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Landrieu dynasty faces a pause in Louisiana

Landrieu dynasty faces a pause in Louisiana
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When the sun rises over the Louisiana bayou on Tuesday, it will mark the beginning of a rare moment in the state’s history when someone named Landrieu does not hold public office.

The Landrieu name is as synonymous with modern Louisiana politics as the Long name was in the earlier half of the 20th century. A Landrieu has held public office for all but about 18 months since Moon Landrieu, the family patriarch, won his seat in the state legislature in 1960.

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In the intervening years, his daughter Mary served as a state legislator, the state treasurer and as a U.S. senator. His daughter Madeleine won judgeships. And his son Mitch served in the state legislature, as lieutenant governor and then two terms as New Orleans mayor.

In a ceremony Monday, Mitch Landrieu stepped off the stage, replaced by LaToya Cantrell, the city’s 51st mayor. 

Mitch Landrieu has hinted strongly that his political career is not finished. He is in the midst of a national media tour focused on his new book, and he has stoked buzz about a potential presidential run in 2020. He has spoken about his future in politics with former aides and longtime advisers, including former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), who gave a young Mitch a job as his driver in one of his early campaigns.

“I don’t think his political career is over at all. I think the future still has a place for the Landrieus,” Breaux said in an interview.

The family’s political history — and their temporary absence from the arena — is a window into an evolving city and state, once a part of the Democratic Solid South where racial animus was never far from the surface. 

In the state legislature, Moon Landrieu was often the sole vote against measures to cement segregation or block integration. Elected mayor of New Orleans nearly 50 years ago over a fellow Democrat who campaigned on racial dog whistles, the elder Landrieu integrated city government and reformed contracting rules to grant more access to minority-owned businesses.

“Moon Landrieu presided over a city that was rapidly becoming majority African-American. He welcomed that fact and built on it and sought to include African-Americans in his administration,” said Pearson Cross, a political scientist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “He sought to bring Louisiana into the civil rights accomplishments of America.”

For his efforts, critics called him “Moon the Coon.”

The city that Moon Landrieu took over in 1970 was majority white, with nearly 600,000 residents. Decades of white flight have made New Orleans a majority-black city, and a smaller one at that. Its population declined steadily beginning in the 1960s, a trend that has only recently reversed. 

In the decade between 2000 and 2010, after hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed the city, New Orleans’s population dropped by more than a quarter — about 140,000 residents. Recent estimates show about 50,000 new residents since the 2010 census.

Across the South, after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, white voters fled the Democratic Party as quickly as they had New Orleans. Louisiana was one of the last states to turn red, thanks in part to the Landrieu name. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuLobbying world Former New Orleans mayor: It's not my 'intention' to run for president Dems grasp for way to stop Trump's Supreme Court pick MORE won her Senate seat in 1996 and held it until 2014, when she lost to Republican Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyTrump signs bills banning drug pricing 'gag clauses' Dem ad accuses Heller of 'lying' about record on pre-existing conditions GOP senator suggests criminal referral for third Kavanaugh accuser's 'apparently false affidavit' MORE.

Mitch Landrieu became the first white mayor of New Orleans since 1978, when his father left office. His tenure was marked by confrontations with some of the most deeply entrenched interests in city politics, a stubbornly high crime rate and a wave of gentrification that critics lament has changed the city irreparably.

“He leaves behind a stronger city, but frayed relationships, because he took on institutional powers,” said Mike Sherman, a political scientist at Tulane University who worked in Mitch Landrieu’s administration during the first term. “There wasn’t an institutional power that he didn’t butt heads with at least once.”

But Mitch Landrieu’s terms in office were also, in a way, the bookends to his father’s effort to integrate city government. During his watch, the city deprioritized marijuana possession, a crime with which black people are disproportionately charged. 

And last year, he moved to tear down several monuments to the Confederacy and Confederate generals, the subject of his new book.

“It took a lot of courage to do what he did with regard to the statues,” Breaux said.

Tearing down the statues has made Mitch Landrieu a national figure and fueled much of the presidential buzz he does nothing to tamp down. 

“People say, well, you know, you’re a rising star. I said, ‘Yeah, it took me 30 years to become an overnight sensation,’ ” Mitch Landrieu joked to CBS last week.

Whether or not Mitch Landrieu runs for president, it is unlikely that the Landrieu dynasty will remain on hold for long. Moon and Verna Landrieu have 37 grandchildren, and Verna Landrieu told the Baton Rouge Advocate recently that several have their eye on public office.