Moon’s rise: The game-changing administration of New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu
The tumultuous ’60s were over, but racial tensions were still high across the country, as cities worked — or, in some cases, refused to work — to implement the hard-won victories of America’s Civil Rights era. It was against that backdrop that Moon Landrieu, a former City Council member and state legislator, was elected mayor of New Orleans in 1970. Proclaiming his support of integration and promising equal access to City Hall, he won handily — including earning more than 90 percent of the black vote.
Landrieu retired in 2000 after serving as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Jimmy Carter and on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal, but his children have kept the Landrieu name alive in politics, with some referring to them as “the Cajun Kennedys.” Mitch Landrieu is New Orleans’ mayor, Mary Landrieu served three terms as a U.S. senator, and Madeleine Landrieu is a judge on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal until July, when she will become dean of Loyola University’s law school.
- He was born Maurice Edwin Landrieu, but he acquired the nickname Moon in childhood and had his name legally changed in 1969. Asked at the time to explain the origin of the moniker, he told The Times-Picayune he wasn’t sure where it came from. Originally, it was hung on his older brother. Later, it was handed down to him. “And I guess, as a kid, I didn’t particularly like the name Maurice,” he said.
- After cutting his political teeth as a member of Mayor Chep Morrison’s Crescent City Democratic Organization, Landrieu in 1960 ran for — and won — a seat in the state House. There, he set himself apart as one of a few white legislators to vocally oppose segregation.
- Although Landrieu lost a race for City Council in 1962, he won an at-large seat four years later. He used that position as a platform to, among other things, push for removal of the Confederate battle flag from council chambers. Decades later, Mayor Mitch Landrieu would follow in his father’s footsteps by leading an effort to remove Confederate statues from the city landscape.
- Once taking office as mayor, Moon Landrieu quickly set about backing his campaign pledge to integrate city government, appointing African-Americans to two key posts. Specifically, he picked the Rev. A.L. Davis, a longtime civil rights activist, to fill a vacancy on the City Council, and he selected Terrence Duvernay as the city’s chief administrative officer, the most important appointed position in the city’s executive branch.
- He and his wife, Verna Satterlee Landrieu, have nine children, each of whom has a first name beginning with “M”: Mary, Mark, Melanie, Michelle, Mitch, Madeleine, Martin, Melinda and Maurice Jr.
- Moon Landrieu is one of the few politicians who not only served in government at the city, state and federal levels but also served in all three branches: legislative, executive and judicial.
- In addition to having the Superdome built on his watch, Landrieu pushed for renovations of the French Market and Jackson Square in the hopes of spurring tourism. The Moonwalk, a riverfront promenade across from Jackson Square, was named in Landrieu’s honor. Built in 1975, it cost $216,000.
- Landrieu was an overwhelmingly popular mayor, winning 70 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary when he ran for re-election in 1973.
For long before his election as mayor, New Orleans functioned almost like two cities: a black New Orleans and a white New Orleans. Some people liked it that way. Moon Landrieu did not — and so he did something about it. Setting a precedent by working closely with African-Americans and local black political organizations, he paved the way for greater minority participation in city government. While today’s New Orleans isn’t as unified as many would like, it’s far closer to it thanks to the work of Moon Landrieu.