New Orleans Councilwoman Shelley Midura on announcing her decision not to seek reelection:

She then issued a challenge to the city’s other elected leaders.

“What troubles me most about New Orleans is the democracy gap between the priorities of the people and the priorities of the decision-makers in power,” she wrote. “Too many of our elected officials and influential citizens continue to do the public wrong by protecting the status quo or their own self-interest.

“Rather than using data or best practices or evidence of success, policy and budget decisions with long-term consequences for the city’s future are too often made in the absence of sufficient public input, and instead on the basis of personal whim, anecdotal evidence, or alliance with entrenched institutions that have much to lose or gain by a given decision.

I don’t pretend to be an expert or an insider in New Orleans politics, but this strikes me as one of the most succinct and honest observations I have ever read.

12 thoughts

  1. Since she defeated the council’s only Republican in 2006 – and the Mayoral race will certainly be between Mitch Landrieu and one of a number of prominent African-American Democrats, to whom is she addressing her “democracy gap” comments?

    My limited experience with New Orleans politics is that the entire system is utterly corrupt to the very core, regardless of political party affiliation or ideology. Nagin got a slight pass from me (after all, Roy Hebron is my mayor, not Nagin) because he was, relatively speaking, an outsider. Give me a different group of corrupt, incompetent idiots every time.

    The fact is that Katrina and it’s aftermath overshadowed everything that happened during his administration. It makes it difficult to compare him with any other official in city history. I predict that, with all of his flaws, Nagin will look outstanding compared to the the mayor that follows him (because I believe that it is likely that Mitch Landrieu will be the next mayor of New Orleans.)

    1. Ace:

      As MB said, Mitch ain’t running for Mayor. Nagin is considered to be the W of New Orleans. His approval ratings are worse than what Bush achieved in the waning days of his Administration. Everyone, but you it seems, considers Nagin to be amongst the worst Mayors the City of New Orleans has ever had.

      Now, with respect to New Orleans city politics, there needs to be a wholesale change in New Orleans politics … the attitude needs to be, “what can I do to help the city recover” rather than the “how can I get mine?” attitude that is all too prevalent within the city’s political elite.

      The question is … who will emerge to lead New Orleans?

  2. Mitch Landrieu already announced that he’s not running for Mayor of New Orleans in 2010. The spin is something about believing there’s a chance that he still might be able to become governor some day. Whether that’s true or not, he also wouldn’t have stood a real chance to win after his terrible 2006 campaign, regardless of what the exit polls say seven months before the election without any other really prominent candidates announced. 20% of the whites in the City voted against him in 2006 because of the “liberal” legacy of his father and sister, even when his opponent was a nationwide laughingstock. He would be destroyed by a black candidate with any credibility at all. The “Great White Hope” for New Orleans will have to come from another candidate. At this point, signs point to Council President Arnie Fielkow, a post-Katrina “outsider” like Shelley Midura was.

    There is a concerted effort in New Orleans to finally eliminate corruption from government, highlighted by the election of four complete “outsiders” to the council in 2006 and the creation of the Office of Inspector General as an independent entity from the administration or City Council with the power to investigate corruption, fraud and waste. What may have been ignored in the past is now heavily scrutinized. It’s a shame to see Shelley go, because she was on the right track as far as trying to introduce legitimate modern best practices into New Orleans government, but someone else should be able to pick up the baton.

    1. And I think Nagin’s outsider status helped him in both elections. I am not doubting that the New Orleans electorate is voting against corruption, but the corruption isn’t going anywhere. Recent headlines regarding controls on cash held by the NOPD are as far as you need to look. If you want to say that it is progress that these stories are being told, fine, go ahead and say that’s progress.

      And Mitch for governor gave me a chuckle. Mary is much more popular and she would have a tough go for an empty governor’s mansion, and little chance against Jindal as an incumbent.

      I know that this is off topic, but with Melancon in, for sure list of Democrats who may challenge the scandal-scarred Vitter next year, is Mitch really considering the Senate race, where he might run fourth or fifth (assuming Chris John and Jim Bernard both run, as well as Melancon, and assuming that Mitch would run ahead of Connick, and everyone would run ahead of Blanco)?

      I guess the question comes down to getting beat in a tough two or three man race in New Orleans, or getting creamed in a crowded field for the Senate – tough times for Mitch.

      1. Ace:

        Mitch is not considering the Senate race. He’s considering the Governor’s mansion, though the question is whether he’s considering ’11 or ’15. There have also been rumors that he’s angling for a federal job dealing with rebuilding New Orleans. Time will tell. And trust me, times ain’t tough for Mitch … he’s sitting pretty.

        In addition, your comments about a crowded field for the Senate lead me to believe you are not aware of the recent changes in Louisiana elections – all federal races are no longer run under the old open primary system. The primaries are closed, thus, Mitch, if he were to run in a Democratic primary, would likely crush the field, as he is one of the only white politicians with the ability to score a significant percentage of the black vote, even against a black politician who blatantly plays the race card, as Nagin did in ’06.


        1. Ryan,

          I want to say that I was aware of the change in the process. However, I wasn’t sure when that would take effect, and at 42, it’s hard not to think of the elections in terms of the older jungle primary system.

          You are correct of course, that Mitch will have an advantage in a closed Democratic primary, especially with the black vote. There is no viable black senatorial candidate, nor one on the horizon, from either party (which is a shame). It would depend on how well Melancon and Bernard (a rare Democrat for which I could vote without holding my nose) get the white vote to tip for them. With Mitch out, perhaps John gets the benefit of the black vote, but not as reliably as Landrieu would.

          The only things going for Vitter, 1.) Incumbency, 2.) His scandal broke very early in his term, 3.) He remains popular with his base, and 4.) Mid-term election will unlikely bring out Democratic voters for “change”. The right Democratic opponent (and Melancon is not it) could make the race very interesting. With the statewide vote more evenly polarized than the national electorate (though I do believe that 2008 was a high watermark for the Dems, much as 1994 was for Repubs), I expect the 2010 race between Vitter and any Democratic opponent to be separated by 3 or 4 percentage points, at most. A 51/49, either way will not be surprising.

  3. I have to say that Nagin has not been that bad of a Mayor considering New Orleans as a whole. He has certainly failed to end corrupt practices and has perhaps even participated in some. But, just the fact that he’s tried and failed is more than most politicians in that area ever do. I actually think people will eventually compare Nagin with Roemer. Both had good intentions, were more qualified for the job than just about anyone else, and both failed due to their own ability to see things through, work within the system, and because they were constantly restrained by an overall corrupt system.

    New Orleans government and even moreso Jefferson Parish government is about nothing but nepotism. As a resident it’s very difficult to be heard, especially by the various elected officials at the council levels. As a bureaucrat you have to deal with enforcing regulations that promote that nepotism while ignoring the needs of the public and the public good in general.

    it’s a very broken system and honestly the entire region should have been placed under some sort of military government after Katrina and only given back to the people after it was functioning efficiently and honestly.

    And then there’s the Police — Serpico couldn’t even imagine the rampant corruption, ineptitude, bullying, and dishonesty that fills every police agency in Southeast Louisiana. Every level of law enforcement, no matter what the agency is called, is centered around nepotism, cronyism, and corrupt dealings that amount to little more than uniformed organized crime.

    1. Drew:

      Nagin has been a terrible Mayor. Nothing has improved within the city at all. He has announced grand plans, and yet, almost every time, he has failed to follow through. Even the times he has followed through, he’s negotiated such terrible deals for the City … case in point – the garbage pickup. One of the companies – can’t remember the name, but they do pickup trash in both Jefferson Parish and Orleans. Guess who is paying more? New Orleans. And New Orleans pays more when you break it down to the # of houses served … in other words, New Orleans is paying this company more per house than Jefferson Parish is.

      For a businessman, Nagin’s negotiating skills leave something to be desired.


      1. He definitely does leave a lot to be desired. Of course with something like that deal (and you could be talking about River Parishes Disposal out of St Bernard) it was likely not Nagin who did the deal. That’s probably Sewage & Water Board.

        But, I can tell you that compared to when I first moved to NOLA in 2004, many things are much better. Like Blanco he had Katrina plopped in his lap, and I don’t think it’s easy to judge any leaders under such circumstances.

        He started out doing good, and had accomplished quite a bit of good before the storm. Keep in mind that he had an absolutely hostile city council until the last round of elections. That didn’t help matters.

        Now since the storm his performance has definitely been less than stellar and he has unfortunately played a bit too much good ole boy crony politics such as appointing Warren Reily to head the NOPD. And of course in not jailing half those officers including the ones the state police had to run off I-49 here in Alexandria who came flying through the city at over 100mph with NOPD cars filled with Nikes and DVDs.

        One of the biggest problems with Nagin is that he’s the wrong kind of black in many people’s eyes. There has always been and still is a big chasm between the descendants of slaves and the descendants of free blacks in New Orleans. Even though they are and were over 2/3 of the population for centuries, they have fought each other so much that prior to Moriale white politicians just played them off against each other for power.

        Nagin is one of the light skinned blacks from the good side of the tracks and unfortunately most of the people who need the most help are the dark skinned blacks from the other side of the tracks (there literally are tracks for those who aren’t familiar). Nagin found himself in a position much of the time where he could not gain the needed support of this large portion of the city’s population.

        I’m not saying things have not been his fault, but that there is much much more to the New Orleans dynamic than even most people who live there realize.

        That said, I think Ms. Midura really says it like it is.

    1. That’s not the point I was trying to make. I could care less if he were purple. But there is (it’s just a reality of New Orleans) a divide between (and this is a local definition from within these groups and not mine) light skinned black New Orleanians who are descendant from the original free black population and dark skinned descendents of slaves.

      It’s not cool, it’s something that’s not fun to talk about and it’s something that I found quite shocking when I learned of it. But it is a dynamic that affects politics in that city and one that has affected the ability for Nagin to solidify what should have been an easy base even in programs that benefited areas like the 9th Ward.

      Whether it’s very politically correct or socially easy, you can’t realistically look at politics or most other dynamics of New Orleans without examining the role of race (and in this case descent), religion, creed, etc. It’s both one of the things that makes New Orleans great and one of the things that has worked to tear it apart.

      One day it will hopefully not be an issue. For Nagin it has been.

      Trust me I wouldn’t defend Nagin if he were wholly to blame. Hell man, I sold thousands of “Mayor Ray’s Famous New Orleans Recipe Chocolate Bars” back in ’05. The man has problems and probably spends more time tasting his shoe than tasting his food, but the ineffectiveness of the government down there is a blame that can’t be laid too strongly on him. From the people on the street to the people in congress from that region of the state, there are so many people who work against success in New Orleans. Nagin is only a minor player and figurehead for that particular failure.

  4. Drew, points well taken, but you also have to consider that, prior to running for Mayor, Nagin was a Republican for most of his adult life. He endorsed Bobby Jindal as Governor in 2003, and he was endorsed by numerous Republican officials, leaders, and organizations (including the Greater NOLA Republicans, led by Audra Shay) during both of his elections.

    Again, I don’t pretend to know the inside baseball of NOLA politics, but it stands to reason that Nagin’s political base has always been spread thin.

    In other words, I think his political base has always been unreliable– and that this problem has less to do with his ancestors and more to do with his own decisions on coalition-building. He didn’t beat Mitch Landrieu on substance or vision; he beat him with Republicans. It has always been a tenuous coalition.

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