It’s hard not to like Jim Brown. The former Louisiana Insurance Commissioner-turned-blogger/radio host is one of the few statewide pols who will throw his honest opinions into the fray, and what he says is usually thought-provoking stuff. Brown has been around a while, knows most of the players involved in Louisiana politics and policy and can offer, most of the time, an informed and experienced opinion on the events of the day.
So when he posted a column on his web site last night on Mitch Landrieu’s challenges ahead as New Orleans’ new mayor, it was naturally worth a look.
Unfortunately, though, it’s also a bit of a head-scratcher.
Amid a number of suggestions on fighting crime, which seem reasonable but perhaps unnecessary – if Landrieu wants to make good on his pledge to do something about New Orleans’ longstanding runaway crime problem he needs to mind-meld with Rudy Giuliani and do virtually everything New York did when Giuliani cleaned that city up – comes another suggestion reminiscent of the Big Apple.
Brown wants Landrieu to watch and study City Hall, the 1996 film starring Al Pacino, John Cusack, Bridget Fonda and Danny Aiello about a caring, articulate and inspiring Democrat mayor of New York on the rise. Brown would have Mitch emulate Pacino’s John Pappas – in other words be the mayor who’s everywhere and everything. It would make the folks feel better, he says.
Here’s a taste:
Pacino certainly gives a heck of a speech. I wonder if Mitch might pull something if he tried an oration like that.
But here’s the problem – and if you haven’t seen the movie, consider this a spoiler alert…
Pacino’s character, it is revealed, is as greasy as they come. That great speech he gives at the little kid’s funeral? Turns out the child was murdered by stray bullet from a Mafia princeling who got a sweetheart probation deal from a judge connected to the mayor. And further, we find out that the mayor made the call to the judge requesting he spring the mobster. Pappas’ career comes to a screeching halt in the final scene:
There’s a bit more here than just to say that Landrieu doesn’t need to emulate Pacino’s character because he’s a crook. Landrieu doesn’t need to emulate Pacino’s character because he’s a statist, too. The most famous, if you can call it that, line of the final scene is the one when Pacino says “if a sparrow dies in Central park, I feel responsible.” That, I submit, is the worst possible attitude New Orleans can have from its mayor.
Look, Ray Nagin has been an abject, total disaster as New Orleans’ mayor, and his attitude certainly has been a problem for the city. Do not take from this entry the idea that Nagin should be emulated in any way. But after decades upon decades of paternalistic, overweening government wrought upon New Orleanians by mayors who fancy themselves as would-be John Pappases, the last thing Landrieu needs to do is run around healing all the sparrows in the city.
Brown’s column suggests Landrieu engage with the city’s business community, giving some lousy advice in doing so:
Many competent business execs want to help, but were rebuffed by Nagin. There is talent galore that is willing to pitch in on a volunteer basis. One of the strengths of New Orleans is the number of young people who have gravitated to the Crescent City to begin “start up” businesses. Landrieu should have no trouble bringing in many of the city’s best and brightest in a public-private partnership of ideas and new programs.
Respectfully, the entrepreneurs in New Orleans who are creating a burgeoning mecca of sorts for new businesses and startups have done so with absolutely no programs, partnerships or participation of any kind by the city government. They’re there because it’s an interesting place to live, because the government which had been in everyone’s pocket for decades driving job-creators to the suburbs was dysfunctional and unable to continue its petty tyranny at normal rates and because the federal government created an “enterprise zone” in which business investment found favorable tax conditions in New Orleans.
Those entrepreneurs are doing more to resurrect the economy of that city than any billion-dollar government program could ever do, and all they really require is for Landrieu and his minions to leave them alone. Catch criminals, pick up the trash, pave a street or two and keep the water pumps working – do those things well, which the city government hasn’t done in generations, and leave the rest to the people of the city, and you’ll wake up someday and realize you’re a legendarily successful mayor because of the exploits of the private sector you got out of the way of.
Well-meaning business people who want to effect social change or help their fellow man are completely capable of doing so with zero partnership or assistance from government. Typically they need government not to interfere and that’s all. But Brown’s model would have Landrieu play Busybody-In-Chief in New Orleans rather than stick to the handful of major city services which are his duty to provide, and that’s a recipe for another failed mayor.
Landrieu’s record and campaign statements indicate he’s likely to follow Brown’s advice and be that charismatic movie mayor. If he does, he’s likely to reap the final scene of City Hall. Rather than put himself in such a position Landrieu would do better to focus on the basics and do them well; New Orleans has had more than enough big government screwing things up to last it for the next four years.