Jun 29, 200910:01 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
Errol Laborde: An attempt to undermine the Master Plan
A bad bill was defeated, but it was so damn close
SOME QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I am one of those people who gets emotional about New Orleans. I rejoice at the triumphs and mourn the setbacks. Right now I would be dressed in black had a dreadful bill passed the legislature.
Known as Senate Bill 75, the proposal, introduced by State Senator Ed Murray, whose district, by the way, I live in, would have in effect undermined the triumph on the Master Plans that was passed by voters last year.
As originally approved, a professional urban planning firm, Goody Clancy and Associates, will hold a series of public hearings. After that, the firm will propose a citywide Master Plan that will have to be approved by the city council before becoming law. Once approved, there will be rational guidelines for development. Best of all, the process will be de-politicized, thereby weakening the stroke of politically connected developers and deal-making politicians.
SB 75 would have called for the final plan to be put before the voters again for approval, but that would have just politicized the process and given those whose power is threatened by the plan one more chance to try to defeat it.
WHY WAS THIS PRESENTED AS A RACIAL ISSUE?
Because the real motivations behind the bill, control and greed, do not play well in the public arena. We see many examples in political life of people who feel their power base threatened resorting to race baiting as a way of maintaining the division needed to stay in control.
BUT ISN'T THERE A CHANCE THAT LOCAL WHITES WILL USE THE PLAN AS A WAY OF BULLDOZING THEIR WAY OVER THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE BLACK COMMUNITY?
No. First of all, the final plan has to be approved by the city council. All council members (including the two at larges) represent significant black populations that are either in the majority or that are large enough to be powerful swing votes.
Secondly, such an argument is condescending to blacks as though they will not make their voices heard.
Thirdly, such an argument is condescending to whites who choose to live in the city. They understand, and in many cases, desire multi-cultural communities. There is an underestimated sense of decency among those of both races who want a better life for all people.
Finally, Goody Clancy, the firm that will submit the plan after a series of public hearings, is not naive or uninformed about urban issues and sensitivities. Its planners know more about cities and how they tick than most of us do. The company's national reputation, as well as local community standards, will not allow for a race-driven plan.
WHO WERE THE HEROES IN LOBBYING TO DEFEAT THE BILL?
Three council members: Jackie Clarkson, Stacey Head and Shelley Midura, spent much time going to Baton Rouge speaking against the proposal. Even Ray Nagin and his administration deserve credit for making the case that the proposed legislation violated the city charter. City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields personally advanced that argument before a legislative committee. In an announcement sent out by Clarkson last week, she also thanked members of the city planning commission, the Business Council, the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors, the Home Builders Association, AARP Louisiana, the Preservation Resource Center, the Bureau of Governmental Research, the Downtown Development District and her staff.
As a citizen I thank them all too - as well as those local legislators who fought to block the bill. They protected one of the most important pieces of legislation in the city's history.
WHO WERE THE DISAPPOINTMENTS?
Most of the legislators who pushed for the bill were the usual suspects (it was introduced in the House by Cedric Richmond.) Many people, I suspect, were especially disappointed in Murray, who has a reputation as being one of the bright lights in the legislature - both smart and progressive. He may say that he was representing the best interests of his district, but as a constituent of his, I for one was never asked, nor were any of my neighbors that I am aware of. He may say that by calling for an extra vote he was championing the democratic process, but he is smart enough to know that his bill was a way to forever kill the Master Plan.
To his credit, Murray, who says that he intends to run for mayor, did help finalize the Saints deal during the session and there were no doubt many other examples of good works, but SB 75 is something that will be remembered.
WILL THERE BE ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO DRAG DOWN THE MASTER PLAN IN THE UPCOMING CITY ELECTIONS?
Possibly, but if so, the only way it can possibly succeed is to play the race card AGAIN. Here's hoping that the next election will be the one in which the political obstructionists learn that the city's voters, black and white, are smarter than they think.
Let us know what you think. Any comments about this article? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. For the subject line use MASTER PLAN. All responses are subject to being published, as edited, in this newsletter. Please include your name and location.
Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival - Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via e- mail at email@example.com or (504) 895-2266.