New Orleans I was eating lunch late last week on Poydras Avenue catching up with old friends and comrades from decades of political wars in the City of New Orleans. These are the kinds of conversations where lineage and legacy are important. When someone says Landrieu, do they mean former Mayor Moon, Senator Mary, or current Mayor Mitch Landrieu? When Morial is mentioned, are we referring to something we remember about Dutch or something more recent with Marc? In New Orleans like most big cities politics is both blood sport and thriving business no matter whose shingle might be out at City Hall, so past, present, and future are ever present with more angles to consider than the best carom on the green felt of any billiard table.
The new mayor, Mitch Landrieu, had gotten in a big time spat here in the early going around garbage contracts, so we spent some time discussing that. Local 100 ULU continues to represent some of the workers employed by the contractors so has a clear stake in the conversation and one of my lunch partners had been called several days before and asked for advice by Mitch on how to handle the mess he stepped in so solidly.
Both of the current contractors are minority businesses and were awarded lucrative contracts by the recently cashiered mayor, Ray Nagin. The local paper and the new administration on a cost cutting binge with a bad budget in a sorry economy was looking for savings, so slimming down the garbage contract seemed like an easy mark. Mitch though made a quick and painful mistake by thinking it was a standard negotiation and when his people didn’t get immediate concessions to their liking, he announced that the City was going to unilaterally put the contracts back out to bid again. Fur started flying with protests at City Hall, comments from the two companies’ lawyers that they still were making proposals, and a everyone from the NACCP to minority business associations jumping in to pull the Mayor’s coattails.
Which is no doubt what prompted the new Mayor to call my old friend and my other friend to keep shaking his head as we got up to go and turn to me and ask, “How can he not have a ‘black’ policy yet?” Good question in New Orleans where until the current mayor we had a generation of African-American mayors and have a population that is between 60 and 70% African-American. But, it’s also a good question nationally when we look at the White House and try to fathom what really might be the Obama Administration’s “black” policy or its “brown” policy, especially since their ham-fisted handling of the economy is devastating both communities on the jobs and housing fronts.
I made a joke about too many of these “new” guys getting confused about the real definitions of “good government,” and both of my friends guffawed knowingly and snickered. Good government as advocated by the silk stockings, uptowners, business elites, and media wannabes is wholly different from good government that makes sure that everyone gets to participate, has a stake, and feels that their interests were dealt with fairly. Politicians, locally or nationally, who get confused about that as Mitch was momentarily and Obama seems to be permanently, not only have short careers, but do not deliver good government.
Obama will get the black vote when he runs again but without a “black” policy that finally delivers, he will get 98% of fewer votes than he needs, just as lacking a “brown” policy he may get 70% of an even more depressed and suppressed Latina voting bloc. This all matters and it’s time to start really counting on your friends and keeping them close to you. That’s good policy and good government.