New Orleans Politics – Cronies Continue to Thrive

New Orleans Politics – Cronies Continue to Thrive

New Orleans Historic French Market

New Orleans Politics – Cronies Thrive

The problems in New Orleans politics are many, well-documented, and in most cases attributable to the long-time political insiders of New Orleans’ Mayor Dejour! To name just a few we need look no further than the crime and corruption in the NOPD, the well-document issues at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), or other problems that had Bill O’Reilly and Geraldo Rivera calling anything outside the New Orleans French Quarter a wasteland.

History of French Market Corporation

However, if we look at the recent activities at the French Market Corporation, it should be obvious that the “cronies” and “good-ole boy insiders” continue to reign! It was formed as a non-profit in 1791 and is considered one of America’s oldest public markets.

The attraction for New Orleans “cronies” and “good-ole boy insiders” to the French Quarter Corporation should be obvious. It is in charge of the city-owned Upper Pontalba Building on St. Peter Street next to Jackson Square and the French Market. As you can imagine the list of tenants in its apartments and  retail outlets include a list of “who’s who” (or others related or in business with them) in the city. The French Market governing board, by law, includes three City Council members and nine mayoral appointees.

Now the picture of what’s really going on in the French Market Corporation becomes clearer. If you compare rents in the prime retail locations to privately owned properties just across Decatur Street, you shouldn’t be surprised to see rents double what the French Market charges. So, it’s not really a non-profit, it’s just a non-profit for the citizens of the City of New Orleans! All the profits are going to the insiders favored by the mayor and the select City Council persons.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Role

New Orleans Mayor Mitch LandrieuIt would seem the New Orleans politicians and Mayor Landrieu in particular would be shamed into making changes in the operation and make-up of the French Market Corporation. After the former director, Kenneth Ferdinand stepped down in 2010 amid allegations of misuse of company credit cards, there was a public outcry for greater overview of the agency.  Landrieu’s response was as expected, similar to those mayors before him. He selected Frank Pizzolato, a veteran of the automobile and mortgage business as his replacement. Though he admitted he had no experience with the French Market, he did profess a “passion for what the French Market was and what it can be again.” No experience, no problem – $110,000 salary!

Fast forward to December 2012 and Pizzolato tendered his resignation. Obviously keeping “cronies” and “good-ole boy insiders” happy had taken its toll. Perhaps his previous work for the state’s Road Home and hazard mitigation grant programs hadn’t prepared him for full-blown New Orleans politics at its finest.

So now, after a worldwide search for the most qualified person to run the French Market Corporation (no not really, just gather mostly a bunch of locals), the search committee has narrowed the field to four people. Are these candidates qualified – probably so. Will they make the French Market “all it can be” and return it to its glory days” (not sure when that was)? If history is any indication, it doesn’t look promising.

Driving Change One Vote at a Time

voteHow can we as citizens expect/demand more? Put all the records of the French Market Corporation online. Name the lease holders of the retail space and apartments available to the general public. Let everyone know what they are paying, the expiration dates, and how others can submit applications. Raise the rents to market rates and hold retail tenants accountable. It shouldn’t take months for someone to be evicted when they haven’t been paying their rent. As citizens, it’s time that we step up and hold our elected officials, particularly the mayor accountable for their actions. Just as what’s going on with the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board, the historic actions of the French Market Corporation are unconscionable and must be changed. And neither will be accomplished by giving more power to Mayor Landrieu.

Perhaps it’s time for an open, transparent form of government, truly accountable to the people? I realize it’s a strange concept for Louisiana and especially New Orleans, but together we can make it happen. I appreciate your thoughts………….

Ron G. Cheek, PhD

College Entrepreneurship Professor, Serial Entrepreneur, Social Media Expert, & True Lover of the State of Louisiana

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