On the first day of New Orleans’ first white mayor in 32 years, City Hall felt remarkably free of the racial tension that for the past five years has become as much of a fixture in the building as the faux tiles on the walls spelling out the city’s street names. Far from the race riots predicted by former recovery czar Ed Blakely, Day One felt like the family reunion of a very excitable (and very well-dressed) extended clan.
But was the show of multiracial unity more than just a photo op?
If you ask WBOK-AM radio talk show host Gerod Stevens, the answer is a highly qualified yes.
Reached by telephone Monday afternoon, the host of a political talk show catering to the city’s African-American population said he liked what he heard from Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and he hasn’t heard from anyone who felt significantly differently.
“He did a great job,” Stevens said. “People were able to walk away with hope that they elected someone who can mend some broken hearts, and a city that has so much potential to be great.”
That hope is warranted, he said.
“Ninety percent of decision-making comes down to relationships,” he said. “Landrieu has a finesse with relationships.”
The radio personality admitted that he, like many New Orleanians, judging by the applause, was moved by a sentence in Landrieu’s inaugural address that mentioned residents of poor neighborhoods such as Pensiontown and Gert Town as neighbors to those in wealthier enclaves. “I like that he recognized that every part of New Orleans needs economic development,” he said.
Stevens was quick to add that the optimism will of course erode if Landrieu doesn’t make good on his promises.
“There is going to be a honeymoon period, and if you deliver, that is the difference between an OK mayor and a great mayor,” he said.
Stevens hosted former Mayor Ray Nagin most Thursdays on his morning drive-time show, often playing moderator to conversations with thinly veiled racial overtones. One such memorable discussion took place between Nagin and his police Superintendent Warren Riley about what they contended was a “shadow government.” Stevens said that he sees no signs of racially motivated opposition to Landrieu.
“There was no one saying ‘This isn’t right’” he said. “There were no Black Panthers standing on the sidelines saying, ‘Down with the white mayor.’ ”
Stevens will be discussing the inauguration and fielding questions on the mayor Tuesday morning.