Krewe of Spank's 2014 Guide To Dizneylandrieu. The greatest Carnival throw of all time.
This week, Mayor Landrieu issued a public objection to rhetoric about the state of American cities included in President Trump's (I know. It's difficult to say.. right?) inaugural address. I believe this was the offending passage.
But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.Trump is a deliberately incoherent demagogue. He is President today because his campaign successfully evoked the.. to borrow his word.. carnage our growing inequality has wrought on the American middle class and because his confused rhetoric presented a badly distorted picture of that carnage and its actual causes. In his statement, Mitch said Trump "paints with a broad brush." It's more like he just flings paint at a wall. There's a lot of noise and motion in the act but the resulting image is more color and feeling than precision.
"Inner cities" is a useless descriptor for today's urban landscape anyway. It was always something of a racist dogwhistle and certainly Trump means for it to be here. Today's "inner cities" are less the sort of places where the poor are "trapped" than they are places the poor are being forcibly removed from by waves of gentrification. Trump should know all about that. Evicting poor people from their homes in order to make room for his empire of (government subsidized) luxury real estate development has been the core driver of Trump's fortunes for decades.
Mitch Landrieu knows all about this too, of course. The "Resilient New New Orleans" he proudly hypes everywhere he goes is a study in execution of the very same model. Here's a long thing I wrote about that just after Landrieu's own inauguration speech in 2014. Since then, the city's enabling of its predacious oligarchs has only gotten worse. Their most recent victory in the short term rental debate may give the final lie to Trump's image of the "inner city." How can anyone be trapped in poverty in the city if nobody actually lives there?
It's telling that Mitch's statement fails to call Trump out on the hypocrisy of lamenting the plight of an urban poor rendered far poorer through his own actions. Perhaps because the notion hits too close to home for Mitch himself. Or maybe he's just oblivious. In either case, Mitch merely objects to the negative tone set by the image itself. For him it's all about the branding.
And anyway despite Trump's and Landrieu's best efforts at removing them, there are still a lot of poor people living in our cities. According to a recent Data Center report 63 percent of income earners in New Orleans earn $35,000 a year or less. In 2015, the child poverty rate in New Orleans was measured at 39 percent. Our Kabacoffs, Jaegers and Torres's are doing all they can to remedy that by pricing the scourge of poverty out of the city. They aren't there yet, obviously. But, with a little less negative thinking, we'll get there. At least that's what Mitch seems to be saying.
He's had trouble maintaining the upbeat tone lately, though. It's been especially difficult for Mitch to have Attorney General Jeff Landry in town dishing out his own Trump style demagoguery over violent crime.
Landry has been locked in a bitter dispute with Mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose administration has invoked the city's home rule charter and warned Landry that he lacks the authority "to engage in active law enforcement in New Orleans."
Landrieu, a Democrat, has portrayed Landry, a first-term Republican, as a cowboy seeking to exploit the city's crime epidemic for political gain.
The mayor also has accused Landry of failing to coordinate his efforts with the State Police and the New Orleans Police Department, whose officers are subject to a rigorous federal consent decree that controls virtually every aspect of the NOPD's interactions with suspects and citizens.
"You need clear command and control," Landrieu told reporters Monday. "What (Landry) cannot do is go out by himself and rip and run and do whatever he wants outside of the command and control of the police. He's been told that by a federal judge. We believe that we're right."
It's even worse when Landry's antics serve to empower the mayor's political enemies who are themselves all too happy to pile on.
The officials backing Landry’s task force cited the Police Department’s manpower shortage and the city's high levels of violent crimes in the letters released Thursday.Landry's task force, ostensibly in town to deal with violent crime, has mostly been busting people for marijuana possession. This puts him at odds with the New Orleans City Council who decided last year that police and prosecutorial efforts were better focused elsewhere. This, along with council initiated reforms to juvenile detention policy, eventually put councilmembers at odds with Cannizzaro who has taken an increasingly hard line with regard to this stuff.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, Sheriff Marlin Gusman and the Police Association of New Orleans have all had pitched political battles of their own with Landrieu’s administration in recent months. But their letters allow Landry to point to local support for his initiative.
“We need all hands on deck if we are going to turn the corner on this public safety crisis,” Cannizzaro said. “I have never seen an attorney general who takes not only an active interest in the public safety of this city, but who also is willing to devote his precious government resources to accomplish the mission of making our streets safer.”
The DA has also been cranky about losing 5 percent of his budget to the struggling Public Defender's office. He has been so cranky, in fact, that he recently decided to take out his frustration by coming down harder on poor people facing misdemeanor charges. These squabbles, among other things, have escalated tensions between Cannizzaro and councilmembers Guidry and Williams in particular as well as the mayor whom Cannizzaro is all too happy to taunt by way of endorsing Landry's grandstanding. Add to Cannizzaro's gripes the long running feud between the mayor and Sheriff Gusman, the rumored political ambitions of Sidney Torres, and the approach of a new round of municipal elections getting everybody charged up in general, and you can see how Landry's stupid political stunt can easily stir up a hornets' nest.
So the mayor and the governor, under attack from their enemies, must have felt obligated to respond somehow. Here is what they came up with.
NEW ORLEANS – There will be more lighting in the French Quarter, much of Bourbon Street will be closed off to vehicular traffic during busy times, bars will be forced to close their doors at 3 a.m. and there will be additional crime deterrence measures in other ‘hot spots’ in the city as part of a $40 million plan to keep the city safer.When in doubt, close some bars. Also buy some shiny things. Surveillance cameras are a great way to look like you're spending money on a high tech solution. And, of course, in the Trump era, they're quite well in line with the zeitgeist. Mitch even takes on Trump's bullying rhetorical style here. As he warns us that the mere act of standing in the public streets of the city renders one subject to close scrutiny by law enforcement, Mitch relishes the tough guy role.
Governor John Bel Edwards, Mayor Mitch Landrieu along with law enforcement leaders announced the additional security measures, as well as proposed changes, at a press briefing Monday.
In addition, Landrieu said extra lighting, infrared cameras and more security would ensure that everything can be seen.There's a video in that WWL link. I recommend watching it just to get the full smirking effect. Mitchy Moussolini is in charge here, y'all. Dizneylandrieu closes at 3.
"When you go on Bourbon Street, everything you do will be seen," said Landrieu. "Do I need to let that sink in?"
The theater of this is stupid. Mitch is on television pretending to warn would be troublemakers they're being watched. But his actual audience is Channel 4 evening news viewers. You know, the "Murders not monuments" crowd who've been in his face for the better part of a year; the people Jeff Landry's presence is intended to rile. That's who Mitch is trying to win back over.
It's hilarious that Landrieu began the week smugly chastising Trump's "broad brush" demagoguery of urban crime and ended it in a fit of Trumpist bloviating about the situation in New Orleans. But then Mitch and Trump do share a certain authoritarian streak. This 2014 Lens piece by Tyler Bridges remains the definitive examination.
The Lens interviewed more than 30 New Orleans residents who said that the mayor mistreated or punished them after they expressed a contrary view, or that they had firsthand knowledge of the mayor’s heavy-handed behavior. They include current and former elected officials, business people, a wide range of civic activists, attorneys and an opponent in the 2010 mayoral race.Also referenced in that article, political consultant Cheron Brylski, who made a stir at the time for publicly describing Mitch as a "productive asshole." This week, she's similarly pleased.
Some of them say the mayor withheld funding or cut off city contracts. Others say he forced them from city boards or jobs. Still others say he chastised them with curse words over the phone or accosted them in public.
About a dozen of them were willing to speak on the record.
“He will steamroll anyone,” said Babs Johnson, a youth advocate and one-time supporter who said she drew the mayor’s wrath in 2010 by questioning the direction of his recreation department. She believes the mayor has now blackballed nonprofit groups associated with her. “People are afraid of him.”
It was Mitch who lobbied hard for the continued presence of the Louisiana State Police in the French Quarter. Until Landry barged into town threatening to usurp his authority, Landrieu didn't have a problem with outside troops occupying the local territory. I thought about that this week when Donald Trump more or less threatened to declare martial law in Chicago. I don't know why Mitch gets so upset with this guy. They're basically steeped in the same sort of strong man ideology. But these days, it seems like there's way more fascists running around out there than we ever cared to admit. I blame Godwin. Anyway here we have a situation where Landrieu, while feuding publicly with Landry and Trump, launches a policy initiative that basically caves to their agenda and style. I believe the Trump fans like to use the word "cuck" in this circumstance.
Of course the mayor's security plan makes no sense. At least, as a crime fighting initiative, it doesn't. Jeff Asher's analysis here, rather politely, points out that a plan to reduce violent crime probably shouldn't be so focused on French Quarter.
If anti-crime measures directed at the French Quarter are successful then they’re most likely to effect relatively low level UCR Part I crimes such as pickpockets and purse snatching. Indeed 84 percent of Bourbon Street crime last year and 70 percent of French Quarter crime were either pickpocket, theft or shoplifting incidents. Reducing property crimes and simple robberies in the French Quarter is a noble idea though it’s worth remembering that the vast majority of violent crimes are occurring elsewhere in the city.But this isn't a crime fighting plan at all. Primarily, it is a political document. It's a PR response to Landry's encroachment and Gusman's and Cannizzaro's criticism. It is also a classic bit of political opportunism. It takes advantage of a critical moment to ram through a bunch of hobby horse issues that have been floating around the clubhouse for years. Here is the document Mitch's staff produced this week. Imagine if Jackie Clarkson had written the Patriot Act. This is what it might look like.
Crime, and specifically violent crime, is pretty low given the sheer quantity of people in the French Quarter every year. That’s why Tulane geographer Richard Campanella said of Bourbon Street “when one divides the all-too-high number of crimes by the astronomical number of total pedestrians in this space, Bourbon’s busiest blocks paradoxically transform from an apparently dangerous place to a relatively safe one.”
In addition to the cameras and barricades and virtual stop-and-frisk policy imposed on anyone entering the Quarter, there is language in the plan about reducing the "culture of permissiveness" through actions such as enhanced parking enforcement and graffiti removal. There's a bit in there about discouraging "negative behaviors" by replacing benches.* There's the ever-popular threat to crack down on or ban entirely street performers and tarot readers. There is also a paragraph about land use and "branding" because somehow that is relevant.
In the near term, the City will In the near term, the City will seek to limit issuances of adult use occupational licenses, enhance requirements for live entertainment venues, and revise the Vieux Carré Commission design guidelines to enhance safety and security measures. Overall, this action will lead to a rebranding of the French Quarter and Bourbon Street’s image as a cultural destination.It's difficult to understand, without indulging a long leap of imagination, just what any of this has to do with reducing violent crime. But it does present a neat compilation of long standing wishes on the part of those who have aspired to create a more Disneyfied French Quarter along the lines of the number noted Trump ally Rudy Giuliani** did on Times Square. As a matter of fact, the mayor's report specifically cites Times Square along with several other questionably sanitized and gentrified urban case studies as an example to follow.
So we're taking advantage of a political moment to strengthen the police state, shut down the bars and strip clubs, and clean out the dirty people we don't like to see making our tourists uncomfortable. But that's not all. We're also taking advantage of an opportunity to spread a little money around to friends. The Advocate started breaking down how this works the other day.
To begin with, there's the matter of who we're going to buy the crime cameras from. Some of us recall that issue in particular caused the previous administration a fair amount of trouble. We're told that this and other capital expenses in the plan are "one time expenditures" and will be paid for by the Convention Center out of their big pot of hotel/motel tax money.*** There is also an estimated $3.8 million in annual expenses expected to be incurred directly by the city for things like stepped up code enforcement, graffiti removal, parking enforcement, towing, and this "flushing" thing.
An additional flushing of Bourbon Street, to begin at 3 a.m., will be added to the routine sanitation schedule and will be carried out by the Department of Sanitation’s contractor with support from NOPD. The contractor will complete the flushing process two more times before 10 a.m. on Bourbon Street with the second pass followed by a mechanical street-sweeper.Is that Empire Services? Or did a different sanitation contractor score this? The Advocate story gets some quotes from Jared Brossett who sounds concerned.
Brossett said Wednesday that the council needs more information about the financing of the proposal, including how the city plans to pay the ongoing costs, whether enough money is going to areas outside the French Quarter and whether all the elements of the plan are really related to public safety.The answer, of course, is it isn't. But that's not really what any of this is about. Rather, like just about anything else that goes on in city government, this is about scoring political points and doing favors for friends largely to the greater detriment of the city's residents and their ever-diminishing quality of life. As it is in Trump's America, so is it also in your city. The demagogues capitalize on our anxieties to get what they want. We continue to find ourselves harassed, over-policed, poorer and less free. Dizneylandrieu is a small world after all.
“$39 million is a significant investment, and I want to make sure that these resources will be adequately utilized across the city to combat crime,” Brossett said. “I would say there are going to be some questions about (things like money for) tow truck operators and sanitation enforcement — I mean, how is that going to combat crime?”
*New Orleanians with long memories will recall Jackie Clarkson's crusade to install less comfortable benches in Jackson Square in order to discourage the homeless from sleeping on them.
** Rudy! has, like Mitch, also been praised by conservatives for being a "productive asshole."
***That money, by all rights, should be paying for better schools and roads and stuff but instead gets redirected to nice things for "tourism leaders" because everything in this town thoroughly rotten... but that's a longer story than we're here to tell right now.