What’s next, Mitch?
That’s the question facing New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu after Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Landrieu campaigned for Clinton in five states outside Louisiana for a total of 12 days. With just over a year left in his tenure, he was widely believed to have been a potential contender for a top post in a Clinton administration — a path similar to one taken by his father, Moon Landrieu, who went to Washington to be secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development after his second term as mayor ended in 1978.
“Mitch could have had all sorts of jobs in a Clinton administration,” said author Walter Isaacson, a New Orleans native who heads the Washington, D.C.-based Aspen Institute.
But with Clinton’s loss, “He has nowhere to go,” said Dan Foley, a prominent attorney who served as the elected clerk of Orleans Parish Civil District Court during the 1980s. “He’s pretty well landlocked for a while.”
First elected to the state House in 1987 and later as lieutenant governor, Landrieu will have held office for more than three decades when his second mayoral term ends in May 2018. While showing every sign that he wants to continue in government, it’s difficult to imagine Landrieu running for governor with John Bel Edwards, a fellow Democrat, planning to seek re-election in 2019.
The U.S. Senate? It’s possible, but sister Mary Landrieu badly lost her re-election bid in 2014. And the next contest isn’t until 2020.
Besides, Mitch Landrieu angered many white people around the state when he aggressively moved last year to remove four New Orleans monuments honoring Confederate officials and a white supremacist militia — an effort that has yet to advance because of court challenges.
Congress? U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, who represents New Orleans, just won resounding re-election to a fourth term in a majority-black district.
Few people expect Landrieu to run for a lesser position, not after eight years as the guy who called the shots in New Orleans, a role he reveled in.
Anyone who knows Landrieu, 56, says he wants to remain a major political player after his term as mayor ends.
Speculation abounds about possible options for the mayor, from heading a nonprofit to opening a consulting firm to joining a law firm. Landrieu, an attorney, worked as a mediator while serving in the state House and showed little interest in practicing law.
No one sees him going quietly into the night.
“He’s still one of the people I’d consider to be a future leader for our party,” said Ravi Sangisetty, a trial lawyer and Democratic fundraiser.
Landrieu’s thoughts are a mystery. He did not respond to an interview request from The Advocate. A senior official in his administration spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Landrieu’s departure from City Hall in 18 months could mark the end of an era. Either his father, sister Mary Landrieu or he has held an elected office in the legislative or executive branch of local or state government since 1960. (Another sister, Madeleine Landrieu, is a state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal judge.)
To be sure, Mitch Landrieu has plenty of goals he hopes to accomplish before the end of his term, which will coincide with the city’s 300th birthday in 2018.
City officials are planning a massive resurfacing of streets throughout New Orleans, thanks in part to a $2.4 billion settlement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Construction of the new terminal at Louis Armstrong International Airport is underway, a $950 million job that Landrieu will have to hand off to his successor to complete.
Administration officials are planning to finish a revamp of the riverfront that involves demolishing the Canal Street ferry landing and linking Spanish Plaza to Woldenberg Park and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.
The mayor will continue to battle troublingly high homicide and crime rates, and will continue his efforts to reduce the income gap between white and black people, one that has grown since Hurricane Katrina and that was a major criticism he faced when he won re-election in 2014.
He wants to see passage of a ballot measure in December that would raise property taxes by 2.5 mills for 12 years to provide enough money to resolve the long-standing fight between the city and firefighters over their pensions and back pay the city owes them.
Landrieu has begun raising money for a political action committee with an eye toward helping elect a like-minded successor. But he has given no hint of who that might be, in a field of contenders just beginning to take shape.
At the same time, Landrieu has positioned himself to be a national spokesman on urban issues beginning in late June, when he becomes president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors for the final 11 months of his mayoral term.
The job will give him a platform in Washington to meet with congressional leaders and top officials in Donald Trump's administration. Landrieu is the fifth New Orleans mayor to hold the one-year post. The others were his father, who held it in 1975; T. Semmes Walmsley, in 1933; Dutch Morial, in 1985; and Marc Morial, in 2001.
After 6½ years in the mayor's second-floor office, Landrieu can point to a long list of achievements, all related to the turnaround of the broke and dispirited city he inherited from Ray Nagin in 2010. During that time, federal and private dollars have poured into New Orleans, property values have risen and so have school test scores. Landrieu has been the city’s chief cheerleader, giving compelling speeches that perhaps no other Louisiana elected official can match.
His staff noted proudly on Thursday that the City Council unanimously approved next year’s budget and that the city’s finances are now solid — solid enough that Standard & Poor’s raised the city’s bond rating in September for the fourth time during Landrieu’s tenure, to the fourth-best score the agency offers.
For all his accomplishments, though, Landrieu is wearing thin on political insiders. Since winning a resounding re-election in 2014, he has furthered his reputation for brooking little dissent or pushback, even from longtime friends and political allies, who privately say he will launch into tirades over the phone without even saying hello.
“If you’re not 100 percent with him on his agenda, then he’s 100 percent against you,” said Jeff Arnold, who represented Algiers in the state House for 14 years until 2015. “I call him a 100 percenter. I was probably with him on 95 percent of city matters. But I wasn’t with him on Algiers and on the firefighters, so I became his sworn enemy. My philosophy is that I didn’t burn bridges. Mitch is a burn-the-bridges guy.”
A range of black political leaders interviewed for this article said the mayor has lost their support because of his high-handed ways, but none would say this on the record.
In an interview two years ago, Landrieu invoked the cliché that you have to break eggs if you want to make an omelet. “There are entrenched political interests in this state that have strangled the progress of the state and city for a long time that I have now tangled with,” he said.
Landrieu acknowledged having sharp words with some of those who have disagreed with him. He blamed it on his “impatience” and “passion.”
Where he will take that passion is anyone’s guess for now.
Oliver Thomas, a former city councilman who has a daily talk-radio show on WBOK-AM, said he could envision Landrieu parlaying the city’s recovery into a lucrative consulting firm — something he and his wife might want because they have five children.
“He’s got a lot of credibility, thanks to the city’s turnaround,” Thomas said. “It would give him a platform and allow him to be the star of the show. He’d put together the technical people. He’d remain engaged with cities and the public sector. He’d make a whole lot more money.”
Isaacson, who was recently named by Landrieu to the City Planning Commission, said the mayor might take a job with a company that works overseas, given his interest in international issues.
Isaacson also said the mayor could have a place at the Aspen Institute — which brings experts together to try to solve complex policy questions — or with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative announced two weeks ago, funded through a foundation created by Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor.
The $32 million effort “equips mayors and their senior leaders with cutting-edge tools and techniques to more effectively tackle pressing management challenges faced in their cities,” according to its website.
“Michael Bloomberg is one of Mayor Landrieu’s biggest fans, and so is everybody at that foundation,” Isaacson said. “Mitch Landrieu is the only mayor that Michael Bloomberg speaks about with awe and excitement.”