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New Orleans’ Official Response to Geraldo’s “Urban Wasteland” Comment

My previous post was my take on Geraldo’s comments on a recent O’Reilly Factor segment regarding the video of inmates in Orleans Parish Prison. The prisoners were apparently smoking dope, drinking beer and flashing a supposedly loaded gun.

The video, shot in 2009, was only uploaded recently to YouTube. Geraldo, instead of doing his research, decided to just give his overall opinion based on nothing more than, well, his opinion. The man, who has a penchant for making inflammatory statements, called New Orleans a “vast urban wasteland.” So after this can we really trust what Geraldo has to say about anything?

New Orleans’ Official Response to Geraldo’s “Urban Wasteland” Comment

New Orleans Skyline

The Business Council of New Orleans and River Region, Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans, Common Good and Greater New Orleans, Inc. penned this response to Mssrs. O’Reilly and Rivera. To wit:

Dear Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Rivera:

Your April 5 “Fridays with Geraldo” segment, “New Orleans prisoners gone wild,” was a
disservice to New Orleans, America and the truth. Its broadly dismissive tone was all the
 more disconcerting because as recently as February 4 you had proclaimed, “New Orleans 
has come back big time from Katrina. It’s once again a great American destination.”

Now let us be clear: the truth is that the prison video is shocking. But it is also true that 
the video is four years old, and that the prison has been closed. There will be
consequences. And we are confident that we will fix this problem, because as you will 
see below, the truth is that New Orleans has confronted and defeated an extraordinary 
range of other challenges over the past five years.

On this theme, The Wall Street Journal recently ran a much broader, more balanced and 
more accurate story – “The Real Super Bowl Winner: Why New Orleans Came Back
 from Katrina Better than Ever”. In this piece, the Journal describes how New
Orleans is now a national model for reform, suggesting “Other troubled cities and
 Washington, take note.”

For the truth is, in the few years since the devastation of Katrina, the largest man made 
disaster in the history of the United States, New Orleans has addressed long-standing 
challenges with a speed and efficacy unprecedented in the history of our great nation.
* * *

In your segment you asked two basic questions about New Orleans: “Why can’t it 
improve?” and “Why doesn’t it get better?” The truth is, it can and it does, dramatically.

There is a preponderance of evidence:

Education – Previously burdened with some of the worst schools in the country, New
Orleans was recently named “America’s Best City for School Reform,” and the
graduation rate has now passed the national average.

Our universities are booming too,
with Tulane recently attracting more applications – 44,000 – than any other private 
school, of any size, in the country.

Civic Reform – With diverse civic and business groups working in partnership with 
political leadership, New Orleans has “enacted more major reforms simultaneously than 
any other modern city” (Brookings Institution).

These include:

  • Establishment of Office of Inspector General – now a national model
  • Establishment of Independent Police Monitor – also a national model
  • Consolidation and Reform of Levee Boards – providing oversight to make post-
Katrina Army Corps projects the most efficient and effective in modern history
  • Consolidation of Property Assessors – breaking up century-old political dynasties
  • Implementation of Master Zoning Plan with Force of Law – to guide planning for
the next 20 years of New Orleans
  • Development of Public/Private Partnerships – based on national best practice
models for economic development and youth recreation
  • Implementation of State Ethics Reform – taking Louisiana to #1 in the USA in 
ethics disclosure laws (Center for Public Integrity)

Economic Development – Buoyed by business-friendly leadership, New Orleans has 
been described as “the greatest turnaround of our lifetime” by Richard Karlgaard, the 
publisher of Forbes.

Over the past two years we have been named #1 in the USA for:

  • Improved City for Business (Wall Street Journal)
  • Employment Growth (Brookings)
  • Technology Job Growth (Forbes)
 The fact that global companies like GE Capital are choosing New Orleans for expansion 
(300 new jobs announced in 2012) is hard evidence of this improvement.
  • Entrepreneurism – Post-Katrina New Orleans is also one of the most entrepreneurial 
places in America, and now leads the USA by 30% in number of start-ups per capita.
Underscoring this, the Tax Foundation ranked Louisiana as the #2 state in the country to
start a business.
  • Talent – After decades of out-migration, people are coming back in record numbers.
New Orleans is the fastest growing city in the USA since the 2010 census, and was
named “America’s Biggest Brain Magnet” by Forbes for attracting people under 25 with
college degrees.
  • Flood Protection – From $15 billion of new investment, to a consolidation of levee
management, New Orleans now has the most advanced flood protection in the nation, and
is in fact actively involved in the new task force to assist post-Sandy New York and New
  • Tourism – Recently voted America’s Favorite by Travel + Leisure, a record number of
tourists visited New Orleans in 2012, over nine million, and New Orleans led the USA in 
RevPAR (room rate) growth, at a remarkable 33% year-on-year.

In the name of truth we should also clarify some false statements from the April 5 

  • Our government is no longer dysfunctional. It is so good, in fact, from the 
Governor down to the Mayor, that we were voted #1 Most Business Friendly 
Government in the USA in a recent national economic development survey (Area 
  • Your assertion that 60,000 out of 320,000 New Orleanians are in jail is simply
 wrong. The truth is, the prison population is about 2,000 out of a population of
360,000. Your number is such a misstatement that it best belongs in Mr.
O’Reilly’s “Hall of Shame” for distributing “defamatory, false…information.”
  • Our murder rate is unacceptable. But it is not 14 times New York City. And your
 comparison to the remarkable turnaround of Times Square in NYC neglects the
 fact that that process began with Mayor Koch in the 70’s and took over 30 years –
and we have been at ours for about five.
  • The notion that “everything outside of the French Quarter” is an urban wasteland
 is simply slanderous, and is utterly refuted by all of the preceding truths in this 
  • Finally, perhaps the greatest inaccuracy in your entire story is the ending, when 
you say that nothing changes in New Orleans because “folks aren’t demanding 
  • Things are changing more dramatically in New Orleans than they have in 
any urban environment in recent American history – because we are demanding it,
 and because we are doing it.

* * *

But don’t take our word for it – please come back and see for yourselves. On behalf of 
the business and civic community of New Orleans, we invite you to come visit us in New 
Orleans, so you can witness firsthand the extraordinary people and organizations that are 
driving, in the words of Mayor Landrieu, “a story about the resurrection and redemption 
of a great American city.”

This is the truth about New Orleans.

Yours truly,

Business Council of New Orleans and River Region, 
Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans, 
Common Good
 Greater New Orleans, Inc.


Here is my final comment on this. The following program Bill O’Reilly showed a sentence from a letter that the founders of Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans sent to him decrying the inaccurate statements made about New Orleans. He called these good women idiotic for not realizing the problem we have with our jail. I don’t know if Bill reads the entire contents of the emails that go out over the air or whether he has his assistants do that and then they just hand him snippets of what they want him to read. So I will give him the benefit of the doubt. Everyone in the city knows that we have problems with our jail and it’s been shameful what goes on there.

What these good ladies were taking exception to was the “vast urban wasteland” comment and Geraldo’s dissing of 90 percent of the city outside the French Quarter which has nothing to do with what’s happening at the parish prison. What bothers me about Bill O’Reilly’s comments was that he did nothing to defend the city from Geraldo’s stupid statements.

So I think an apology is in order. But I’m not holding my breath that we’ll get one.


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