We don’t know yet what next year’s Tricentennial celebration will be like, but there will be one peculiarity. In a sense we will have two mayors for the first four months of the year. The official mayor will still be Mitch Landrieu, though some will argue that he should have left office in January. The unofficial chief executive will be the mayor-elect, who will have to wait from November (assuming there is a runoff) until May before taking the oath.
All this came about because of a change in the election law, approved by the voters, which forwarded the city’s elections from next February and March to October/November of this year. The reason, advanced by well-intended people such as the League of Women voters, was that February had too many distractions. That would include two of the biggest diversions known to humanity – Mardi Gras and football. Case in point was Saturday, Feb. 5, 2010, when Mitch Landrieu was first elected mayor. That also happened to be the first day of that year’s Carnival parade season and the day before the Saints played in the Superbowl. (In retrospect, since Carnival’s date is movable it will not often coincide with the election, although we should always anticipate for the Saints to be in the Superbowl.)
When the change was made it was expected that the term of the new mayor would begin in January rather than the first of May, the traditional swearing in day for someone elected in February. But wait, there was a problem. Landrieu insisted that he wanted to be mayor for at least part of the Tricentennial year. As finalized the law keeps the inauguration in May rather than January. Landrieu would get his full term. The new mayor would be shafted by four months.
So too, theoretically at least, would the people be shortchanged because extended lame duck periods are not good for governance, especially when there is uncertainty about who should be in charge.
It may be that Landrieu will set a modern record for lame duck time served by a chief executive. Even the President of the United States, who has to build a national administration, has a shorter time. The national Election Day is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. (The technical real Election Day is in December when the Electoral College casts in votes.) Either way, the inauguration day is usually (depending on Sundays) Jan. 20, so there are fewer than three months to prepare for the most powerful job in the world. In parliamentary systems the Prime Minster’s job can shift in a matter of days. In England, a newly selected PM can take charge even before movers have a chance to haul stuff from 10 Downing St. (Governing New Orleans is no doubt a formidable task, but not so much as steering all of Great Britain.)
This raises issues beyond who gets to toast the Tricentennial. For example, there is crime. One of the most important decisions a mayor makes is to appoint a police chief. What if the new mayor wants a new chief, or wants to make structural changes. Will there have to be a four- month wait?
Once a person has won an election they want to start governing as soon as possible. That’s what they fought for and what the people expect. Besides, without the burdens of office, Mitch Landrieu could have had more time to enjoy the Tricentennial.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), is available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.