Congress should seize on a rare area of agreement between President Barack Obama and the National Rifle Association in the gun-violence debate and provide funds to hire more police officers, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Mr. Mayor, thank you for being with us.
MITCH LANDRIEU: It’s great to be with you.
HUNT: The president unveiled his gun-control package this week, pretty bold. The NRA immediately attacked it, said it won’t do anything about criminals and won’t protect children. That’s been the pattern - there’s a - it peaks when it’s announced and then subsides. Why will it be different this time?
LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, I think the one thing that everybody in America cannot turn their head away from is the culture of violence that’s enveloped our country for the last 30 years. The numbers are just there to be seen.
Unfortunately, it takes an event that happened at Sandy Hook and in Newtown, Connecticut, to focus everybody’s attention. But as many people have now begun to notice, since that catastrophic event, which was just almost hard to imagine - 900 people have been killed on the streets of America. I’ve been speaking now for a couple years about the carnage on the streets of major American cities, 12,000 people were killed.
HUNT: So you think it will be different?
LANDRIEU: Well, let me say this. It has been amazing in the last couple of months that the nation has stayed focused on this issue. And it seems like this particular event has really caused the nation to at least pause and to think about where we are, where we’re going.
Now, typically what happens - and it happens in Congress all the time - the polar opposites begin to dominate the debate. And the question then gets, can we ever find common ground? And can we move the needle forward?
The NRA and the Congress and the president can agree on one thing. I see it in the proposal already. The NRA says we need more police officers on the street. President Obama made a proposal of $4 billion to fund the COPS program, which has been completely eliminated in the last eight years in Congress. They both agree on that. You know what the mayors say? That sounds great.
HUNT: That’s -
LANDRIEU: If you all both agree on that, why don’t we do that? Because when President Clinton was in office and Vice President Biden was a senator, they put cops on the streets of America and it reduced the crime rate.
HUNT: You’re a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns -
LANDRIEU: Illegal guns, I am.
HUNT: - of which my principal owner of this network is a key figure. What specifically can your group, can this group do that’s different than before?
LANDRIEU: Well, again, the most important thing is to keep people focused on the issue. This is not a Second Amendment issue. I believe in the Second Amendment. I own guns. I’m from Louisiana.
But, again, it is about guns, but it is much - it’s much broader than that. It’s about the culture of violence in America. We have to stay focused on that.
If you look at just in the city of New Orleans, Briana Allen, a 5-year-old baby girl, got gunned down just a couple of months ago. A couple of weeks before that, another young boy got - Jeremy Galmon, 2 years old - got caught in between the fire of two guys shooting each other. And then somebody got bludgeoned.
So it is about guns. And it’s about violence. And it’s about making sure that Congress, when they speak, puts their money where their mouth is.
HUNT: You have made such progress on so many areas in New Orleans, but you still have a murder rate that’s, what, 10 times -
LANDRIEU: I have a murder rate that’s higher than the national average. Now, our murders -
HUNT: Can you deal with that when you have state laws that are so lax on guns, you can carry concealed weapons, there’s no - I mean, aren’t you - aren’t you really limited in what you can do?
LANDRIEU: Well, yes, if - if you were just trying to deal with guns. But, again, this approach has to be comprehensive. It has to be about guns, but it has to be about everything else.
I’ll give you a perfect example. And you will remember this. When President Clinton and the whole team back in the day had money for the COPS program to put 100,000 cops on the street, when we went to war, post-Sept. 11, that money got pulled back, all right?
We then prosecuted both of these wars. We spent $1 trillion on it. But $8 billion - $8 billion of American taxpayers money was spent building police forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in Medellin. That money has not come back full circle.
Now, one of the things Congress can do - and there seems to be complete agreement on this right now - is that we need more police officers on the streets to protect neighborhoods, do community - that will help. That has nothing to do -
HUNT: But that’s not going to happen if you get the sequestration that’s supposed to take effect on March 1.
LANDRIEU: That’s - that’s - that is exactly right. The second thing about mental health, the - what they’re talking about now is what kinds of restrictions should we put on people who have mental health issues in terms of buying guns? That’s one way to look at it.
The other is this. If you need mental health services, you can’t cut funding for mental health services. There has to be a place where people get them. And on the streets of America, one thing that happens to mayors is my emergency medical service guys, if they’re called out someplace and somebody is having a problem with mental health issues, if we have nowhere to bring them, if there’s nobody to take care of them, then whether they get their hands on a gun or a bat, they could potentially hurt. So it’s about funding, as well.
HUNT: But all the talk here in Washington is about cutting.
LANDRIEU: That’s exactly right.
HUNT: No one’s talking about more money for cops. No one’s talking about more money for mental health up in the Congress.
LANDRIEU: This is - this is why people on the ground get very frustrated with Congress. There’s a lot of talk, and there’s not a lot of doing.
HUNT: - one Louisiana-specific question. Governor Jindal has proposed to substitute the state’s income and corporate taxes with an increased sales tax. What do you think of that? And how would it affect New Orleans?
LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, generally speaking, when you take a $3 billion pot of money that’s coming in and then you say I don’t want it anymore, and you say you want to fill it back up and have it be revenue-neutral, and you want to do it with sales tax, there are going to be winners and there are going to be losers in that regard. The numbers don’t match up at the moment, No. 1.
No. 2, the sales tax in New Orleans right now is one of the highest in the country. And so the specter of closing the hole, right, really kind of doing the math so that it works is that you have to raise the sales tax 3 percent or 4 percent or 5 percent. Having a 15 percent sales tax doesn’t seem to work. Now, Louisiana’s going to go -
HUNT: Do you think he’s doing it because of his national aspirations?
LANDRIEU: I don’t - you know, one of the things we learn as legislators and mayors is you don’t question other people’s intentions, but you look at the consequences of what they do.
Now, let me be very careful about this. I’m running a city that for the past three years has balanced its budget. We’ve gotten rid of our structural deficit. We cut $100 million out of budget, or 25 percent. Mayors really do know how to balance budgets.
But one thing that we cannot do is provide a service to the people that they demand without the resources to do it. We’ve got to get rid of waste, fraud and abuse. We’ve got to get rid of inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and we have to have a zero tolerance for corruption.
But once you get past that, the government and the public sector and the private sector and the faith-based community have got to find a way to do the things that are necessary that the country says they need so that we can have the kind of economic growth.
HUNT: And this tax change wouldn’t help you in Louisiana?
LANDRIEU: I don’t think that it’s going to help a lot.
HUNT: It would be -
LANDRIEU: I think - but that debate really ought to play itself out. The math will reflect whether or not it actually works and who’s going to benefit and who’s going to get hurt.
HUNT: Mr. Mayor, one of your more remarkable achievements in the time you’ve been in office is to heal a lot of the racial divide in the city of New Orleans. On Friday, your predecessor, Ray Nagin, an African-American, was indicted. We’re not going to judge his innocence or guilt. But your reaction? And do you worry that this might reignite racial tensions?
LANDRIEU: Well, I worry about the people of New Orleans. This is a very sad day for the people of the city. The allegations portend a violation of the public trust. And I think where the people of New Orleans have got across racial lines is that we have a zero-tolerance now for public corruption, because it takes - it takes assets away from other things the government’s supposed to be focused on. New Orleans turned a corner two-and-a-half years ago. All of us are on the same page that we have to do things a new way in a different way, and I think this reminds people of a day that most people in New Orleans would like to forget.
HUNT: Let’s talk about a brighter subject. The Super Bowl will be coming back -
LANDRIEU: That is a better subject, thank you.
HUNT: The Super Bowl will be coming back to New Orleans. It’s actually the 10th time the Super Bowl’s been there -
LANDRIEU: Yeah, it’s great.
HUNT: - but the first time since Katrina. Does that add significance?
LANDRIEU: It absolutely does. Well, first of all, we have - we hosted the full Super Bowl post-Sept. 11. So we understand, you know, the incredible significance of the entire nation coming together for an event like this. And, of course, post- Katrina, you know, people left us for dead. When you think about it, some years ago, we were 15 feet underwater and on the bottom of every list that matters. And now, in this particular year, the city of New Orleans is really outperforming the rest of the nation in so many beautiful ways. And we’re about to host the Super Bowl again.
And ironically - knock on wood - the New England Patriots, you know, are going to be back in the Super Bowl. They were there after Sept. 11. And that -
HUNT: And you’re picking - are you picking them?
LANDRIEU: I’m picking them. That’s my -
HUNT: Oh, we have a pick here. If you can’t have your Saints, you’ll take the Patriots.
LANDRIEU: I’ll take them. I’m betting on Tom Brady.
HUNT: Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for being with us.
LANDRIEU: Great. Good to see you.
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