Unsurprisingly, the "Where'd you go to high school?" issue comes up. But this has kind of fallen into the realm of the cliche' lately. It's one of many myths we still like to tell each other about New Orleans that doesn't quite reflect reality.
When it did exist, the high school question was a quirky means of making small talk with strangers. New Orleans is an overgrown small town and most of us are socially separated by two to four degrees at most. Beginning a conversation with, "Where'd you go to high school" used to be a pretty reliable key to figuring out how you might know a new person or which people you know in common with them.
People still try to do this, of course. But they're less likely to try and figure you out by way of your high school because, for one thing, the school system in New Orleans has been in such flux that it's no longer the static identifier it once was and, for another, post-Katrina times have brought such an influx of people from other cities that it wouldn't matter anyway. If you're new to town, you're much more likely to hear someone warn you you'll be asked about your high school than you are to have the question put to you in earnest.
So I was all set to write that nobody actually cares about where you went to high school anymore. But then here's an Advocate feature on incoming U.S. Attorney Ken Polite where we learn,
He was born to teenage parents and raised, early on, in the Calliope and Lafitte housing projects of New Orleans and then in the Lower 9th Ward. He went on to become the first African-American valedictorian of De La Salle High School in New Orleans before going to Harvard University.Polite's accomplishment there is noteworthy in and of itself, of course. But there's something else about this that's pretty remarkable. Jim Letten, the man Polite is replacing, is also a De La Salle grad. As is Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizaro. As is Senator David Vitter whose (somewhat whiny) decision to not object to Polite's nomination has cleared the way for his appointment. The school clearly holds some mystical "Skull & Bones" type influence over the local criminal justice apparatus.
Cedric Richmond went to Ben Franklin. But he supports Polite anyway. In particular he supports Polite's stated intention to beef up his office's focus on prosecuting street crime even if this means a drop-off in the emphasis on public corruption. At least, Vitter strongly implied that it might mean that. Richmond disagrees but also takes the argument a step further.
“The last time I checked, public corruption didn’t kill a damn person in the city of New Orleans,” Richmond said. “Having 200-plus murders is absolutely unnecessary. And if the senator doesn’t have that concern, then that’s his problem.”Please don't take this as a defense of David Vitter's catty remarks. But Richmond's statement here is not exactly true. Public corruption can and does at the very least endanger lives. It can lead to the subversion of environmental protections, flood control structures, as well as the delivery of services that directly impact the lives and health of citizens.
Oh and sometimes public corruption just shoots people and burns their bodies in a car behind the levee.
But Richmond is telling us, in kind of a New Orleans way, that we shouldn't focus on that stuff because we're too busy fighting the war on terror, or something like that anyway. New Orleanians may not ask each other where they went to high school anymore but they're probably not as worn out on wanting to know who is stealing what from them. Or, at the very least, that question does still retain its relevance.