He will be the Mayor of New Orleans when the city celebrates it's 300th birthday, and in addition to creating new programs to fight crime, bring in jobs and tourism dollars, and being named the second Vice President of the US Conference of Mayors, Mayor Landrieu made major waves today when he suggested that it is time to reevaluate some of our monuments - in particular, the statue of Civil War General Robert E. Lee in the circle that bears his name.
There were many calls, comments and texts today about renaming Lee Circle and removing the statue, some for, some against. We were very pleased to have the Mayor make a timely visit to us here in studio so we could ask him - why this? Why now?
"The Confederate Flag is the issue of the day in South Carolina and Alabama," he replied, "But also in New Orleans, we have to ask the question - is the most prominent circle in the city aptly named in a way that reflects who we are historically? The answer is no, because it was originally Tivoli Circle, before it was ever Lee Circle, and some people don't even know that."
"Secondly, does it really reflect who we are today? Does it really revere diversity? Does it think about culture? No, it talks about war. Does it talk about unity? No, it talks about division. So I just raised the question today - does Lee Circle, or the statue of Jefferson Davis reflect who New Orleans is historically as a people and who we want to be in the future? I think the answer is no."
Many callers today said we can't deny our history. Is that what this is?
"First of all, we need to remember our history correctly, and Robert E. Lee only represents a very small portion of our history in a very narrow periods of time. It doesn't reflect the originaly history or authenticity or the breadth of diversity of New Orleans. Secondly, even for those people who think he does, the question is not whether you preserve history, but where is the appropriate place to do it?"
"What's the thing that sets us apart from everybody else in the world? It's our culture, our music, our food - not our generals. To that the extent that we want to preserve those things, there's always a wonderful place to preserve the history as we need to remember it - that's in a museum. It doesn't need to be in one of the most prominent circles in the city."
To hear the rest of our interview, just click the link below.
We've been talking about the need for $88 million dollars to open the new teaching hospital in New Orleans. Well, not only has the state not found the $88 million, now it says it will have to find an additional $25 million in funds before the state-of-the-art billion dollar hospital can open its doors.
The new medical center was a vision crafted by many minds over the last 20 years - a teaching facility that would spawn medical industry and, along with the new VA Hospital, would create a regional medical corridor much like what Birmingham and Houston have done before us.
The vision was well on the way to becoming a reality when the newly-hired management company, LCMC Health, said the state needed to come up with that $88 million in operating money, and that if it didnt, they'd have to "reconsider their position."
So now that decades-old vision is becoming a little blurry, and with this latest news about the extra $25 million... this is just very discouraging.
Can the state legislature actually let this billion dollar building fail? Will legislators come up with some of the money and just say "give it your best shot?" Open the doors but not with the vision of excellence once planned?
Or could it be possible that LCMC would want nothing to do with an operation that won't be funded as promised, and simply walk away? They have every right to do so.
Then what would we be left with? A $1.1 billion dollar building, sitting shiny and new between Canal and Tulane with nobody to run it, with doctors and nurses who might have wanted to work there looking elsewhere, with medical specialists and scientists who might have seen New Orleans as a place of true progress making a U-Turn out of the Big Easy?
That is heartbreaking.
As usual, I wanted to talk with the man we always do about what it is going to take to right the ship and not embarrass the hell out of ourselves, so I brought State Treasurer John Kennedy into the studio hoping he could walk me back from being so upset.
"It should upset you!" he said right away. "It upsets all of us, but we're gonna fix it. I'm very confident. I'm not gonna kid you, I'm not sure where the money will come from. I have some ideas but I'm very confident the legislature will not insult taxpayers and destroy our health-care delivery system by not opening a beautiful facility after taxpayers have spent $1.2 billion dollars building it!"
To listen to the entire conversation, just click the link below.
Ten years after the storm, we know New Orleans is changing, growing with new people and with those who lived here once and continue to come home.
There is a great sense of progress post-Katrina, but is that progress taking a little bit away from what makes our neighborhoods unique? What makes our city so special that the whole world wants to come and visit?
Today we talked about part of that progress - gentrification. What is it? How does it impact neighborhoods and those who have lived in one place for decades? Are they being priced out?
And those who have just arrived - will they change the culture of the neighborhood and is that a bad thing?
We have talked a lot here about the changes happening in some neighborhoods with home prices and rents that have skyrocketed. Is gentrification a dirty word or is it the salvation of declining places?
To help understand this complex topic I invited City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and the Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Urban Studies at UNO, Dr. Renia Ehrenfeucht.
Dr. Renia Ehrenfeucht said that gentrification is hard to define but the most obvious signs are "changing real estate prices, rents, property values and incomes of people living in neighborhoods. Unfortunately, more often, people come in with higher incomes but that doesn't mean people that have lived there have more resources, better jobs and more money. Many of our poor neighborhoods suffered through periods of disinvestment as a result of former housing policies that privileged suburbanization, and some neighborhoods were ignored while others received a lot of investment. And now people are moving back and starting this process of neighborhood change."
She continued "Although gentrifiers can be white, African-American, Asian-American, in many cases what we are seeing is formerly African-American neighborhoods having many more white residents coming in. That's where we start asking these questions about who is benefitting, is someone going to be harmed or displaced because of that, is the culture of the neighborhood going to change?"
But if our neighborhoods are more integrated, isn't that a good thing? Don't we want that?
"Of course we do," said Councilwoman Cantrell. "That is the fabric of the city of New Orleans, not only our neighborhoods but the diversity of them. As we revelop them - and I really believe there is a difference between gentrification and redevelopment - when we are reveloping them, we are transforming them for everyone, not pricing people out but building the community with the same values and assets that are present."
It's a fascinating and important conversation for our city; you can hear the rest of it by clicking the link below.
Ronal Serpas was named Chief of New Orleans Police in 2010. His vision--to modernize the department, to accomplish the mandates of the federal consent decree and to build up his force of 1,540 officers.
Serpas was gone in four years…his force down to around 1,100…crime on the way up…and questions about who really was in charge of the NOPD.
An investigative report by WWL-TV’s Michael Pearlstein raises an even bigger question--was NOPD’s manpower crisis created by the police department or politicians who govern it? Then, the follow-up--is the question really that simple, or do circumstances get in the way?
Emails retrieved from Perlstein through public records requests reveal former NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas warned that the NOPD would become an almost entirely “reactive” police department. Serpas warned the city about personnel shortages in the sex crimes unit, slower response times and inadequate French Quarter patrols, due to budget cuts. At risk-- public safety, integrity and transparency.
Did warnings fall on deaf ears, or did the sins of the past administration…a budget crisis… prevent this administration from acting on Serpas’ calls to action?
We went in-depth about this issue with: Raphael Goyeneche (President, Metropolitan Crime Commission), Captain Michael Glasser (President, Police Association of New Orleans); Attorney Donovan Livaccari (Fraternal Order of Police) …Michael Perlstein (investigative reporter, WWL-TV) and Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
The battle between the City of New Orleans and the fire fighters union is heating up.
After four options to salvage the firefighters’ pension were rejected by the New Orleans Firefighters Association and retirement system representatives…word is the city will go the route of the legislature and courts.
None of this is easy. It’s been a battle with twists and turns involving millions of dollars. And, still there are crucial questions.
Has the city not paid into the system as it was supposed to?
Is the pension fund in such a sorry state because of bad investments and too generous benefits over decades?
The answer to both those questions is yes.
But, the issue is not who is right or wrong, but how both sides can do the right thing to fix a pension system that cannot be sustained.
This is not an intellectual debate just affecting firefighters and the mayor. It is important to all of us who pay taxes. This is about our money…lots of it.
Unfortunately, this may be a case where no one is a winner.
This is not an intellectual debate just affecting firefighters and the mayor. It affects us systemically & emotionally. It challenges our trust. As New Orleans faces a police shortage & public safety challenges, the last thing we need is tension with other vital civil servants.
It is also about money…our money…lots of it. This is important to all of us who pay taxes.
To hear Angela's conversation with Firefighters Union President Nick Felton, click the link below
Have you ever been driving down a street in New Orleans when a person on a bike crosses lanes right in front of you - no signal, no warning - just making a turn as if they owned the whole street?
Or have you ever been on a bike in your marked bike lane, when a car comes whizzing by you at high speed and comes within inches of hitting you - as if you're not even there?
Both these scenarios play out in the Crescent City all too often.
There are many more people using the road on bikes since Katrina and there has been a concerted effor by the city to make the roads safer for them. But cyclists often say motorists don't honor their space, and motorists say often say cyclists don't follow the law.
Cars and bikes must co-exist on the road but there are plenty of issues to sort out. Some drivers just don't want to share the road, and some of our old streets just aren't very wide anyway. But I have myself observed cyclists not obeying the simplest of laws, like riding the wrong direction or blowing through stop signs.
The solution is in educating all the users of the road in regard to the laws on the books and making sure that people - all people - are following the rules.
Joining me in studio today to discuss these matters were Dan Farve, the recently anointed Executive Director of Bike Easy, a bicycle advocacy group, Dan Jatres from the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission and bicycle accident attorney Charlie Thomas.
I asked - what is the temptation for cyclists to ride against traffic? Does that make them feel safer?
"It feels safer to see the car, but that really is just a perception. You're truly putting yourself in an unexpected location when you ride against traffic, so you're making yourself harder to see to the people driving cars on that road," Mr. Jatres told me.
"The highest percentage of wrecks are occuring with riders going against traffic - you're much more safe riding with traffic than against it," Mr. Thomas chimed in.
We took a call from a listener early on and I think a lot of people wonder this: what studies are done to determine where bike lanes get put in?
"Ultimately, those decisions are made by the City's Department of Public Works - the bike lane is the most visible change, so most people conclude that it was done just for the bike lane, but there are a whole variety of factors that go into it. On Esplanade, for example, there are a lot of different land uses that create an environment where people are riding, driving and walking. The decision was - how do you make this street safer and easier to use for everyone, not just bikes. The change was made for the betterment of all users on that road," Mr. Jatres continued.
To listen to the rest of the interview and make sure you have the facts no matter how you get around, click the link below.
He is working hard as the House Majority Whip and the third highest ranking Congressional leader. Steve Scalise's job in Washington is part diplomat and part cajoler with maybe a touch of arm twisting, but the goal is always the same - to get the GOP platform moving forward.
He was a special guest several months ago and today he is back with an update. Here's a few imporant highlights for you but as always we have made the full interview available as a podcast, and you can just click the link at the bottom of this blog to hear it.
Is fulfilling your job as Majroity Whip harder than you thought it would be?
"There are many complications to it... especially since we've got the largest House majority on the Republican side since the 1930's. So in some cases you might think its easy to get 218 votes when you have 245 Republicans, but in many ways it is more complicated... everybody thinks they are a free agent so getting to 218 is sometimes a challenge but we've been able to do it on some really important legislation, including this budget which we just finished up out of the House a few weeks ago.
What are your thoughts on Iran?
"When you look at Iran and their intentions, they not only want to get a nuclear weapon but what do they want to use it for? They've made it very clear that they want to eviscerate Israel from the face of the Earth... this is a sworn enemy of the United States and our strongest ally in that region in Israel. I think the President went the wrong way, because this deal does not require Iran to get rid of their nuclear weapons program. They get to keep over 6,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium, and even the President acknowledged yesterday, if Iran abided by every term of this deal, they'd be less than a year away at its expiration from developing a nuclear weapon. Not only is that bad for America and Israel, it would start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and that's the last thing we want to see happen."
How about Obamacare?
"You see costs going up, you see access being more limited. In our budget we call for the repeal of Obamacare... we're expecting by June that the Supreme Court will announce a decision on it. If they go the right way and say the President can't do what he's doing, it will blow a major hole in the President's health care law, and what we've done is begun working to come up with an alternative to solve this problem using free market approaches, like letting patients decide their own healthcare and not having governement beaurocrats in Washington say you can't buy this, you have to buy that."
It was an enlightening interview with a powerful man in Washington. Click the link below to hear the rest!
Do you know what the budget for the Louisiana Department of Corrections is?
Between $600 and $700 million dollars every year. And that figure only includes state prisons - it does not account for local jails, or courts or police. Just state prisons. $700 million. That's $150 million more dollars than we spend on the entire LSU system.
The news right now is full of headlines about draconian cuts to higher education, and to learn that we spend more on state prisons than state universities is disturbing.
So as we are looking at ways to fill a $1.6 billion dollar deficit, some have suggested that we look for savings in the Department of Corrections, and closely inspect the amount of money Louisiana spends every year on elderly and sick state prisoners. There are thousands of them, and their shelter and medical costs add up quickly.
One person suggesting that we might be able to alleviate some of our budget woes by reform this system is Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU. She joined me on "An Open Mind" today to discuss her idea, and she was joined by none other than Angola warden Burl Cain, who so happens to be the longest-serving warden in the entire United States.
I had looked at some studies that showed prisoners older than 55 are generally no longer a threat to society. So I asked Mr. Cain - does that comport with reality?
"That's true," he said. "Because you're getting too old and you're just not going to be doing the crimes you did when you were young. Many times, by then, you've settled down and your life has changed and that's just not what you do anymore. There are always a few exceptions, but they are very very few."
"Once prisoners reach 55 years old, the recidivism rate drops to about one percent," Esman chimed in. "That's essentially nothing. What we're doing is locking people up forever - incarcerating them until they die - when we know that for entire decades, they are not likely to do any harm."
It's a fascinating conversation about a very important problem we are facing in this state. We talked at length about what other states are doing, what the resistance is to sentencing reform, other areas we can cut back, and more. I even asked Warden Cain about talk that he might be interested in running for Governor. You can listen to the entire interview by clicking the link below.
Ben Watson has spent 11 years in the NFL, winning two Super Bowl rings with the Patriots, then playing with the Cleveland Browns before putting on #82 for the New Orleans Saints. But there is so much more to Ben than just being a tight end.
Shortly after the NFL Ray Rice controversy, I heard Ben speak at a domestic violence event, saying loudly and clearly that any kind of abuse is unacceptable. And within 24 hours of the Ferguson grand jury resolution, Ben wrote his thoughts on Facebook, and they quickly went viral, elevating his status as a serious thinker and a spiritual learner.
Ben is a veteran football player but he is also a very proud husband and father of four (soon to be five!) children, and perhaps most importantly, he is a man of God, and that is the message in all that he does.
Ben was our guest on "An Open Mind" this afternoon and I know you're going to love hearing what he has to say, not just about football and the Saints, but about race, family and spirituality in 21st century America.
To hear my full interview with Mr. Watson, click the link below.
As the Saints make whirlwind trades and acquisitions preparing for a new season of football behind the scenes... the back and forth legal maneuvers splashed across TV, radio and dot-coms continue. The billion dollar question--who will ultimately own the teams?
Three psychiatrists completed their examinations of Tom Benson. Will they find him competent to decide who he leaves his empire to? Or, will they reveal that the patriarch of New Orleans’ first family could have been manipulated to change his mind leaving the Saints to his wife… not his daughter and grandchildren?
Tom Benson has only been seen publicly once since he sent his daughter Renee and grandchildren, Rita and Ryan a letter cutting them out of his life saying they would be financially taken care of, but would not be part of any of his business holdings, including the Saints and Pelicans.
That letter started the legal gamesmanship that we Saints fans are watching with both fascination and concern.
But one man, who had access to Tom Benson for almost a week, is New York Times journalist Ken Belson. He’s a sports reporter who writes about the business of sports. Belson recently filed a report about what’s happening off the field.
At 3pm today, Ken Belson was our guest with attorney & legal analyst Tim Meche. Our hope was to gain insights into the psyche of Tom Benson as he & his family are locked in an inheritance dispute. And, to get a greater understanding about what the latest legal moves mean in what may be the saddest game in Saints history.