Former New Orleans mayor, political family patriarch Moon Landrieu dies at 92

Published: Sep. 5, 2022 at 12:13 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 5, 2022 at 12:23 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Maurice “Moon” Landrieu, who led the desegregation of New Orleans’ city government leadership positions during two terms as mayor in the 1970s and was patriarch of one of Louisiana’s best-known political families, died early Monday (Sept. 5).

Sources told Fox 8 that Landrieu passed away peacefully in the morning, surrounded by friends and family. He was 92.

“Moon Landrieu was a courageous and defining voice for Louisiana and his beloved hometown of New Orleans,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement. “He served with unwavering integrity throughout his long and storied career of public service.”

The father of former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and of former two-term New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, Moon Landrieu was a product of Jesuit High School and Loyola University New Orleans, where he worked toward his law degree and first tasted political victory when he was elected student body president in the early 1950s.

Landrieu joined the US Army in 1954, becoming a second lieutenant and serving in the Judge Advocate General’s corps until 1957. He then taught accounting at Loyola and opened a private law practice.

In 1960, Landrieu won a seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives as a New Orleans Democrat. There, he opposed several segregationist bills passed by the state legislature that aimed to block the desegregation of public schools and facilities.

“As a newly elected member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, he was the only member to vote against a 1960 bill that sought to defy federal integration orders,” Edwards said. “Moon was never afraid to be the man in the arena.”

He lost his first bid for a spot on the New Orleans City Council in 1962 but was elected as a councilman-at-large in 1966. As a councilman, Landrieu voted to remove the Confederate flag from council chambers and in 1969 led a successful push for a city ordinance that outlawed segregation in public places based on race or religion.

Landrieu was elected mayor for the first of two terms in 1970, succeeding fellow Democrat Victor Schiro. Not everyone was a fan of Landrieu’s civil rights record, however. A man was arrested the day before Landrieu was sworn in for threatening the life of the mayor-elect in May 1970.

As mayor, Landrieu pushed even harder for the desegregation of the top levels of city government. The Times-Picayune reported that the percentage of Black employees working for the city increased from 19 percent in 1970 to 43 percent by the end of his second term in 1978. Landrieu also filled a temporary vacancy on the City Council by appointing Rev. A.L. Davis as New Orleans’ first Black council member.

Sidney Barthelemy, who would be elected New Orleans’ second Black mayor from 1986-94, got his start in city government when he became a department head under Moon Landrieu.

“When I was young and in college, I started working in his campaign,” Barthelemy told Fox 8. “After that, I was an intern. And then when I got my master’s (degree), he asked me to become director of the city Welfare Department, which was my first real public service work. I was there for three years and then I ran for the state Senate.”

Jim Singleton, a former at-large city councilman, also worked in Landrieu’s administration.

“He opened the city to Black folks,” Singleton said. “When I first got there, the only Blacks working in City Hall were the janitors.”

Dillard University public policy professor Dr. Robert Collins said Moon Landrieu opened doors for many future Black leaders, including Collins’ own father.

“There were Black folks that worked (at City Hall) before, but they didn’t have positions of responsibility,” Collins said. “When Moon Landrieu became mayor, he was the first to actually have Black department heads. He had a lot of Black folks in the City Attorney’s office.

“Moon Landrieu actually hired my dad to his first political job, his first public service job. He hired him as chief legal adviser to the New Orleans Police Department, which at the time was a very high position for a young Black attorney in this city.”

Former Louisiana Attorney General and Orleans Parish Sheriff Charles Foti said Landrieu was a cousin he knew from childhood.

“I think that Moon excelled at everything he put his mind to,” Foti said. “He always excelled. He had a deep Catholic, Christian faith and he believed that everybody should be equal. I think that constitutionally, as a lawyer, he thought that things weren’t fair. And he fought to make things fair for everybody.

“He was very good at working with the Council to make the city a better place to live. ... I think he modernized the city. I think he brought a new cadre of people into the city, into city government. I think he showed that people could aspire to anything they wanted to be.”

Landrieu’s legacy also includes his work in the planning and construction of the Louisiana (now Caesars) Superdome, housing expansion into New Orleans East and Algiers, the creation of the Downtown Development District, and the riverfront walkway across from the French Quarter that bears his nickname, the Moon Walk.

Collins said Landrieu elevated New Orleans’ reputation as a international tourism destination.

“It really wasn’t always that way,” Collins said. “It was actually during the Moon Landrieu administration that he started aggressively pushing for tourism, and he used his national contacts to actively push the city as a tourism destination. Once he became HUD secretary, he continued to push it as a tourism destination, as well as to direct infrastructure dollars down here to New Orleans.”

After leaving office as mayor, Landrieu served two years as President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). and later an eight-year stint as a judge on Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, from 1992 until his retirement in 2000.

“It was a big celebration in D.C. when he was sworn in,” Barthelemy said. “Many, many people from New Orleans -- I was included -- went up to celebrate the victory of being named our first cabinet official from the city.”

Collins said, “It gave the city national exposure. It gave the city a person that actually had the ear of the President of the United States.”

Landrieu was no stranger to Washington. He held meetings with Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

“He was well-regarded for his opinion on things,” Foti said.

Current New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell called Moon Landrieu “a civil rights trailblazer and dedicated public servant.

“Landrieu’s urban policy vision helped shape this city, and the racial coalitions he built in the face of division continues to inspire generations,” Cantrell said.

City Council president Helena Moreno said, “Mayor (Moon) Landrieu transformed civic and political life with his courageous fights on behalf of the people of New Orleans. He will be long remembered as a leader who ignited transformative changes for racial justice, desegregation, and economic equality. ... Moon never stopped serving, mentoring countless civic and political leaders, lending his time and attention to causes here at home and across the world. He has left an indelible mark on our city and will be greatly missed.”

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