Citizens of the Gret Stet of Louisiana and residents of New Orleans aren’t used to competent government. The incompetence reached new heights when Bobby Jindal, who I always called PBJ, and C Ray Nagin were in office at the same time. They were both wreckers: one deliberately, the other out of indifference. One thing they had in common was incompetence.
That’s why the performance of Gov. John Bel Edwards and Mayor LaToya Cantrell during the coronavirus crisis has been such a pleasant surprise. They’ve been communicative without panicking like Nagin and clear without self-aggrandizement like PBJ. In a word: competent.
Cantrell’s performance has been especially surprising after the Hard Rock Hotel collapse debacle. After her inconstant and confusing handling of that and the Mardi Gras mishigas, I had given up on her. That changed when COVID-19 came to town. Not everyone agrees that she’s handling this crisis well. That brings me to our first segment.
Under Pressure: Tension and animosity between Orleans and Jefferson Parishes is nothing new. It was particularly raw during the crack epidemic of the late Eighties and early Nineties when JP Sheriff Harry Lee seemingly blamed all crime in his parish on the majority African American city next door. It was just as unfair as people who say that everyone in Jefferson is a white flight escapee from New Orleans. Some are but many have lived in Metry and Kenna, Brah for generations and I say that without Regretnas…
The latest Orleans-Jefferson dispute centers around the forceful actions taken by Mayor Cantrell to flatten the virus curve. She received a strongly worded letter from the head of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, Todd Murphy. Essentially, he criticized her for bowing to the reality that festivals such as Essence, Jazz Fest, and Voodoo Fest cannot safely be held in 2020. All three events attract people from all over the world. Holding them this year would constitute a viral vector akin to the New York subway system.
The most irksome thing about Murphy’s epistle is the notion that Mayor Cantrell should have consulted him. They’re not equals. She’s the duly elected leader of Orleans Parish, he’s the head of a business lobbying group. Such a complaint coming from JP Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng might have some merit. Thus far, Lee Sheng has been relatively silent for most of the crisis; content to follow the lead of Edwards and Cantrell. Mr. Murphy should mind his own business.
There was another annoying epistle last weekend. It was an open letter to “Madam Mayor and our city and state elected officials” from four wealthy white boys including former City Councilman Jay Batt. The content was unregenerate Trumpism: reopen the economy, so what if we lose a few lives?
The business of American is business, so they want us to get down to business. That’s risky business as far as I’m concerned:
That was Tom Cruise not Jay Batt or his actor brother, Bryan. We call him the Better Batt in my household; not to be confused with Langenstein’s Better Cheddar.
This Batty epistle was published as a full-page ad in the Sunday Picvocate. It has not aged well: our state and region depend heavily on oil and tourism. We already knew that the tourist economy is in deep shit and sinking fast; oil prices cratered the day after this letter was published. Oops. It was also published on a day in which there were 8 pages of obituaries in the newspaper. Double oops.
Despite what the Rex-Comus-Proteus crowd thinks, nobody wants the lockdown to go on forever. But a premature reopening could prove catastrophic. Are we supposed to reopen because some rich white guys have ants in their pants?
Mayor Cantrell is made of sterner stuff, declaring, “I will not be bullied.”
The last word of the segment goes to Queen and David Bowie. Who else?
I’m not sure if great minds really think alike but Bayou Brief writers seem to. My colleague, Sue Lincoln, has written a brilliant piece of satire with Lt. Gov Billy Nungesser in a major supporting role. The next segment makes it Billy Nungesser week at the Bayou Brief.
Billy’s Pandemic Apologia: I’ve had a lot of fun at Billy Nungesser’s expense over the years. I’ve called him Bordello Billy, the Bayou Buffoon, and most memorably the Gret Stet Grifter. His misadventures with Deutsches Haus played a part in my debut 13th Ward Rambler column. I hereby reiterate my apology for searing the image of the Lt. Gov in Lederhosen on your brains.
Speaking of apologies, Nungesser sat for an interview with The Hill and issued one for his showboating at the beginning of the Gret Stet’s turn in the pandemic barrel. Nungesser was harshly critical of Mayor Cantrell’s decision to shut down the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day parade and other events.
Missing the spotlight, Nungesser issued a pro forma apology for his earlier stance. It really amounted to saying, “I’m sorry for being wrong.”
He’s used to being wrong. He used the Lost Causer statue removal controversy as an opportunity to pander to white conservatives. And who among us can forget the time he wore “Trump hair socks” to greet the Impeached Insult Comedian.
April 20th was the tenth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Those of us with long memories will never forget how Nungesser, then Plaquemines Parish President, used the spill to get publicity. Nungesser blamed then President Obama for the spill, not BP. Yo, Billy they had something to do with it.
Not everyone has a long memory. After the interview, social media was full of people saying, “I don’t agree with Nungesser’s politics but at least he apologized.”
Billy can read the polls, which show that the Edwards-Cantrell approach to the pandemic is popular. Hell, even Jeff Landry is aboard for now, which is one reason for Nungesser’s apologia. They both want to be Governor and may run against one another in 2023. He did it for the headlines, not because he’s sorry.
The mere fact that Nungesser’s lukewarm apology was accepted by many shows how far political standards have slipped. President* Pennywise never apologizes, never admits error, and spends his waking hours seeking a scapegoat for his disastrous performance in addressing the pandemic. It reminds me of something the late, great Louisiana Senator Russell Long was fond of saying:
Long was chairman of the Senate finance committee from 1966-1981, so he applied his aphorism to taxes. But it applies to buck passing in general. And nobody is a bigger buck passer than Billy Nungesser; a man who is such a phony that he pretends to be a working-class Joe when he’s the scion of a prominent Republican family. There’s a lot of that going around today. I’m not buying what he’s selling. Neither should you.
The last word goes to The Smithereens. They’re a New Jersey based band but their late front man Pat Dinizio had a place in the French Quarter for many years: