(NNPA)—Hurricane Katrina brought significant devastation to the City of New Orleans. It more or less broke it down and the rebuilding of this great city has been slow, deliberate but worth every second. From the “ashes” of Katrina, has risen a new city made stronger by the resilience of its citizens. One of the finest set of examples is how the Black entrepreneurs gathered themselves and resolved to build their businesses back up. Most of them not only succeeded in repairing themselves but have actually become stronger.
The playing field had been leveled and those of talent and strength rose to the occasion. Unlike the political landscape of pre-Katrina, the corruption factor had been removed. New Orleans had a well-deserved reputation of money bags, kick backs, and pay offs for contractual favors. The regional office of the FBI had an enormous staff and stayed very busy with indictments, convictions, and more, and more investigations. The mayoral administrations prior to Mayor Ray Nagin’s were notorious and many of the participants of those administrations are still in jail or are just finishing their terms of incarceration.
Mayor Nagin brought an era of credibility and transparency to New Orleans procurement. So when Katrina came and brought boatloads of new procurement opportunities, the odds were that fair procurement processes would be in place. If a Black entrepreneur had the best proposal, proper financing, and bonding capacity, Mayor Nagin had no problem signing a city contract—free from graft and malfeasance. Five years after Katrina, New Orleans has a strong Black Chamber of Commerce and Black businesses performing some sizeable contracts that make it a leader in the area of Black entrepreneurship. This is a very proud moment for New Orleans.
However, Mayor Nagin’s tenure was limited to two terms and another mayor has come in. Mayor Mitch Landrieu seems to be of another mindset toward Black business owners winning and managing key city contracts. It is starting to appear that the changes made under Mayor Nagin and as a result of the rebuilding opportunities created by Hurricane Katrina have made the “Good Old Days” a memory that is trying to return. Is Mayor Landrieu trying to undo what hard work, honesty, and transparency have made possible?
Two big examples of the progress are the sanitation contracts (waste pick up and disposal). It was highly controversial when the usual winners of these contracts came in third and fourth place. The first and second winners were local Black entrepreneurs who not only won the financing for the big projects but also got the bonding. We had to go to the East Coast to find bonding companies to cover their performance but we, the Greater New Orleans Black Chamber of Commerce, got it done. It shook up a lot of traditional players, but Mayor Nagin was living up to his pledge of fairness. Now comes Mayor Landrieu and he wants to cancel those contracts and re-bid them. This is immoral! They won the contracts, have performed, according to the scope, and are in total compliance.
In addition to trying to break up perfectly legal contracts, Mayor Landrieu wants to return that “hot bed” of dubious contracting—New Orleans Airport Authority—back to the way it was before Mayor Nagin’s administrations. He is shaking up the Board and it appears that some of the old players are starting to return. The progress that has been made during the last five years is under attack and that is a very terrible shame.
The good people of New Orleans should rise up against this attempt to turn back the hands of time and jeopardize the free enterprise system that has come to fruition and all of the equal opportunity that has set in. New Orleans’ new era of transparency and commerce is under attack and the traps of corruption are being laid in place once again. It is very important that this backlash that Mayor Landrieu seems to be allowing be repulsed. The Black business community must fight and dare not compromise for malfeasance. The contracts that are now in place were won fairly and they should stay in place. Anything less will bring back the scandals, FBI investigations, and the sleazy reputation that has finally been removed.
Mayor Landrieu seems to have a big problem with this progress. If he continues fighting this atmosphere of fair competition and free trade, he will find his political future tainted with the stink and rot of the past. Hopefully, he will snap out of it. If not, we will certainly cooperate with our friends and the FBI to prevent the return of the old and corrupt.
(Harry Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO, of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)