A Mayoral Shift In Louisiana

The new mayor of Lake Charles took office over the weekend and residents of New Orleans will finally find out this fall who will become their next mayor.

Baton Rouge, meanwhile, saw a new mayor-president sworn in just six months ago, in January, and Lafayette experienced the same electoral shift a year prior, at the start of 2016. Plus another new mayor took her seat in Shreveport 13 months earlier, at the close of 2014.

It you’re not recognizing a pattern yet, then mentally plot these political changeovers on a map.

Lake Charles… New Orleans… Baton Rouge… Lafayette… Shreveport…

Hopefully you can visualize five of Louisiana’s six largest cities now, each representing a significant portion of the Bayou State’s beating heart. There’s fresh leadership in all of these cities today. But what’s truly impressive is that the new mayors were elected during the past two and a half years.

That's all to say that they could collectively create an important mile marker in Louisiana politics. Time will tell. We do know that together they have already replaced institutional names in their regions and individually promised new ways of governing.

This should have been a noteworthy transition of municipal power, especially given the turf covered. But the storyline has somehow slipped past the prognosticators since December 2014, when Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler succeeded former and current state Rep. Cedric Glover.

Tyler’s brief term was supposed to be marked by an outsider’s touch and influenced by someone who wasn't entrenched in the courthouse politics of yesteryear. Instead she has been burned by local editorials questioning her leadership, a defamation suit that has been dismissed and growing criticisms about crime. (The latter at least is something most modern mayors can relate to these days.)

After that former state Rep. Joel Robideaux replaced Joey Durel as mayor-president of Lafayette Parish. With a year now behind him, Robideaux is faced with a perilous budget situation and he's asking residents to help generate ideas to increase revenue.

As the only other African-American woman elected from this crop of politicos, former state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome took over the mantle of East Baton Rouge mayor-president from Kip Holden. Like many newcomers, she inherited a bit of a mess — a city plagued by racial tension, disrupted by last year’s floods and disheartened by a string of police-involved shootings.

Broome’s biggest test, however, is yet to come. With the federal government backing away from the shooting death of Alton Sterling, local and national advocates are now waiting on the state to complete its investigation. When the time comes for that final announcement, a voice of reason will be needed.

Most recently, Nic Hunter was sworn in as the new mayor of Lake Charles on July 1. He replaces longtime, popular Mayor Randy Roach, but has already made his own mark in some ways. Hunter is the first Republican ever elected mayor in Lake Charles and, at age 33, is also the second youngest politician ever elevated to the position.

Finally, there’s New Orleans, which will elect its next mayor either on the Oct. 14 ballot or, as needed, during the Nov. 18 runoff. It’s likely to be the hottest election hosted in Louisiana this year and, since it’s a city that lives in the imagination of the word, the contest should produce a touch of national press coverage.

At the Essence Festival this past weekend, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu refused to view his exit as bittersweet. "No, I'm all sweet," Landrieu said, according to The Times-Picayune.

Landrieu’s supporters may buy that line, but there will likely be a handful of candidates running against the mayor’s record this summer and fall. It’s practically formulaic. All of the new mayors elected to represent Louisiana’s largest cities over the past two and half years vowed fresh approaches.

So what’s the big picture? Are there any ties that bind? Is there a collective breeze of municipal hope flowing through Louisiana?

Right now it’s difficult to judge. A particular mayor’s impact is best gauged from the perspective of a decade or more out from their final term.

Yet from a political perspective, it’s worth pointing out that only one of these mayoral seats was turned. Hunter, a Republican, snagged a seat that was previously held by a Democrat. In doing so Hunter likewise flipped an important Louisiana city that supported both Hillary Clinton and Foster Campbell in 2016.

For donors and party faithfuls, that’s the kind of takeaway that’s definitely worthy of remembering. After all, the benches from which both parties can pull from for candidates for higher office have always been filled with mayors. And they still are; only the faces are different.

It will be interesting to learn in the coming years whether this wave of new mayors in Louisiana is creating any kind of novel policy changes or altering local governing norms. That would certainly be nice to learn — and it’s a much better topic of discussion than rehashing just more of the same, which we’ve already experienced plenty enough of in this state.

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