Officer Boulet Reporting For Duty
Written by C.W. Cannon
Saturday, 13 October 2007 17:19
“K-Ville” is a post-K phenomenon—so is political candidacy for Virginia Boulet. Who knew the tales of their respective ascendancies were intertwined? More on that when you finish your electoral homework.
OK, bottom’s up: this is Boulet’s second political campaign, and represents a step down in ambition, if only slightly. When she ran for mayor a little over a year ago, it’s safe to say that, among the contenders, she was the “visionary” one. But one citizen’s visionary is another citizen’s “wacko,” and, for some reason or other, she garnered only 9% of the vote. I loved the idea, for example, of moving the University of New Orleans to the Iberville projects and throwing the Lakefront campus to leering developers, but UNO Chancellor Tim Ryan might have applied that second, loony qualifier to the plan.
A run for City Council Member at-Large is more modest than for mayor, and a year has passed, during which time the post-K citizen crusader must surely have been worn down into something less sharp (which some would call “realistic”). It appears something of this process has taken place for Boulet, though she’s not exactly a get-along political clone yet, either.
The 2006 visionary remains, for example, in her wish to place all New Orleans utility lines underground. That’s right, underground. Underwater? Sure, if it comes to that—she explained to me the wonders of the contemporary “utility tunnel,” impervious to seeping water. It’s a seductive notion. As she remarked, “This is New Orleans, we should see trees when we look up, not utility poles.”
If such a massive citywide project strikes fear into nervous taxpayers, Boulet has some reassuring credibility on matters of finance and revenue. Some of her most innovative thinking is in this area, which adds up if you look at the list on her website of all the legal work she’s done in banking and securities (including teaching and consulting on ethics, which could be big in the national image gambit, if you care). Back in 2006, she counseled that leaders should forget squeezing more money out of then-Republican Washington and should focus instead on scaring up the dough from capital markets in New York. Today she said, “I’ve seen my predictions come true. This has been almost entirely a citizen-driven recovery, and a private-capital driven recovery. People have been fixing their homes with their own money.”
Are we to believe that Boulet feels that it’s not government’s responsibility to cough up the restitution? Don’t do her that way. Definitely not. She speaks of government like someone who thinks it’s been seized by bad people and run into the ground, and folks ought to be throwing the glove at it more often. It’s a good thing that there’s been enough private money going around to kick-start rebuilding, but they (the G-men) owe us, dagnabit, and we want our dagnabbed satisfaction at long last. “FEMA owes us, and they need to pay. FEMA is just an insurance company for the public, and like other insurance companies, they’re arguing over every claim” in a nitpicky unreasonable process that could go on for years. But “we need that money now.”
Why don’t we have it? Part of the blame, says Boulet, falls on her old boss, C. Ray Nagin. (He hired Boulet and two other mayoral 1st round losers in 2006—Boulet headed the Affordable Energy Task Force.) Boulet told him then what she told me today: she thinks the city should just settle with FEMA, as other disaster-stricken communities have ended up doing. Just negotiate a settlement and walk away with a check. But hizzoner can’t do this because he “wants to control the funds in a way the federal government found unacceptable.” She advised the mayor to beef up the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, make it look like a real city agency (staff, etc), make it look able to accept and funnel the huge sums of cash. But C.Ray, after starting on that course, suddenly and mysteriously spaced it out. What can you do?
Boulet says you can and must “force the mayor” to act right and that a five-out-of-seven bloc on the council could amount to a strong enough arm. Which council members would form such a bloc? The answer is predictable, but not without obvious merit. Boulet heaps praise on all the “new” council members. She describes Shelley Midura, Stacy Head, James Carter, and Arnie Fielkow as “wonderful.” That’s four. Of the two elected members who apparently are not wonderful, one of them is a major opponent, and the other shares the same first name as that one (though a stately residence in the latter Cynthia’s district, which often adorns its lawn with “Morrell” signs, has now sprouted a “Boulet” one…hmm).
What other irksome wriggling problems would Boulet subject to a half-council Nelson? Entergy, for one. She avers that the council needs to “exercise its regulatory authority (over the utility) more vigorously,” and drive down rates lower than the rates she was able to win working with the Affordable Energy Task Force. In general, keeping New Orleans from getting more expensive to live in seems to strike her as an urgent task. Property taxes can’t go up much—she would roll back millages to avoid a tax-windfall resulting from revised property assessments (though, as she pointed out, that’s “statutorily mandated” anyway). Insurance premiums, on the other hand, need to go down. Again, underground utilities, dude! Hurricane proof. The big unnecessary economic disaster of Katrina (besides 3rd-rate levee crumbling) was loss of power for a month.
She’s got other revenue-neutral strategies, too—also hinging on an activist council going where it’s never gone before—such as her plan to shake out more money for schools. You do it by doing a better job of managing the schools’ “section 16” properties. Did you know that, when the land was parceled out to eager settlers back in the day, every sixteenth plot was reserved for the children’s sake in perpetuity? And you won’t be surprised to learn that the Orleans Parish School Board has just sort of let that property lie around and molder through the ages, instead of putting it to remunerative use.
On another point, you can imagine what a cost-conscious manager thinks of the idea of tearing down blocks and blocks of some of New Orleans’ most time-tested durable construction just because they call’em “de projex.” Boulet sighs and says, “I hate to see people tear down beautiful old buildings.” An aesthetic judgment from a politician? In America?? You could call that naturally N’awlins (or “unelectable,” if you’re an anti-wacko jerk).
Thank you for eating your homework. Now your promised entertainment trivia question for dessert: What do real-life New Orleanian political candidate VIRGINIA Boulet and fictional New Orleanian police detective MARLIN Boulet have in common? Marlin is named after Virginia! How’s that for a double scoop of crunchy gossip? It’s true, honey. When the producers of short-lived (is it still on?) Fox cop drama “K-ville” came to town, they called up Virginia Boulet for the hook-up with real NOPD, for ride-alongs, etc. (I don’t know why, and Virginia claims she doesn’t either). They ran into her one morning after a nocturnal jaunt with New Orleans’ true finest, raving about the stuff she’d never believe went down (she begged to differ), and promised she’d get paid back some way. Thus the homage in the name of their lead character. Yep, Virginia and Marlin, they’re related. Maternal, I guess. Whose name will ultimately be more ephemeral? The shelf life for that question may already be over.
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