings to raise salaries for those that remain to attract a better pool of applicants. He also will cut waste, cronyism and patronage — because he owes no political debts. ...
"I'm not the creature or the captive of any political organization," he says. "I'll bring into city government the very best team imaginable. I don't have an entourage of political dependents to support. I'm looking for people who are prepared to work hard in their public positions."
— Jan. 22, 2002
New Orleans made national news headlines on April 14, 2003 — once again, for all the wrong reasons.
The trail of dried blood from three wounded children begins inside the gymnasium of John McDonogh Senior High, just a half block away from the school's frontage on Esplanade Avenue. On the morning of April 14, two teenaged "outsiders" — one armed with an SKS Chinese semi-automatic assault rifle, the other with a 9mm pistol — entered the gym. Guided by a third suspect who police believe communicated with them by cell phone, the gunmen brushed past a pair of coaches who tried to stop them.
In front of 200 kids who assembled for physical education classes, the killers then turned toward the bleachers and fatally shot a 15-year-old student before he could reach for a .45 caliber pistol concealed in his front pocket, police say. Stray bullets wounded three innocent victims. Panicked students trampled a pregnant 16-year-old girl.
The pride of John McDonough that day may be measured by the reported heroics of Joshua Myers, a 15-year-old special education student on the school football team. As his classmates fled, Myers walked over to one of the girls who had been shot, picked her up and carried her to emergency responders.
— Apr. 22, 2003
"BEST OF NEW ORLEANS — 2005"
— The headline on the Aug. 30, 2005 issue of Gambit, which was printed but never distributed due to a Labor Day weekend evacuation for a hurricane named Katrina. The "lost issue" — with a cover featuring actor Sid Noel in his Morgus the Magnificent persona — was later sold as a souvenir.
— Headline in the All Saints' Day 2005 edition of Gambit, the first issue published in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods. The staff had set up temporary headquarters at 2800 Veterans Memorial Blvd. in Metairie while the Mid-City offices of Gambit were rebuilt. The structure took on several feet of water, but was one of the first businesses in hard-hit Mid-City to reopen in 2006.
In the first issue of 2006, Gambit offered a list of New Year's resolutions for others. Already the paper was drawing the critical distinction between Hurricane Katrina and the federal flood that submerged much of New Orleans.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should resolve to design and build levees that actually withstand a "Category 3-plus" storm surge by June 1. That means building levees according to independently evaluated standards, using experienced contractors who can get the job done on time and making sure bureaucratic red tape does not slow down the process.
Congress should resolve to rebuild hurricane-ravaged American communities with the same levels of generosity accorded to foreign countries that have been ravaged by our nation's military actions ... Inasmuch as Louisiana's flood was caused by the federal government — through defective levees designed by a federal agency (the Corps of Engineers) — it makes sense that Uncle Sam should pick up the tab for rebuilding our infrastructure and helping property owners recover from the devastation. A good place to start would be dropping Congressional rhetoric about Louisiana politics, followed by an absolute ban on questions as to whether New Orleans should be rebuilt at all.
— Jan. 3, 2006
In 2007, Gambit endorsed Bobby Jindal for governor, partially because of his promise to institute ethics reforms in Baton Rouge. That story (in the parlance of journalism) quickly evolved.
More than anything else, Bobby Jindal's integrity is above reproach. Given Louisiana's history of political corruption, that will be an immediate asset. As soon as he is sworn in as governor, he promises to call a special session to enact sweeping ethics reforms. That means full financial disclosure for legislators and an end to self-dealing among politicians at all levels of government.
— Editorial, Oct. 9, 2007
Louisiana's got ethics now, yada, yada, yada. It's a new day, blah, blah, blah.
If you haven't heard the anthem by now, then you haven't been paying attention. From India to New York to Washington, D.C., Gov. Bobby Jindal has garnered oodles of praise for his February special session on ethics reform. While some of the accolades are rightly placed (we're finally going to learn how lawmakers make their money, thanks to new disclosure rules), few outside the Bayou State are aware of what slipped between the cracks during that special session.
For instance, the governor's star-studded transition team, which is still in action in many respects, escaped scrutiny altogether. As a result, its members remain a gang of political shadows operating under flimsy guidelines. Additionally, the Republican administration continues to dodge any proposals that would bring more of its own records into public view in a substantial way. Efforts to extend "reform" to the governor's office have been avoided like a case of scurvy, which is why good government groups place Louisiana on the bottom of their lists when it comes to openness in the governor's office.
— Jeremy Alford, Apr. 15, 2008
One year ago last week, Gov. Bobby Jindal stood outside the House chamber and fidgeted with his red tie just moments before his entrance was announced. On cue, he sprang onto the floor alongside his wife, Supriya, shook hands, gripped forearms and smiled. It was his first special session, dedicated solely to ethics reform, which was Jindal's top campaign promise. Within days, the governor got most of what he wanted, and he wouldn't let us or Jay Leno or Fox News forget about it.
Then, three months ago, Jindal began concentrating on other priorities, like not running for president. Perhaps coincidentally, that was also when the Center for Public Integrity told Jindal to stop telling journalists that Louisiana had moved to the "top of the list" of the group's annual rankings of ethics laws.
These days, Jindal's "gold standard" looks more like a lead balloon.
— Jeremy Alford, Feb. 16, 2009
Gov. Bobby Jindal was named one of 11 governors "who champion their personal interests over their states" by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonpartisan ethics watchdog group. The "Worst Governors" list consisted of two Democrats and nine Republicans. It cited Jindal for weakening the state ethics board, fighting legislation to make his office more transparent and rewarding campaign donors with positions and contracts, among other things.
— "Bouquets & Brickbats," Apr. 26, 2010
As Gambit shipped its Feb. 9, 2010 issue to the printer, two unknowable events were scheduled to occur before the weekly paper hit the streets: New Orleans would hold its mayoral primary that Saturday, and the 2010 Super Bowl would be played that Sunday. The city was at a fever pitch of excitement.
As we write these words, we don't know if the New Orleans Saints will be getting fitted for their Super Bowl rings this week or if Drew Brees and company will have been defeated by the most worthy of opponents, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. What we do know is that there will be a parade in the team's honor this Tuesday (Feb. 9 — one week before Mardi Gras), the city will turn out for it as if it were Rex, and, win or lose, no team has ever deserved a parade more. ...
ESPN's Gregg Easterbrook, in praising the team's joy and unpredictability on the field, called them "the wacky, laissez-faire Saints," and added, "Watching New Orleans is like watching an outdoor cocktail party play football." Wrong. You don't go 13-0 without being smart and disciplined, and that comes from the top — particularly QB Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton.
Truth be told, the team's long-suffering fans supplied the wacky, and we did it with panache. When a local T-shirt artist got a letter from the National Football League with a cease and desist order regarding her "Who Dat" shirts, the league's ham-fisted move grabbed the city's attention and ignited statewide outrage. Politicians of both parties issued press releases defending "Who Dat," and after a ruling from state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, the NFL cried uncle, saying it had been misunderstood.
Then there was the salute to the late sportscaster Buddy Diliberto, who had famously said he would walk down Bourbon Street in a dress should the Saints ever reach the Super Bowl. Buddy D died in 2005, but on Jan. 31, thousands of male Who Dats (led by former Saints QB Bobby Hebert) honored Diliberto's memory by doing just that.
The nation seems amused by our enthusiasm. Everyone loves a good underdog story, and ESPN's Rick Reilly summed up the mood of many reporters when he wrote, "You must either have had your heart removed by corn tongs or be in the Manning family if you're not pulling for the Saints."
Of course, there were some who thought this magical season was just a fluke, that all the cheerleading reflected sentiment more than achievement. "It's a Katrina thing, isn't it?" groused one Internet commenter, and to a lot of national sportswriters, the story was just that facile: A city, physically and psychically damaged by an unthinkable disaster, subsequently buoyed by a triumphant sports franchise. To them, we say: No, it's not a "Katrina thing," any more than the New York Yankees advancing to the 2001 World Series was a "9/11 thing."
The 2009 Saints are a New Orleans thing — and this thing has been 43 years coming.
— Feb. 9, 2010
By the next issue, the Saints had triumphed in the Super Bowl, crowds larger than Mardi Gras had packed downtown for the "Lombardi Gras" parade — and New Orleans had a new mayor-elect: Mitch Landrieu, who not only won his third bid for the mayoralty, but did so in the primary.
In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times said Landrieu's overwhelming victory gave him "a mandate to push past the political and social barriers that have slowed the city's recovery." We think it also gave Landrieu the responsibility to push past those barriers. He has promised meaningful improvements in the quality of life for all citizens, and that's how he'll be judged. In reversing Nagin's divisiveness, Landrieu must be careful to implement policies that help New Orleanians across the board, regardless of race or station. Blogger Clifton Harris (cliffscrib.blogspot.com) summed up that feeling when he wrote, "If all the things that supposedly haven't happened because of Nagin's incompetence don't start happening real soon after Mitch is sworn in, there will be a bunch of people saying, 'I told you so,' and we will be going back the other way in division."
Right now, Landrieu has the wind at his back. And, at least for this moment in time, New Orleans has more unity of purpose than it has ever known. This moment belongs to Mitch Landrieu ... and to all of us. Let's not squander it.
The BP oil disaster consumed much of Gambit's coverage in 2010, from daily "Today in BP" updates on blogofneworleans.com to reports from the Louisiana Gulf Coast. In May, Gambit covered a protest rally across from Jackson Square:
BRASS BALLS NOT TAR BALLS (from a sign held by John "Spud" McConnell)
In the face of BP's oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the weeks (now months) following the rig explosion and the deaths of 11 rig workers, everyone and everything are targets. Today, organizers for the BP Oil Floor Protest gave New Orleans a voice and a focus so its residents and the people of the Gulf coast do not remain hopeless against the powers that be. Hundreds gathered in the Jackson Square amphitheater and endured the rain. There were calls to action: write your representatives, demand action on all levels of government, invest in renewable energies, boycott, reduce your carbon footprint, volunteer. And then there was the collective voice — whether it was a release of anger and frustration, an inspiring voice, or an education.
Those voices ranged from Dr. John, Treme star Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, fishermen, nonprofit organizations, and locals with big enough voices to ring out in the crowd, over a brass band and the surreal irony of a steamboat calliope pumping out patriotic hymns. "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore" was embraced as the de facto chant.
"Louisiana did not land on BP," LeBlanc said. "BP landed on Louisiana. ... Together we stand or divided we fall. We have to stand together and bring their asses down."
— May 30, 2010
On July 4, Alex Woodward went to Port Sulphur in Plaquemines Parish as a wildlife volunteer with the National Audubon Society.
The boat arrives at 4 p.m. The crew hands off several bags — some of heavy brown paper, some of black plastic — to two of the transporters. A long, thin beak punctures through one of the black plastic bags. They're loaded into the van, where the paperwork for each bag is checked before being driven to the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center, about 20 miles from the marina. That's where live birds are cleaned and dead birds are catalogued. If all the birds can't fit in the vans, it's the volunteers' job to keep the live ones company and under the tent out of the heat, until another van arrives. Audubon leaves wildlife cleaning and handling duties to trained professionals; those eager to volunteer are limited to this.
There aren't any more deliveries. After the VOO crew drops off the 11 birds, it's done for the day — and for the foreseeable future. The crew has been laid off.
VOO contracts have no end date; BP decides when it needs to "deactivate" a vessel. There are so many applicants that BP has to "rotate, so everybody will be able to (participate)," says Valerie from BP's command center in Houston. (Valerie could not provide her full name, she says, as "it's against policy. That's everything out of our manual.")
"The ones that have been deactivated have been out there since the beginning, which is about eight weeks now," she says. "You have to give everybody else the opportunity to get in. A lot of them aren't seeing it that way, but it's just the fair thing to do."
Back on the dock, a Houma command center operator calls to thank me for volunteering. I'm free to go; have a good holiday.
And just down the road at the Lighthouse Lodge in Venice, La., BP celebrates Independence Day with a barbecue, beer and an inflatable castle.