Until last year’s removal of New Orleans’s Confederate statues made national news, Mayor Mitch Landrieu was largely unknown outside of his city. Today, he’s the latest Democratic flavor of the month. Landrieu followed up the release of his new book, Standing in the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Faces Down History, with a few victory laps of the lecture and talk show circuits, fromThe Week to 60 Minutes to the Daily Show, where mentions of his possible 2020presidential run were met with applause. He’s also set to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in May.
As a New Orleans resident, I know the statues couldn’t have been removed without Landrieu—even though the energetic and righteous protest group Take Em Down NOLA is widely considered to have spearheaded the recent movement. Others trace the fight farther back: “That anyone would think Landrieu told us to care about this is insulting… Black leaders have been talking to me about this issue since I joined city government in 1977,” said City Councilperson James Gray during a contentious debate on the day of the vote to remove the offending statues. “I am the descendant of slaves—not free people of color, slaves—so I don’t need Mitch Landrieu to remind me to care about this.”
Landrieu surely won’t end up in prison like his predecessor Ray Nagin, and he has done a few good things while in office, like help get marijuana arrests down to almost zero (arguably a much bigger blow for racial justice than taking down the statues). And his speeches around the monuments’ removal were admittedly some of the best I’ve ever heard from a politician.
But Landrieu is not the president America needs. Dig past the statue issue, and you’ll find that Landrieu is known around town as the New Orleans mayor who aided and abetted a massive wave of gentrification. While he would clearly like to be remembered for removing New Orleans’s racist symbols, many locals will remember him for the following catastrophes:
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and displaced 600,000 households. In the following years, as locals struggled to return to their city, Airbnb was invented at just the wrong time.
New Orleans’s status as a tourist destination has made Airbnb popular with tourists visiting the city. As a result, for almost a decade, New Orleans’s famous shotgun houses have been getting bought up and turned into amateur hotels, often by out-of-state, absentee (white) landlords, damaging the fabric of neighborhoods and forcing residents to deal with tourists literally in their backyards.
Landrieu and his administration have seemed mostly oblivious to how bad Airbnb has been for New Orleans’s tender post-K housing market, not to mention its (black) culture. Following years of inaction on the issue, the City Council voted in 2017 to legalize Airbnb’s fauxtel scam and create a permitting process, but that hasn’t solved the problem. Locals have been evicted from their homes in droves by greedy landlords who can make more money off nightly rentals than yearly leases. As the value of homes used as hotels spikes, that raises the assessed value—and thus property taxes—for locals around them. And because the Landrieu administration hasn’t improved the city’s bleak poverty rate, many New Orleanians can no longer afford homes in their own neighborhoods.
“Treme was too expensive, when I was putting my heart and my soul and my energy into trying to get my family back home,” said singer John Boutte, most famous for penning the theme song for HBO’s Katrina drama Treme. The Treme was America’s first black neighborhood where free people of color could purchase land. After Airbnb hit the Treme, Boutte chose to relocate 30 minutes away, onto New Orleans’s Northshore (which isn’t in New Orleans at all). “I lived in Treme all my life, and I know the real value of those homes,” Boutte told me. “There’s a big bubble right now, man.”
In 2015, The New Orleans Advocate reported a shift in New Orleans’s black population from the city to the suburbs—a change that cannot be blamed on Katrina alone, but on the combination of Katrina and Airbnb. Only now are Landrieu, Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell, and other officials considering taking further action against laws governing Airbnb properties—which seems a lot like discussing the fire while standing in its smoldering ashes.
Cameras, Cameras Everywhere
There’s existed no question that Landrieu couldn’t answer with more cameras of one sort or another. Mayor Nagin installed New Orleans’s first 30 traffic cameras, and they quickly started producing revenue for the city in the form of traffic tickets. Landrieu has doubled and tripled that number, and today the city makes over $15 million a year off its poverty-burdened citizenry via those traffic camera tickets.
Landrieu’s love of surveillance extends beyond the traffic cameras: On his way out of City Hall, he unveiled an unprecedented $40 million citizen surveillance program that would have required cameras outside all 1,500 of the city’s bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and stores selling alcohol—and all of the cameras would have fed into the city’s newly-upgraded 24-hour monitoring center.
Under immense public pressure, the City Council eventually abandoned that part of Landrieu’s “safety plan,” but proceeded to post around 100 red-and-blue blinking cameras around the city, many right outside of surprised homeowners’ windows. Chuck’s Sports Bar, the Hangover Bar, and other watering holes received the obnoxious blinking cameras as punishment for perceived bad behavior. A whopping 150 more such cameras are planned for this year.
In this and other ways, Landrieu has been to New Orleans sort of what Giuliani was to New York. Except without the drop in crime. To read the rest of this piece at Vice, CLICK HERE!