Mayor Mitch Landrieu says, 'The world deserves a better New Orleans'

By Michelle Krupa and Frank Donze, The Times-Picayune

Asserting that nothing broken in New Orleans cannot be fixed through the patience, sacrifice and hard work of its residents, Mayor Mitch Landrieu challenged a city still recovering from Hurricane Katrina to adopt a new perspective on its future as he took the oath of office as mayor Monday on the steps of Gallier Hall.

“That first step is to declare that we are no longer recovering, we are no longer rebuilding. Now, now, we are creating,” he said on a balmy morning that saw storm clouds slowly give way to blue skies. “Let’s stop thinking about rebuilding the city we were and start dreaming about the city we want to become. The world deserves a better New Orleans. So, people of New Orleans, hear this: Today is a new day. Today is a new time.”

Read the text of the mayor’s speech

In a 20-minute speech that harked back to the city’s glorious past while pulling no punches about its murderous culture, public health woes, limited job opportunities and history of public corruption, Landrieu, 49, also returned to the message of unity that he stressed en route to his remarkable victory in the crowded Feb. 6 primary, in which he secured 66 percent of the vote.

In taking the reins from Mayor Ray Nagin, Landrieu becomes the city’s first white chief executive since his father, Moon Landrieu, left office 32 years ago. The younger Landrieu, who served six years as Louisiana’s lieutenant governor and 16 as a state legislator, achieved the milestone with broad support from an African-American community that comprises two-thirds of the city’s population.

Love your neighbors, mayor urges

Recalling the parable of the good Samaritan, which was read aloud during an interfaith service early Monday at St. Louis Cathedral, Landrieu predicted: “New Orleans will only see life when we learn to love our neighbors as we would have them love us.”

But in a city where parochial, cultural and racial differences often form stark fault lines, Landrieu also pressed residents to consider: “Who is your neighbor?”

“Your neighbor lives on Audubon Place and on Clouet Street. On Wright Road and Gentilly Boulevard. Carrollton Avenue and Algiers Point,” he said. “Your neighbor lives in the east, downtown, Uptown, Pension Town, Gert Town and in back of town. She works on the top floor of One Shell Square, and he works in the basement of City Hall. Your neighbor looks just like you and nothing like you at all.


Mayor Mitch Landrieu greets his dad and mom, Moon and Verna Landrieu, after taking the oath of office Monday.

“We will only come to know our neighbors when we tear down the walls that have separated us for so long,” he said. “We need to build bridges that are well-lit and well-traveled between Rex and Zulu; the (New Orleans) Lawn and Tennis Club and Stern Tennis Center; Women of the Storm and the Katrina Warriors; Greater St. Stephen and Holy Name of Jesus Church; Pontchartrain Park and English Turn; Lakewood South and yeah, Lower Nine.”

While officials continue to pursue federal aid, Landrieu said residents must be the catalyst for change.

A city of hope

“We have come to expect less of ourselves than we should, lost faith in ourselves when we should not. No more, New Orleans,” he said. “Hope must spring eternal, but it must be more than a distant dream. Hope alone doesn’t build a city. People do. We — we — must be the city where hope hits the streets.”

Moon Landrieu, who administered his son’s oath jointly with former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Pascal Calogero and state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Edwin Lombard, shared the front row with the city’s three other living mayors: Sidney Barthelemy, Marc Morial and Nagin, who couldn’t seek re-election because of term limits.

Landrieu, who lost a hard-fought runoff in 2006 to Nagin, had kind words for his rival Monday, thanking him for his “service to our city during a most difficult time.”

But in the wake of federal probes leading to the indictment of two Nagin appointees, Landrieu also referred to the city’s persistent culture of scandal, calling it “a great promise not yet fulfilled to have a government in which those holding positions of power and influence are committed to serving the people, not themselves.”

And he decried the slow pace of the city’s recovery.

‘We must change course’

“We now know that progress is not inevitable, nor is it certain. It will not come on its own. And it will certainly not come without a price,” Landrieu said. “Every civilization that has failed to learn the lessons of the past and failed to pay its dues properly owed has lost its place in history and will be swamped by time’s onward march.


“We cannot make that mistake. We will not turn away from our task and our time. We must change course. Change must come to this troubled yet beautiful, this impractical yet lovely, this gorgeous yet challenged place that we call home,” he said.

To that end, Landrieu stands ready to reshuffle the power structure at City Hall. Tuesday, he is expected to announce an executive staff led by six deputy mayors who will answer directly to him, sharing responsibilities traditionally handled by a single chief administrative officer.

Also anticipated as soon as this week is Landrieu’s announcement of a new chief to take the reins of the troubled New Orleans Police Department. Though his speech Monday didn’t directly address the appointment, which Landrieu has called his most important, the new mayor circled back more than once to the theme of safety.

“There is a great promise not yet fulfilled to create a city of peace where neighbors can live free from fear of assault at the hands of another,” he said, “where our children sleep peacefully at night in their warm beds rather than die on the cold hard streets of an unforgiving city.

“We must transform the culture of death on the streets of New Orleans into a celebration of life and freedom, of joy and possibility.”

Time to come home

Landrieu, whose four-year term begins four months before Katrina’s fifth anniversary, also sent a message to the thousands of New Orleanians who remain displaced.

“So many of our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our aunts and uncles have been part of this great exodus — searching for better lives elsewhere, taking not only our history and our progeny but our future as well,” he said.

“This mass exodus from this Deep South mecca began as far back as Reconstruction, not Katrina, and it continues through this very moment,” he said. “To all those who have gone away: It is time, it is time, it is time for you to come home.”

Landrieu dedicated the opening moments of his address to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that, he said, “threatens the economy and the very way of life of a people on the mend.”

Much as his landslide victory was overshadowed by the Saints’ historic Super Bowl win, Landrieu’s inauguration largely has been drowned out by the environmental disaster that continues to unfold off Louisiana’s coast.

In the days leading up to his swearing-in, Landrieu began taking a more visible role in relief efforts, encouraging the deployment of city resources to coastal areas and meeting Sunday with President Barack Obama during his visit to Venice,

Minutes after he took his oath, Landrieu announced that the city would join forces with St. Tammany Parish to open a staging area at Fort Pike in eastern New Orleans to protect Lake Pontchartrain from the oil sheen. Less than two hours later, he headed to his new second-floor office at City Hall for a conference call with Obama and other federal officials.

While the extent of the damage remains unknown, Landrieu said thus far he is satisfied with the commitment by federal government and the private sector to clean it up.

“We will demand nothing less,” he said. “And I can assure you, I will do everything in my power to protect the interests of the people of New Orleans and hold the responsible parties accountable for the damage done.”