5) Tourism Growing Despite Economy
A report issued by local tourism groups shows that even as the national economy cut consumer spending in 2008, New Orleans saw more people visiting and spending money in the city. The total number of visitors in 2008 rose to 7.6 million, up by 500,000 people from 2007, though still below the pre-Katrina high of 8.5 million. The University of New Orleans Hospitality Research Center, which conducted the survey, reported that visitor spending was $5.1 billion last year, up from $4.8 billion a year before. Tourism officials say they have more convention business booked for 2009 than in 2008, and cite event-driven travel, such as festivals, sports and Mardi Gras, for helping keep leisure travelers coming.

4) City’s Bond Rating Improves
Bonds issued by the city of New Orleans are once again ranked as investment grade thanks to an update last week by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services. The agency listed the city’s bonds at below-investment grade since Katrina struck, and the change bodes well for the city’s chances of selling up to $80 million in bonds for planned infrastructure projects this year. Two other rating agencies, Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service, earlier affirmed their ratings of the city as investment grade.

3) Zurich Classic Draws Crowds, Confirms Sponsor

The lead supporter of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans extended its sponsorship of New Orleans’ PGA Tour event through 2014. The CEO of Zurich Financial Services announced the news during the pro golf event last week, which was greeted with relief at a time when the national economy has been impacting high-dollar sports sponsorships elsewhere. The tournament doubles as a fundraiser for local children’s charities through the Fore!Kids Foundation, the nonprofit that runs the Zurich Classic. The company, headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, has sponsored the event since 2005.

2) Pardon Sought for Corrupt City Councilman
Reports surfaced this week that Mayor Ray Nagin asked former President George W. Bush to grant a pardon to convicted former City Councilman Oliver Thomas. Thomas is serving a 37-month prison sentence for accepting bribes for city contracts while in office. Bush did not grant the pardon. A letter from Nagin to Bush seeking the pardon was found among a cache of the mayor’s e-mail messages obtained by WWL-TV. City Hall initially said the messages were deleted from computer servers but later produced them on court orders.

1) Poll Probes Mayoral Election Issues
Politicians and potential mayoral candidates have plenty to analyze in the results of a survey conducted by Tulane University and the nonprofit Democracy Corps, led by political strategist and Tulane professor James Carville. Some 72 percent of voters contacted for the survey said they think the city needs to move in a new direction, while two-thirds specifically disapprove of the job Mayor Ray Nagin is doing. The New Orleans City Council got a 52 percent approval rating. The survey was designed to give insight to next year’s mayoral election and revealed that while some racial divisions exist among voters, New Orleans is strongly united when it comes to identifying the city’s priority issues. Crime ranked as the top concern by far, followed by education, corruption in city government and job growth.

Ian McNulty is a freelance writer in New Orleans and contributing writer for New Orleans Magazine. Reach him at imcnulty@cox.net.