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Sunday, December 16, 2018



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Progress and lingering problems await New Orleans' new mayor

Progress and lingering problems await New Orleans' new mayor

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — His administration wiped out a nearly $100 million deficit, drew billions of dollars in federal aid to step up a plodding recovery from Hurricane Katrina and ushered in reforms at a police department long plagued by scandal.

Mitch Landrieu can, and does, point to a lowered murder rate, a tourist industry that has fully rebounded from Hurricane Katrina, a new airport and a revamped recreation department for New Orleans' young people as he prepares to bow out as the city's mayor. November's announcement that DXC Technology will bring about 2,000 new jobs to New Orleans gave him a chance to demonstrate the rebounding city's economic viability. And he capped his final days in office with a ceremony marking the start of redevelopment work at a 33-story office tower on the Mississippi River, which will become a luxury hotel and condominium complex.

And there has been no sign of the corruption that landed his predecessor, Ray Nagin, in federal prison.

"The legacy that we left will be judged by the good things we've done," Landrieu said in a recent interview. "We haven't been perfect, but I think people will say that this has been a pretty good eight-year run."

But the term-limited Democrat, who won election and re-election handily in 2010 and 2014, leaves office having angered some for his role in removing Jim Crow-era monuments to Confederate figures. And he's been on the defensive over the shape of the agency that oversees the city's drainage system.

Stubborn problems remain as LaToya Cantrell, a Democrat elected last fall, takes the oath of office Monday as New Orleans' first woman mayor.

DRAINAGE

A deluge last August unexpectedly flooded homes and businesses and laid bare managerial and infrastructure problems at the Sewerage and Water Board, the agency that provides drinking water, sewer service and stormwater drainage in the low-lying city. It's an independent, state-created agency, but the city's mayor is, by law, its titular head and appoints the managing board.

Landrieu has said that the storm dumped as much as 9 inches (23 centimeters) of water in some areas — more than even a fully functioning pumping system could have handled. But clogged street-level catch basins, broken pumps and problems with aging turbines that power them caught the city by surprise. And, it has put Landrieu, who has blamed the agency's staff for keeping him in the dark, on the defensive in his final year in office.

He led efforts to aggressively overhaul the agency's management last year and has been touting repairs and restoration of pumps and turbines. But he also acknowledges that the aging system, plagued by decades of deferred maintenance and upgrades, needs an overhaul that will cost hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, meaning Cantrell is faced with major decisions on how to finance such work.

CRIME AND POLICING

Among Landrieu's first acts as mayor in 2010 was an invitation to the U.S. Justice Department to review the New Orleans Police Department. The result was a lengthy, highly critical report and a court-backed agreement for extensive reforms in 2012. Changes in training and policy, including guidelines for interrogations and use of force, are still being implemented.

Landrieu credits the reforms with improving the relationship between police and residents. And he points to numerous social outreach initiatives and recreational programs under the broad title of NOLA for Life as contributing to a decline in the murder rate, which dropped from 200 in 2011 to 157 last year.

But violent crime and shootings reported several times a week remain a problem. The city's budget problems meant replacements weren't being hired for a police force thinning by attrition in the early Landrieu years. On firmer financial footing now, the city has been aggressively recruiting, but Cantrell will still oversee a department that is 400 people short of its goal of 1,600.

A key part of the recruitment effort will be Landrieu's police chief, Michael Harrison. Cantrell announced Wednesday that she will keep him on.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND ECONOMIC DISPARITIES

Post-Katrina, New Orleans has seen a rise in real estate values as people returned to the city. But that has meant a big burden on some. A nonprofit research group, The Data Center in New Orleans, says the percentage of city renters considered "cost-burdened" — meaning more than half their income goes to rent — reached 35 percent in 2016, up from 24 percent 12 years earlier.

Unemployment in the city went from about 9 percent in 2010 to just over 4 percent in March of this year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank. But various sources say median household income for black residents is down and black male unemployment has hovered for years around 50 percent. A positive sign as Cantrell takes office: participation in city contracts by businesses identified as disadvantaged is up from 16 percent to 48 percent.

THE MONUMENTS

Monuments to Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate President Jefferson Davis are no longer on display along New Orleans thoroughfares of the majority-black city. Landrieu had planned to seek proposals on where to place them that would provide proper context, noting that they were erected originally to foster claims that the South had fought for states' rights rather than to preserve slavery and that slavery had been a noble institution that benefited the enslaved.

Some critics of Landrieu's removal of the monuments have also criticized him for leaving the decision on where to place the statues to Cantrell. But Landrieu, in a March interview, cited delays caused by opponents of the removal, including two years of litigation and threats of violence that necessitated extensive security measures.