Week in Review, Aug. 17-21: N.O. Economy Down But Not Out

NEW ORLEANS – After weeks of cautious preparation, the New Orleans Saints finally began full-contact football activities this week that resembled any other training camp – just without fans in the bleachers to watch over the proceedings. The daily practices are providing stories and photos of a team once again in contention for the NFL’s top prize … and, more important, a welcome distraction from the stressful realities of the pandemic and polarized political news. Even without fans in the Superdome for the first game of the year, the city will rally behind the black and gold as always but also like never before.

Here are some of the other biggest stories of the week:

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday that he will reject an emergency plan offered by Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin for the fall elections because it doesn’t expand mail-in balloting options for people quarantined because of the coronavirus pandemic or those at greater risk of serious harm from COVID-19. “I do not support his plan. I don’t believe that it accommodates all the voters that should be accommodated in this public health emergency,” said Edwards. “That plan will not be carried out for these elections.”

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Also this week, Edwards signed an executive order setting a state goal for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, drawing swift praise from environmental groups. “In many ways, Louisiana is the poster child for climate change; we are the canary in the coal mine,” said Edwards. “We want to be the gold standard” for climate solutions.

Earlier in the week, Edwards cheered the unsurprising news that a federal judge in New Orleans refused to block a state order closing bars to stop the spread of COVID-19, handing a defeat to 10 southeast Louisiana bar owners who had sued to stop the closure. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman said the closure order was legal under the broad powers a governor has under emergencies such as a pandemic.

In other news from Baton Rouge, State Treasurer John Schroder said there’s “plenty of money” left in the Main Street Recovery Grant Program, which reimburses small businesses for COVID-19-related expenses. Only about $14 million of the fund is obligated, leaving more than $261 million still available. The program for the first three weeks was reserved for businesses that had not received federal aid. That’s no longer the case.

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First the Good News …

On Thursday, the New Orleans City Council decided that Jefferson Davis Parkway will become Norman C. Francis Parkway in January. Francis, the longtime president of Xavier University, was the first Black graduate of the law school at Loyola University of New Orleans. The street being named for him runs by Xavier, a historically Black university that was founded by Catholic nuns. “We have a duty collectively, not just in silos, to look at other streets that we know are problematic,” council member Joseph Giarrusso III said.

And … the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel has been named the best hotel bar in America by USA Today. The Sazerac, a former haunt of famed Louisiana politician Huey Long, is known for its expert mixologists, timeless style, African walnut bar and murals by New Orleans’ “dean of modern art” Paul Ninas. Now if only we could meet there for a drink. …

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And Then the Bad News

Southwest Airlines announced it will be cutting its number of daily flights in and out of New Orleans to about 20 per day through October. Before the pandemic, there were more than 60 daily Southwest flights in and out of the city. That number accounted for more than a third of all the flights at Armstrong International Airport, with its bright and shiny new terminal that debuted last November and then slowed to a crawl when the pandemic began in March. More flight cancellations are expected industrywide.

And, in a not unrelated report, early optimism among people of the gulf south at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic is fading as 2020 rolls on according to the newest edition of the Gulf South Index, a cooperative research project launched earlier this year by The Ehrhardt Group and Causeway Solutions. As of the beginning of August, 44% of gulf south residents were optimistic that 2020 would be a better year than 2019, down from 66% at the end of March.

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