NEW ORLEANS - Touting improvements in the city's murder rate and a balanced budget, Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave his State of the City Address at the Treme Community Center, that’s recently re-opened.
Landrieu painted the city of New Orleans as one that's made a lot of progress, with major hurdles left to jump.
“Everybody has started to realize what we've always known- New Orleans is the coolest city in America,” Landrieu said.
Riding high on a series of successful major events including the Super Bowl and Jazz Fest, Mayor Landrieu bragged about what he considers wins in job creation, the city's business climate and progress on NOPD reforms.
But Landrieu also admitted, “Many daunting challenges remain that we must overcome- a dysfunctional criminal justice system, crumbling infrastructure and roads, sewerage and water board reform, and fire fighter pension problems to name a few small ones.”
They’re huge challenges that could tax the city budget way beyond the balancing point. Landrieu didn’t mention specifics about how to pay for any of them in his speech.
Like many New Orleanians on the Canal streetcar Tuesday, 23-year-old Gentilly resident Jaren Smothers wondered about the problems that have puzzled New Orleans' leaders for decades.
“When will there be more jobs for everyone because right now, even just finding a part-time job is very hard,” he said.
As the mayor gave his version of the state of the city, what we heard from most people on the streetcar was that they're concerned most about the crime problem.
“With this crime, something has got to be done,” said Patricia Valentine.
“This is our message to them- stop the shooting, or else we are coming for you and for all your friends,” Landrieu said during his speech.
Landrieu said crime was down over the past year and that in the first quarter, statistics the NOPD has not publicly released, murder was down 15 percent. But the Mayor admitted it's not enough.
“Our young people need jobs, so when they put down the gun there is something else for them to pick up. That's why creating jobs and opportunity is the third central pillar of NOLA for Life,” he said.
NOLA for Life is Landrieu's long-term crime fighting plan. He said he had doubled the number of summer jobs available for young people over the past year. He renewed his pledge to continue NOLA for Life over the next year.
“This [the killing] has to stop. Make no mistake, it can be fixed,” Landrieu said.
The crowd recognized New Orleans Police Officer John Passaro with a standing ovation after Landrieu made this pledge: “We must improve the NOPD and give officers what they need to get the job done.”
He praised the city council for funding two new recruit classes to add police to the force, but neither one has started yet.
Many residents like Smothers say it's key because they just want the most basic thing from their city: “Just to be able to go home at night and just know that you're gonna be ok.”
When asked whether a police academy had started to add to the force, Landrieu's spokesman said this year's first class was scheduled to start on May 20 with anywhere from 25 to 32 recruits.
Landrieu touched on two of the biggest issues facing the city: reforming the NOPD with an expensive federal consent decree and paying for another one aimed at reforming Orleans Parish Prison.
“I believe that this is more about management than money. All that notwithstanding, I have faith that we can find a solution to the police and sheriff consent decrees,” Landrieu said.
What he didn’t say, is how the city might pay for them.
But Landrieu did brag about progress made in improving quality of life issues and laid out his vision for New Orleans in 2018.
“I see tourism growing to 13 million visitors per year, a thriving riverfront, and the music and cultural economy thriving,” Landrieu said.
It's a vision for New Orleans five years into the future. One Landrieu says would build the city into what New Orleans always wanted to be.
To read Mayor Landrieu’s entire speech, click here.