Former Judge Michael Bagneris announced his second run for New Orleans mayor on Thursday (May 11), becoming the first mayoral candidate to announce his candidacy in a major event before supporters. His announcement was held at Dooky Chase's Restaurant in Treme.This event was more of a formality than anything. Bagneris indicated he was running a long time ago and has remained open about his intentions. In this case, a kick off party is more useful in telling us what the campaign expects it will be about.
That's important because some may recall that this was a problem for Bagneris the last time around. Stephanie Grace called his 2014 run a "campaign about nothing." (The Advocate's site is riddled with link rot so I can't find that column right now.) I later wrote that it had been a campaign by listicle meaning that Bagneris appeared to have just pulled the top two or three issues named in voter surveys, and then mentioned them a lot without forming an overarching narrative. So far he seems to be leaning toward a repeat of that.
The quiet field in the two months before official qualifying in July gave Bagneris a jump on some early politicking, and he said on Thursday that he plans to begin rolling out new proposals to flesh out his campaign message. The early indications were that Bagneris would wage a heavily crime-focused candidacy, and he spent much of his announcement talking about either public safety or programs that would help address the issue.Inevitably, the survey results say voters are worried about crime. Crime is an easy thing for candidates to talk about without really saying anything besides "Crime is bad." So they say that. They also say, "We need more police," in order to stop the crime although that is not necessarily true. But it's easy to say. In 2014, Bagneris' closing ads promised to somehow put 1600 more cops on the street in his first year. This time he's saying he wants to bring back an unspecified number of retirees.
His first action to build the ranks of the police department, Bagneris said, would begin an outreach effort to retired New Orleans police officers.So far we're still very much in nothingville. The economic development portion of this talk is equally uninspiring. Here we see Bagneris touching on another issue that must be polling strongly this year and addressing it with basically nonsense.
"The pool of retirees is a fertile ground for recruiting officers," Bagneris said. "Many left when they could retire because of their differences with the administration. With a mayor that they don't have those differences with, many will be willing to come back, so we are going to recruit from those retirees first."
Bagneris rolled out several economic development ideas, first criticizing the primary industry in New Orleans, tourism, as a low-wage industry. He says New Orleans can't be a "one-trick pony," and questioned why the city hasn't capitalized on more activity from the Port of New Orleans.
"We import large qualities of steel," Bagneris said. "Why can't we manufacture nuts and bolts?"
It's encouraging to see a mayoral candidate willing to publicly criticize tourism this way. The poverty wages of our service economy combined with our ever-worsening housing crisis should be the central issue this year. But Bagneris's solutions, (The Port! Manufacturing!) such as they are, indicate he probably isn't taking the problem seriously. I mean, I'd be the first to agree that de-industrialization has been a major factor in spurring economic inequality in the U.S. over the past half century. But something tells me the Mayor Of New Orleans isn't going to have a lot of power to reverse those global trends. Maybe I'm being cynical. Maybe we're only a few years away from our dream jobs in Mayor Bagneris's Glorious Nuts And Bolts Factory. Probably not, though. Besides, we produce enough nuts around here as it is.
Meanwhile, The Advocate's account of the announcement suggests the Bagneris campaign is at least trying to build a rhetorical theme this time out.
“Ours is a very noble cause. We are fighting for the very soul of New Orleans,” he said. “The soul of New Orleans is its people, and we the people are in peril.”Holy crap, our souls are in peril! That is some heavy stuff. Although it isn't what one expects from the generally mild Bagneris. I wonder what it sounded like. It's also an odd thing to say if you propose to recover your "soul" through improved relations with Leon Cannizzaro.
He also said he would improve community policing and suggested that beefing up staffing, rather than the crime cameras that form the basis of Landrieu’s recently announced security plan, is the way to reduce crime.Still, there is that little bit of criticism thrown in about Landrieu's surveillance plan. That and the knock against the tourism industry suggest this is a candidate who is listening for issues that might distinguish him from the field. Even if he gives no sign of knowing or caring how to actually address any of them.
Bagneris also pledged to improve relations between the mayor’s office and Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, both of whom have clashed with Landrieu.