Sunday, February 17, 2008

Can-do spirit revives Big Easy ...

From an article by Robert Novak in the Chicago Sun-Times:

The imposing presence of Robert A. Cerasoli as the city's first inspector general is the clearest sign that changes wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were not limited to physical devastation. By declaring war on municipal corruption, Cerasoli has signaled that life in the Big Easy no longer will be so easy.

I spent two days here with Donald E. Powell, federal coordinator for Gulf Coast rebuilding. Physical reconstruction is slow, and the city never will regain its former size or appearance. But civic leaders I met agreed that law enforcement, criminal justice, education and health are better than before Katrina.

Louisiana politicians grumble that the flow of about $120 billion from Washington is insufficient, and they mourn for about 180,000 New Orleanians who have left the area. But that does not worry the rebuilders. ''We don't want to rebuild an old New Orleans,'' insurance executive and civic leader John Casbon told me. School reformer Sarah Usdin said improvement in schools "never would have happened'' save for the storm.

At the heart of the Katrina-inspired revival is a transformed mind-set in a city traditionally more interested in good times than good government. For the first time, New Orleans elites are concentrating on something other than Mardi Gras.

A sign of change that transcends federal dollars was the arrival last August of Cerasoli, the nation's foremost inspector general, who served 10 years as Massachusetts inspector general. ''I was amazed when I arrived to find that just about everybody I met had been the victim of a holdup,'' Cerasoli said. He wondered why crime was much more rampant in New Orleans than in Atlanta, a larger city with a smaller police force.

Cerasoli is working closely with U.S. Attorney Jim Letten to crack down on corruption. In a city whose good-time image belies the high murder rates and violent crime that preceded Katrina, the new local district attorney, Keva Landrum-Johnson, and police chief Warren Riley are bringing reform to the law enforcement system. As founder of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, Casbon has led business community pressure for reform in the district attorney's office.

This spirit of reform seems to have eluded re-elected Mayor Ray Nagin. He is not tarred with corruption in a city where his former possible successor, Councilman Oliver Thomas, last year pleaded guilty to taking bribes and 85 other officials have been convicted or indicted recently. But neither is Nagin considered a reformer at city hall. There, the new spirit is typified by City Council President Arnie Fielkow, elected in 2006 after running the New Orleans Saints' front office.


jbv's Competitive Edge 


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