Louisiana Gov.-elect Jeff Landry has assembled a team of 27 New Orleans area business, political and community leaders to provide him with New Orleans-specific policy and legislative proposals as he prepares to take office in January.
After winning Louisiana’s jungle primary outright in October, Landry announced he was creating a series of special advisory councils to recommend policies for his administration. While most tackle broad issues such as health care, Orleans is the only parish that Landry has singled out for special attention.
Landry made crime his top issue as a candidate. His commercials and statements often featured crime scenes in New Orleans to illustrate his point.
The New Orleans committee held its first meeting Wednesday, Nov. 8, with at least two more meetings scheduled. According to Landry, meetings will be private, but the committee will release public reports with their recommendations.
On one level, it makes sense for an incoming governor to have policy and legislative proposals specific to New Orleans. The city is a major economic driver in Louisiana, and New Orleans has its own set of unique circumstances and problems. That makes a tailored approach sensible.
Notably absent from the committee, however, were Mayor LaToya Cantrell, City Council President JP Morrell, Sheriff Susan Hutson, District Attorney Jason Williams and new New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Anne Kirkpatrick. Indeed, only one elected official from the city, state Sen. Royce Duplessis, is on the committee.
In a 2022 interview with Tucker Carlson, Landry said New Orleans “is being run like a Third World country.” He warned he would use the executive branch’s immense authority in Louisiana to force the city to implement his preferred policies.
“We have one of the most powerful executive [branches] in the country. The governor is extremely powerful. He has the ability to bend that city to his will. [Current Gov. John Bel Edwards] just doesn’t … but we will,” Landry said in one of his first policy pronouncements as a candidate.
“Instead, criminals are allowed to plead down to a lesser offense and serve less jail time. As a result, the lawbreakers are back on the streets sooner — committing crimes — instead of serving the time they deserve,” the site reads. “Jeff Landry will work to hold these district attorneys accountable when they fail to do their jobs.”
While Landry and his allies say he has no intentions of taking over New Orleans, his campaign rhetoric — combined with the lack of local elected representation on the New Orleans committee — has all the hallmarks of efforts by conservative Republicans elsewhere in America to wrest local control from majority-Black cities and Black-led communities.
“It’s anti-democracy, sets a dangerous precedent and smacks of racism,” said Shawyn Patterson-Howard, who is the mayor of Mount Vernon, New York, and president of the African American Mayors Association.
In April, Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed legislation expanding state police jurisdiction in Jackson, a majority-Black city whose mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, is Black. The bill, which is currently being challenged, would also grant the state more control over the city’s judicial system. It’s Mississippi Republicans’ latest measure curtailing the capital city’s home rule authority.
“Republicans run on small government … and yet when it comes to cities run by Black mayors, they’re for big government overreach. It’s just that simple,” Patterson-Howard said.
Each of those GOP power grabs in majority-Black cities occurred after a sustained public relations push by Republican state leaders who used crime statistics to paint the targeted cities as lawless and fundamentally unsafe.
More than a dozen state legislatures have proposed or enacted bills targeting majority-Black and Black-led communities, often citing public safety concerns. As Patterson-Howard pointed out in an interview with Gambit, the power grabs aren’t isolated efforts.
She argued these power grabs are part of a broader effort by conservatives to curb progressive policymaking at the local level. According to a U.S. Conference of Mayors-sponsored study, state-level Republicans have targeted cities for a variety of reasons — including environmental standards, gun safety rules, ride-sharing regulations, minimum-wage rates, and even municipal broadband initiatives.
Progressive district attorneys also have faced recall petitions and saw state lawmakers reduce their prosecutorial authority and discretion.
A year before DeSantis ousted Worrell, he removed Tampa District Attorney Andrew Warren, a Democrat, after Warren said he wouldn’t prosecute providers of abortions or gender-affirming care to transgender people, even though state laws banned both. The Florida Supreme Court upheld that decision.
“Cities that have progressive-leaning leadership are at the mercy of conservative legislatures,” Patterson-Howard said.
New Orleans committee member Austin Badon, the former clerk of First City Court and a former state lawmaker from New Orleans East, said the transition council’s first meeting focused primarily on crime and public safety — with a wide-ranging definition of that topic.
Badon said the committee discussed getting state agencies, like the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Department of Alcohol and Tobacco and the Department of Revenue, to be “more active” in the city. Particularly, he said, they talked about using state agencies to help crack down on unlicensed vendors throughout the city.
The debate about street vending, a longstanding tradition in New Orleans, has come to a head this year, with several enforcement sweeps in areas such as the French Quarter and along the St. Claude Avenue corridor. Many smaller street food vendors say they can’t afford city permits, which require — for health and safety reasons — either partnering with a bar or restaurant to operate out of their kitchen or renting commercial kitchen space.
When asked if the committee considered solutions for making it easier for street vendors to get licensed, Badon took a hardline stance. “No, the rules are in place for a reason,” he said. “If you can’t play by the rules, then you can’t play.”
“Unfortunately, in our city, it’s just been allowed to go on for too long,” he added. “We have to put a stop to the just rampant lawlessness.”
Badon, a Black Democrat who worked on Landry’s campaign, said the committee talked about possible tax, housing and education incentives to recruit law enforcement officers. The committee also talked about the impact of the federal consent decree that has governed the NOPD for more than a decade.
Badon also said committee members brought up what he described as the need for parents to “step up” and “do a better job of raising their children” to prevent juvenile crime. “If they don’t do it, the state is going to do it,” Badon said.
Badon gave no specifics on how the state would get parents to do that, nor did he mention factors such as poverty and incarceration that make it difficult for some parents to spend time with their children.
Additionally, the committee discussed New Orleans’ unhoused population. The city is currently in the process of a massive effort to block off encampments and relocate people living there to subsidized apartments.
Badon said he always thought the state Department of Transportation and Development should “do a better job of maintaining their right of ways” and do more to make sure unhoused people are not living under bridges and overpasses.
He added that “enhancing medical facilities” and funding for the Louisiana Housing Corporation, the state’s housing office, were part of the discussion.
Though the New Orleans committee ostensibly is focused on crime, Landry appointed no city law enforcement officials or judges as members.
Instead, Landry tapped Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto, former Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and Cannizzaro’s daughter Laura Rodrigue, who is an attorney for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and served as lead attorney for the failed Cantrell recall campaign. He also included businessman Rick Farrell, the recall campaign’s primary funder.
Lopinto told Gambit he believes he was consulted because his department helps provide law enforcement officers for special events in New Orleans.
Badon told Gambit he and Landry discussed crime in a one-on-one meeting prior to the formation of the transition council.
“Specifically, it was in regards to the crime aspect where the mentality is more so on the rights of the perpetrators, as opposed to the rights and the wellbeing of the average citizen,” Badon said. “[Landry’s] concerned about that and this whole concept of catch and release that prevails. We gotta stop that.”
Badon said at the state level, Landry could direct some state law enforcement agencies to “help out in New Orleans.” In an emailed statement, Hecht cited “the Louisiana State Police, the Crime Lab, and the [federal] consent decree” as “ways the state can partner with the city for public safety.”
Lopinto said state police can improve technology and intelligence sharing between departments to help local police departments solve crimes. For example, he said he wants to speed up the processing of evidence in crime labs.
“I want to know what gun was used to commit a crime within five days, not within five years,” he said. “That gun is continued to be used in crimes until you get it off the street or until you make the arrest of the person that’s using it.”
The quicker they have evidence, the quicker they can make arrests, Lopinto said.
“My most famous statement is: We don’t prevent crime. We solve crime quickly to prevent the next crime from happening,” he said. “So what can we do to prevent the next crime from happening?”
Badon said Landry is planning to convene the Louisiana Legislature for a special session on crime “to address any loopholes in any crimes or make penalties tougher to make people think about the penalty before they commit the crime.”
Other issues Badon said he will bring up to the committee include rising property taxes and utility bills that are pricing people out of the city, as well as infrastructure woes, specifically a lack of upgrades to the interstates.
But he said he also wanted the committee to discuss positive things happening in the city, citing Delgado Community College’s expanded nursing school program and NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility campus in New Orleans East.
“We’re doing a lot of good stuff,” he said. “We need to talk about that and how we could enhance those things to bring more jobs and economic opportunities for people.”
Committee member Michael Hecht, president of GNO, Inc., said the state partnering with New Orleans on infrastructure, port expansion and marketing would also be “beneficial.”
Committee member Becket Becnel, a LaPlace attorney and New Orleans restaurant owner, said he believed crime contributed to the tourism slump this summer, mentioning District Attorney Williams in his comments about it.
“Is it solely because of the economy or is it also because of media reports about crime and issues with the district attorney?” Becnel said.
However, Becnel noted that Williams “has already [changed] his opinions on crime and multiple offenders in juvenile crime that obviously are working.” That comment was an apparent reference to Williams backtracking on his campaign promises never to prosecute juveniles as adults or use the state’s multiple offender law to impose longer prison sentences on repeat offenders.
While the committee is billed as being strictly crime related, given the first meeting’s wide-ranging discussions, it appears likely it will develop recommendations that overlap at a minimum with other regulatory issues in the city.
Anticipating a potential push beyond just supporting NOPD efforts to combat violent crime, Council Vice President Helena Moreno laid out a series of areas the city could use support from the state in a letter to Landry.
In her letter, Moreno thanked Landry for “demonstrating that New Orleans is a major priority to the incoming administration.” She wrote that she had “been contacted by many members of the committee” to provide them with possible policy proposals to help the city, noting in particular “ways the governor-elect could provide assistance via executive order along with long-term goals through state legislation.”
For instance, in public health and safety, Moreno said the state could help the city by launching a “statewide campaign to promote safe gun storage and promote [the] Louisiana Secure Storage Tax Credit,” modifying Medicaid provider rates to increase mental health and substance abuse assistance and appointing an Opioid Czar.
When asked if he thought power-stripping measures akin to those in Jackson could be on the table for New Orleans, committee member Michael Hecht, president of business and economic development group GNO Inc, said he wasn’t sure.
“I do not know,” he said. “That said, I expect a wide range of possibilities to be discussed.”
Badon was more specific after the first meeting. “It was discussed quite a bit,” he said. “The governor will never instill his will upon the city of New Orleans if the city does not want it. He is not going to come in and just run roughshod over the city if it’s not something that the city of New Orleans wants.”
Echoing that, Becnel, a Democrat, said neither the committee nor the governor would be giving the city “any ultimatums.”
“We are not going to try to tell the city how to run their city,” he said, “but we’re going to try to make sure that we give them input.”
Landry takes office on Jan. 8.
Governor-elect Jeff Landry’s New Orleans Transition Advisory Committee
Boysie Bollinger, shipping magnate and major GOP donor
Austin Badon, former New Orleans Clerk of First City Court and former state lawmaker, worked on Landry’s campaign
Becket Becnel, LaPlace attorney and New Orleans restaurant owner
Matt Bowers, local car dealership owner
Leon Cannizzaro, former Orleans Parish District Attorney and an assistant state attorney general under Landry
Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue, general counsel for Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, Bayou Mama Bears founder
John Casbon, businessman and founder of The New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation
Jim Cook, general manager of Sheraton Hotel
Ayame Dinkler, principal of Crane Strategies advisory firm
Jamie Dugan, trial lawyer at Dugan Law Firm
Royce Duplessis, Democratic state senator from New Orleans
Rick Farrell, local businessman and chief funder of the failed recall effort against Mayor LaToya Cantrell
Paul Flower, CEO of Woodward design and construction company, chairs Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region
Ron Forman, Audubon Nature Institute CEO
Kelisha Garrett, COO of the Louisiana Chamber of Commerce
Mike Hammer, owner of Pontchartrain Capital
Stan Harris, president of the Louisiana Restaurant Association
Michael Hecht, president of business and economic development group GNO Inc.
Cameron Henry, Republican state senator from Jefferson, whose district includes several Uptown New Orleans precincts
Walt Leger III, convention and visitors bureau New Orleans & Co. president
Joe Lopinto, Jefferson Parish sheriff
Jenny Mains, chief commercial officer at CRC Global Solutions in Kenner
Patrick Norton, Tulane senior vice president and COO
Paul Rainwater, consultant and lobbyist for the city of New Orleans and former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s then-chief of staff
Caroline Reily, registered officer for Aluminum Technologies
Greg Rusovich, shipping magnate and chairman of Louisiana Board of International Commerce