Tourism Leader Stephen Perry Is Out of Touch and Out of Line

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New Orleans & Company CEO Stephen Perry must be the most egotistical and out-of-touch non-profit leader in the city’s history. Here at The New Orleans Tribune, we feel pretty confident in making that assessment as messages Perry sent to members of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s reveal the unreasonable and unrealistic position he has taken regarding decisions Mayor Cantrell has made as New Orleans literally fights for the lives of its residents against the deadly COVID-19.

Perry’s concerns about how Mayor Cantrell decisions have supposedly “undercut negotiations” and threaten the tourism industry are out of touch with the depth and breadth of the crisis the city, state and nation now face. This is a pandemic, sir. More than 1.3 million Americans have been infected. Nearly 80,000 have died.

Perry’s characterization of Mayor Cantrell as a “demagogue” is wholly inappropriate and untrue. What she is, however, is Mayor of New Orleans. And the last time we checked, that’s a title that Stephen Perry does not carry. If no one else will remind him of that fact, we will.

We have to wonder if it is misogyny, good old-fashioned White privilege or a twisted mix of both that makes Perry think his antics are acceptable? We wonder if he would have dared to take this posture with Mayor Cantrell’s predecessor?

For her part, Mayor Cantrell made clear several weeks ago that she was not going to be bullied and that she would allow the data to drive decision making as to when and how New Orleans begins to reopen its economy. She is under no obligation to consult with Stephen Perry, Walt Leger III or anyone else. When she consults with industry leaders of any sort, it is a courtesy, not a requirement. If Perry does not like what she is doing, he gets one vote–just like every other registered voter in Orleans Parish.

Here is what makes Perry’s behavior even more infuriating: Mayor Cantrell is making the right moves. The need to get a handle on the spread of coronavirus is why she extended her original stay-at-home order for the city of New Orleans to May 16—a move later mirrored by Gov. John Bel Edwards for the entire state and one that we support wholeheartedly because it sends the right message—people over profits.

Are businesses having a tough time right now? Of course, they are. Is tourism taking a big hit? You better believe it. But whatever business interests are now experiencing simply cannot be as hard as dying alone in a sterile hospital room from COVID-19.

Placing people over profits is why Mayor Cantrell publicly shared her thoughts on large, lucrative gatherings like the Jazz & Heritage Festival, the Essence Festival and Voodoo Fest, being postponed until 2021. She feared that fall 2020 dates for these events that, together, attract millions of visitors to our city would be too soon and could cause a resurgence of COVID-19 that our emergency and healthcare systems could not handle as the city works to recover from the current sweep of the pandemic. She was right. And thankfully, the organizers of those events took heed and canceled.

As of today (Monday, May 11), Louisiana has 31,815 cases of COVID-19 and 2,242 deaths. New Orleans has nearly 6,700 positive cases of COVID-19 and 470 deaths attributed to coronavirus—that’s more than 21 percent of all cases statewide and nearly 21 percent of the deaths. In a city that is nearly 60 percent African-American, we know that the Black community in New Orleans is being hit hard by a virus that is having a disproportionate impact on Blacks in Louisiana and around the nation. And we have no doubt that it would have been far worse were it not for the unprecedented steps Mayor Cantrell took in canceling events such as St. Patrick’s Day and Super Sunday celebrations. We have no doubt it would be far worse if the Mayor had not extended the stay-at-home order. And we take Perry’s position as a personal affront to our community.

Mayor Cantrell’s decisions to place people over profits in this unprecedented time is what has Perry all worked up. He is more concerned about money than the human toll this disease is exacting. In his mind, profits over people somehow makes sense and justifies his behavior.

Perry wants people to believe he is concerned about tourism and hospitality workers, but the facts betray him. And we aren’t fooled. In one message, he wrote:

“You have no f–king idea what you have done. We spent all morning in a prudent table top with the Governor planning so much out. I would count on massive budget cuts, failure of hundreds of small businesses, and y’all have f–ked the lives of thousands of New Orleans workers. I am speechless. Good luck. Your ship is now sinking.

What a joke! He talked about thousands of workers as if that is who is concerned about, but we aren’t buying that line of bull.

Perry and the other wealthy businessmen across the city and state, clamoring to open things up right now are not concerned about the hardworking, low-wage earners who are the foundation of the tourism industry.

If they were, they would stop fighting against raising the minimum wage in Louisiana. And they are not concerned about the authentic culture bearers who are the fabric of the tourism industry. If they were, they would do more to ensure that those culture bearers are adequately compensated for their contributions.

If they were, Mayor Cantrell would not have had to fight a year ago to get a fair share of the hospitality tax dollars that flow into the city for needed infrastructure improvements while the Convention Center sits on hundreds of millions in reserves.

It’s not just Perry. Many leaders across the city’s tourism industry have been a big disappointment during this crisis.

While it is true that the Convention Center’s governing board voted to move $1 million from its reserves to help hospitality workers, by some estimates that works out to about $10 a worker—hardly a drop in the bucket and nothing compared to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center’s stash.

It has become abundantly clear that WE are not in this thing together. Perry and others who insist on coming for Mayor Cantrell while she works on behalf of the people who elected her would do well to remember just that—the people of New Orleans elected her.

Perhaps that is a part of the problem. For too long, wealthy business interests have been accustomed to running New Orleans and pulling strings in the shadows.

Those days have long needed to come to an end. COVID-19 and its impact are far too serious to allow the will of the few—powerful they may be—to outweigh the safety and sanctity of the many.

Bottom line is that Perry was out of line. Do not get us wrong. It’s perfectly okay to disagree—even with the Mayor. But Perry should have done it the right way. In this particular case, the right way would have been to sit in corner somewhere, quietly brood over things not going his way for a day . . . maybe two, fix his face, realize the Mayor is right, and then ask her what he and his organization could do to be of service to the city and its people during this trying time.

Notice how sending messages full of the “f” word and obscure threats to Mayor Cantrell’s administration was not mentioned.

We wondered what in the world would make Perry think he could attempt to bully, intimidate or terrorize Mayor Cantrell and her administration with his expletive-laced text messages. Could it be the $430,000 plus tax-payer funder salary he rakes in annually without the responsibility of answering to taxpayers? Could it be that he thinks he has a board that will support his ridiculous antics at any cost?

We hope Perry’s bosses are taking a long hard look at his behavior and asking themselves if his is really the sort of leadership they want for an organization that supposedly exists to showcase the best New Orleans has to offer.