Mitch Landrieu, President Biden’s Wingman on Infrastructure November 16, 2021
It’s about time! On 11/15/2021, President Joe Biden rightfully basked in a “y uu ge” victory, the second significant one of his not yet 10-month- old administration. On that date, on the White House South Lawn, Biden signed his BIF or Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework bill. On 3/11/2021, remember, Biden notched his first legislative triumph. That was the day he signed his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan which he helped push through a very divided Congress. That bill brought relief to our COVID-19 stricken nation. Even then, President Biden had to use his considerable legislative talents to get this legislation through Congress. Not one House or Senate GOPer voted for this bill to speed up economic recovery caused by this horrible pandemic. Biden had to cut funding in this bill to win conservative Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WVA) approval so that this legislation could pass the upper chamber (smartasset.com, 1/15/21, usadoday.com, Behrmann, King, et al, 3/06/21).
On 11/05/2021, Biden won “Victory #2” for the American people. On that date, Biden, with repeated pressure on bickering House Democratic progressives, was able to get the lower chamber to pass by a vote of 228-206 the first part of his massive $1.2 trillion BIF or Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework. Nineteen GOP Senators, including hyper-partisan Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), voted for the BIF legislation as well as thirteen “Team Red” House members, what constitutes “bi-partisanship” in our politically polarized times (kos. Com, GoodNewsRoundup, 11/06/21, Zelizer, cnn.com, 11/06/21). Demagogue Donald bragged that every week in his administration was “Infrastructure Week.” One of his 10,000+ lies. Donald claimed that he was the best “deal maker” around-- another off-the-charts big lie. Who truly knows how to work bipartisan deal-making successfully, the real maker of the “Art of the Deal?” Democratic POTUS Joe Biden. For decades, similar infrastructure legislation to the BIF one failed to get passed by several former presidents, even when they had bigger House and Senate majorities than Biden (See Klein, B., 11/15/21, cnn.com). Biden’s BIF bill will deliver $550 billion of new federal investments in America’s infrastructure over five years, including money for roads, bridges and mass transit. Rail, airports, ports, and waterways will receive funding. In this legislative package, there is a $65 billion investment for improving the nation’s broadband infrastructure. Tens of billions of dollars to improve the electric grid and water systems are in this BIF bill. Another $7.5 billion would go to building a nationwide network of plug-in-electric vehicle chargers (Klein, cnn.com, 11/15/21).
At this signing ceremony, there was a rare bipartisan gathering that included not only national legislators but state and local officials from both parties. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) attended. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA), Congressmembers Don Young (R-AK), and Tom Reed (R-NY) showed up. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), even though he voted for this bill, did not attend. IMHO, he’s back in his partisanship plus mode again. Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan attended as did moderate Louisiana Dem. Gov. John Bel Edwards. Oklahoma City GOP Mayor David Holt was present. Holt praised this day as a “celebratory one for mayors who had fought for more than a decade to get this major investment in infrastructure.” Holt aptly noted that OK City needs the roads, bridges, broadband, rail, and water infrastructure in this bill (cnn.com, Klein). President Biden stated that the American public will “probably see the effects of this bill within the next two to three months and that it will have a profound impact over time (Klein, cnn.com, 11/15/21).”
Present at this signing, was former New Orleans, LA Mayor Mitch Landrieu (LAN-DREW). Biden named Landrieu Senior Advisor responsible for overseeing and coordinating the bill’s implementation on behalf of the White House. Landrieu’s appointment to this post is a key indication that Biden is very serious about implementing the BIF bill quickly and successfully. President Biden is well aware that when Obama’s stimulus bill passed, it took months and years for it to become effective. Democrats lost House seats and their majority in 2010, in part, because too many projects had not yet been implemented. The White House noted that “Landrieu will oversee the most significant and comprehensive investments in American infrastructure in generations—work that independent experts verify will create millions of high-paying, union jobs while boosting competitiveness in the world, strengthening our supply chains, and acting against inflation for the long term (cnn.com, Klein).” One of the reasons Biden has taken a big drop in popularity lately, besides the awful Democratic congressional bickering over infrastructure, is that people have recently seen rising inflation, supply chain problems, and are still trying to get good jobs (See cnn.com, 11/15/21, Klein). Let’s meet Mitch Landrieu.
New Orleans native Mitch Landrieu (61), like many of President Biden’s appointees, is politically savvy. He is the son of former New Orleans Mayor and Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Maurice “Moon” Landrieu. Mitch’s father is of Cajun ancestry, his mother partly descended from Sicilian immigrants that came to Louisiana during the 19th Century. Mitch is the fifth of nine children. His sister, Mary Landrieu, served as LA’s U.S. Democratic Senator from 1/03/1997-1/03/2015. BTW, Bill Cassidy, one of the attendees at Biden’s BIF signing ceremony, was the GOPer who defeated Mary Landrieu in 2014 (staticresults.sos.la.gov/12062014). A 1978 graduate of New Orleans’ Jesuit High School, Mitch Landrieu received 1982 undergraduate degrees in political science and theater from D.C.’s Catholic University. He obtained a 1985 law degree from New Orleans’ Loyola University Law School. Before going into politics, Landrieu clerked for a Federal Court Judge and the LA Supreme Ct. Chief Justice. Landrieu practiced law for 16 years. He became a mediator and focused on alternative dispute resolution. He mediated over 700 cases involving complex issues. He was appointed special master for a major train derailment involving 9,000 plaintiffs. Landrieu taught alternative dispute resolution as an adjunct professor at Loyola Law School (votesmart.org/bio). Having a background in handling disputes via arbitration, not confrontation, will be more than helpful in getting infrastructure jobs moving quickly with little bickering.
In 1987, Landrieu won election to the LA House of Representatives and served there for 16 years in the seat previously held by his sister and father. Mitch Landrieu worked with a group of bipartisan lawmakers to avoid partisan fights and work toward efficiency and accountability. He helped restructure government and kept LA from cutting healthcare programs. Landrieu helped stimulate economic growth by supporting the construction of major economic development projects in New Orleans, including the Morial Convention Center, the National WWII Museum, the biomedical district, and the New Orleans Arena. He led the legislative effort to reform LA’s juvenile justice system with a focus on rehabilitation v. punishment. He vocally opposed then racist LA representative and former KKKer David Duke (votesmart.org/bio). In 1994, Landrieu unsuccessfully ran for Mayor of New Orleans (wiki, votesmart.org).
In 2003, Landrieu was elected Lt. Governor of LA. He served from 2004-2010. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit New Orleans, he was involved in the emergency response and later tasked to lead the effort to rebuild the state’s tourism industry. After these storms, Landrieu brought together industry leaders and national experts and developed a strategic plan, “Louisiana Rebirth” to rebuild the state’s tourism. During this time, Landrieu began to articulate a governing philosophy to guide him. Landrieu believed that people had to be brought together to get things done, and there needed to be clear command, control, and communication. In Landrieu’s view, the federal, state, and local governments needed to be aligned better. That meant coordinating behind the scenes and building partnerships. Landrieu believed that government should steer, not row. Government should be a facilitator that would link public, private, not-for-profit, and faith organizations and help them leverage their collective assets (wiki). IMHO, this philosophy will be absolutely necessary and crucial in getting Biden’s infrastructure projects successfully moving. In rehabilitating LA’s tourist industry, Landrieu also thought “out of the box,” finding new ways to address old problems. He launched out of whole new cloth the “Cultural Economy” to grow jobs in LA’s film, music, and art industries. Landrieu created the first in the nation Office of Social Entrepreneurship. This office advanced social innovation by supporting the creation and growth of the most innovative and sustainable solutions to problems affecting LA citizens (wiki). These kind of solutions will be more than helpful in moving infrastructure projects throughout the nation.
In 2006, Landrieu again unsuccessfully ran for Mayor of New Orleans, the job he always wanted. In 2010, however, his third run for the Crescent City mayoralty race was the proverbial “charm.” Landrieu won this race outright against 10 challengers in the first round of voting, eliminating the need for a runoff. He won with some 67% of the vote with wide support across racial and demographic lines. Mitch Landrieu became the first white person to hold this post since his father Maurice/”Moon” had left this office in 1978 (nola.com, 2/2010). In 2014, Mitch Landrieu was handily re-elected with 64% of the vote. Mitch Landrieu became the first New Orleans Mayor to win both of his elections without a runoff and to be elected by majorities of both white and black voters (Mayor of New Orleans, 2014, staticresults.sos.la.gov, nola.gov/mayor/bio/).
When Landrieu first became New Orleans’ Mayor, the recovery from Hurricane Katrina had been stalled, the city was nearly bankrupt, and the New Orleans Police Department was under federal investigation. He created a diverse citizen-led transition committee and hired a consulting firm Public Strategies Group (PSG) to assess city government operations. PSG senior partner David Osborne noted that Landrieu had “inherited the least competent city government he’d ever seen in the country and the most corrupt (Maldonado, 9/12/11, nola.com, Behn, “Brookings Institution Press,” 2014).”
Landrieu promoted recovery by fast-tracking over 100 projects and securing billions in federal funding from FEMA and HUD (the Department of Housing and Urban Development) for schools, hospitals, parks, playgrounds, and critical infrastructure, particularly roads and drainage. Landrieu brought sound fiscal management, balanced budgets, and ethical contracting to City Hall. As a result, New Orleans received the highest-ever credit rating and over $8 billion in private development (nola.gov/mayor/bio). Since 2010, more than 20,000 new jobs have been added and spending from tourism has now surpassed pre-Katrina highs. Landrieu launched the world’s first resilience strategy, to build for the future, “Resilient New Orleans.” Since Landrieu took office the “Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch” named New Orleans one of the “most improved cities for business.” You get the idea.
Landrieu championed reforming the New Orleans Police Department in partnership with the Department of Justice. He overhauled the use of force policies way before the George Floyd Minneapolis, MN killing, and led the nation in the use of body cameras. Landrieu improved law enforcement relationships with the community and helped reduce arrests for minor offenses. With the help of local and federal law enforcement, Landrieu went after the most dangerous gangs that had increased the city’s murder rate. He pushed for equal economic opportunity and launched programs for black male achievement (nola.gov/mayor/bio).
In 2015, Landrieu pushed for the removal of statues prominently honoring Confederate generals, including Robert E. Lee as well as Confederate President Jefferson Davis. After these statues were removed in 5/2017, with no violence, Landrieu made an address that went viral. He spoke of why he ordered their removal. It was an eloquent speech and received much national praise (nytimes.com, Bruni, 5/23/17). And yes, Mayor Landrieu did not call those wanting these statues displayed “very fine people.” He did not praise the likes of David Duke and his neo-Nazi friends, something Demagogue Donald did three months later after the fatal white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, VA. In 2018, the JFK Library Foundation awarded Landrieu its Profile in Courage Award for removing these Confederate monuments. Landrieu was the author of a NY Times best seller, “In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History (amazon.com).”
In 2017-2018, Landrieu served as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the non-partisan organization of cities with a population of 30,000 or larger (Globenewswire.com). The many mayors who will now be involved with infrastructure projects could not have a better friend in their corner attuned to their needs. In a 2016 “Politico” survey of mayors across America, Landrieu’s peers praised him as the leader “who engineered the biggest turnaround.” “Politico” wrote that “Mitch Landrieu is enjoying what is widely hailed as one of the most successful mayorships in America, leading efforts on public health, infrastructure, and a personal crusade against gun violence (nola.gov/mayor/bio/).”
As I previously noted, passing the BIF is only the first part of the infrastructure battle. Biden still must pass the second part of his infrastructure bill, or Victory #3 for the American people to become a truly transformative POTUS. That is the BBB or “Build Back Better” plan, the approximately $1.9 trillion social safety net part of the infrastructure bill (See cnn.com, Raju, 11/12/21). No GOPer will vote for this bill in either chamber. In order to get this bill past any GOP filibuster, Democrats are using the reconciliation process. Under reconciliation, all 50 Senators, including WVA conservative Democrat Joe Manchin, must agree to this bill. VP Kamala Harris could then cast the key 51st tie-breaking vote. In the House, Cong. Pramila Jayapal’s (D-WA) House Progressive Caucus will have to understand the meaning of compromise and go along with the tradeoffs Manchin may want or BBB will be killed. Many hope to pass this bill prior to Thanksgiving, but it will probably take longer. In any event, if Democrats want to keep the House and Senate in 2022 and help Biden’s poll numbers go up, they must pass this BBB legislation ASAP with no ugly bickering. In the meantime, let’s rejoice “bigly” over the passage of the BIF and the selection of Mitch Landrieu to oversee it.