New Orleans Front page headlines in the Times-Picayune had trumpeted the curious court battle around the removal of Occupy NOLA from Duncan Plaza across from City Hall to parts unknown. Mayor Mitch Landrieu had summarily pulled up the encampment only to have his hands slapped by a federal court judge ruling it was illegal and giving Occupy NOLA a surprising legal reprieve and allowing them to relocate for an additional seven (7) days while he considered whether they could come or go.
We went by the General Assembly to hear the news Tuesday night. The 40 or so folks left were sitting or lying on a small mound of grass in the Plaza listening to the legal team report on the judge’s decision, which, predictably, was grim and go. In a short order Judge Lance Africk simply wrote with no elaboration that “…the Court finds that plaintiffs have not carried their burden of establishing a substantial likelihood of success on the merits….” Mark Gonzales, one of the volunteer lawyers, told them plainly that more detail from the Judge was not going to provide better news.
There was concern about goods and property lost by the police’s illegal eviction and whether there would be any compensation.
There were offers of new locations. Empty lots in the lower 9th ward, still devastated and 80% vacant since Katrina, was one suggestion. Another speaker suggested an Episcopal Church that seemed to be closing on Canal Street. People drifted around the meeting. Others listened carefully. There was calm. Two people had decided to be arrested at 10 PM when the police were scheduled. Some would watch from across the street and down the block as witnesses.
This was dénouement. Ground conceded. Point long made. Future uncertain.
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.