Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Tone deaf

New boss goes to old boss in record time. 
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell is raising concerns about the City Council's "tone" and "demands" made in a letter to the Sewerage & Water Board shortly after the council took office on May 7.

Cantrell sent the May 24 letter to City Councilman Joe Giarrusso, who issued the original letter after obtaining signatures from all of his fellow council members. In Giarrusso's original 10-page letter, he criticized the embattled agency for "terrible customer service, lack of transparency and poor efforts to engage the public," which he said has led to "severe mistrust."
It's impressive, in a way.  But we shouldn't be too much surprised given what we know about LaToya by now. Giarrusso's response is subtle (gotta watch that tone, you know) but he gets the point across. 
The letter serves as a snapshot of Cantrell's transition from the City Council to the city's highest office, a position that often requires defending the actions of city employees or acting swiftly to correct them. After several city neighborhoods flooded Aug. 5, former Mayor Mitch Landrieu began dismantling the Sewerage & Water Board's executive team, which had relayed misinformation to the public about the state of the city's drainage system.

Giarrusso said he understands the position the mayor is in now. Although she acknowledged in the letter that as a council member she had "the same frustrations over lack of information and transparency," Giarrusso said she now "wants to stand up for her people."

"While all that is understandable, our job is making sure we're getting these reports and that we're asking questions," Giarrusso said. And, he added, "The questions we're asking are questions we're getting from our constituents."
Another way of putting that is, there just isn't a whole lot of there there regarding Cantrell's political motivation.  What does she believe in?  What was her campaign for mayor about? Apart from the proliferation of empty cliches like "spreading the love," I mean.  All politicians are ciphers to some degree, but she seems to have a special capacity for hollowness. That can be a useful talent during campaign season.  But it also can lead to a rudderless and ultimately conservative governing style.

If your campaign has not articulated a cause beyond merely putting one individual into office, then the agenda for executing that office is going to hew closely to the status quo. If your raison d'etre in politics is all about "finding balance, "rather than implementing a program based on well-defined principles, then that is an inherently conservative position.   You're basically just going along to get along. And typically that means getting along with entrenched power.

And this is exactly how you end up with tone deaf actions like trying to hire a public safety official who enabled the Danziger cover-up and then blaming the community for its own "upticked" response. Or the similarly tone deaf empowering of a panel of Confederate sympathizers to decide the fate of Confederate monuments.  Or today where we see this tone deaf and defensive response to the "tone" of the City Council's criticism.

Giarrusso points out that she shared in these criticisms and in their tone right up until only a few months ago. But nothing has changed between that time and now except for the personal circumstances of LaToya Cantrell. In other words, LaToya is concerned only with the who rather than the why of power.  She is the person making the appointments therefore they need to be defended against even the slightest perception of a critical tone. These are "her people" now and she wants to stand up for them. 

When you elect a mayor solely on the strength of her own personal brand instead of any particular belief in anything, then personal loyalty is going to be the beginning and end of that mayor's public policy.  Get ready for four more years of tone deaf tone policing. 

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