Can Mayor Mitch Landrieu reinvent New Orleans?

New Orleans' mayor tells Byron Pitts he doesn't want to rebuild city into what it was, but into what it can be

This story was first published May 1, 2011. It was updated on June 22, 2011.

New Orleans is one of the oldest cities in America. It's rich with culture and legendary for its indulgences and its disasters. Almost six years after Katrina, and one year after the BP oil spill, New Orleans has a new mayor with a new plan on how to run the city.

Mitch Landrieu says it's time to rebuild this place not into what it was but into what it can be. As we first told you in May, he brings his own brand of intensity to the Big Easy.

And like many people who live there, Landrieu is in the middle of a love affair with his troubled city, as we discovered when we caught up with him during Mardi Gras.

Can this man save New Orleans?
Will Mitch Landrieu become the mayor who brings the town back from the brink?

New Orleans is a rich gumbo of French, Spanish and Afro-Caribbean culture that has been slow cooking for three centuries. Tourism there is a $5 billion-a-year industry. And the biggest draw is Mardi Gras.

Beneath the Mardi Gras masks and the makeup, buried deep in the music, is an energy to New Orleans like no place else in America. And Mayor Mitch Landrieu moves to it with his own rhythm of leadership.

"I get the impression that you're having as much fun as the people are," correspondent Byron Pitts remarked, as Landrieu mingled in the crowd.

"I love Mardi Gras. I'm a street rat. I told you, I really, really enjoy it," Landrieu replied. "It's a lot of fun."

Mardi Gras is a two week long party where even the high and mighty can get down and dirty.

Extra: What is it about Mardi Gras?
Extra: On time in the Big Easy
Extra: Hey baby!

"You've been described, people I've talked to, as very much a modern-day mayor, that someone who was into statistics and analysis of things. But what we've seen is also an old-school mayor who likes to press the flesh and kiss babies and in New Orleans' case, dance with babies. Which are you? Which world are you more...comfortable?" Pitts asked.

"I'm both," Landrieu replied.

"Which one's more natural for you?" Pitts asked.

"They're both. I love 'em both. I mean, I love people. I mean, I'm in this business because I really love people," Landrieu said.

Landrieu's election in February 2010 held an omen of positive changes from the start - the very next day, the Saints won the Super Bowl.

"In a crazy way, it was a spiritual moment for the people of the city. People here so desperately needed something good to happen, and to believe that you could go from worst to best," Landrieu said. "You see that beginning to happen on the streets of the City of New Orleans."

But many of those streets are filled with reminders of the destructive power and emotional trauma inflicted by Katrina. Today, there are about 45,000 abandoned homes and buildings in New Orleans, making it one of the most blighted cities in America. But Landrieu says the city is making a comeback.

"Our unemployment rate is lower than the national average. Our housing values have gone up nine percent in the last year. For the first time in, I don't know, years, all of a sudden, more people are movin' back into the city," he told Pitts.

"The people of New Orleans not only are resilient, and not only are rebuilding back, but they're examples that in many areas we're doing better than we were before. And people just didn't fold their tent and go away," Landrieu said. "Because the things that we learned in Katrina is that the value of life does not come from the size of the home that you live in. That your church is not the building that you go to. It's the community that you have grown up and lived with."

Produced by David Schneider

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