Morial, Marc H.
Marc H. Morial
Executive, civil rights activist
As both politician and leader of the National Urban League, Marc H. Morial has dedicated himself to helping others. Morial served two terms as mayor of New Orleans. His tenure marked the third time in the city's history that an African-American held the top post. When he first won the election in 1994 few, it seemed, expected this politically inexperienced son of Ernest "Dutch" Morial—the city's first African-American mayor—to accomplish what he did during his first term. By putting in place a series of anti-crime measures, reforming the police department, and capturing federal funding for other programs, Morial and his administration set in motion a precipitous drop in violent crime in the city. Enjoying near-unprecedented support and popularity—among both black and white residents of New Orleans—he easily won a second term in 1998. "Morial," noted New York Times reporter Rick Bragg, "has always been one of the crown princes of this city," and remarked that the younger politician's popularity had now surpassed that enjoyed by his late father. So popular did Morial remain that he petitioned to revise his post's term limits in order to run for an unprecedented third term as New Orleans' mayor. Unable to lift the law, Morial moved on in 2003 to become president and CEO of the National Urban League. He has brought the same enthusiasm and skill to the Urban League, and in his first years of leadership has initiated new, revitalizing programs aimed at addressing the most pressing problems for black Americans.
Born on January 3, 1958, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Morial was the second of five children in the family of lawyer Dutch Morial and his schoolteacher wife, Sybil. Both parents were politically active in local issues and the wider civil-rights struggles of the 1960s. Dutch Morial eventually became a judge and was elected New Orleans's first African-American mayor in 1978. Marc Morial, then a college student at the University of Pennsylvania, served as a campaign coordinator for his father. After earning a degree in economics in 1980, Morial attended Georgetown Law School and received his degree in 1983. After two years with a New Orleans firm, he opened his own firm in 1985.
Morial soon became actively involved in the Democratic Party both on the local and national levels. During the Rev. Jesse Jackson's bid for the 1988 Democratic Party presidential nomination, Morial was a key player in Jackson's New Orleans support organization. That summer, he also served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. In 1991, he ran for and won a seat in the Louisiana State Senate in Baton Rouge. During his first few years, he earned accolades as a "rookie" legislator for his voting record and sponsorship of bills. Strongly liberal in his politics, Morial supported reproductive rights for women and opposed the death penalty.
Entered Mayoral Race
By the early 1990s, Morial's hometown of New Orleans was in trouble. The city's skyrocketing crime and murder rates attracted national media attention and began to undermine the financial health of a city heavily dependent on tourism. In addition, there were several highly publicized incidents of police brutality and allegations of widespread corruption within the police department. Believing he could turn New Orleans around, Morial decided to enter the mayoral race.
Morial announced his candidacy for mayor in late 1993 at a press conference in which he exhorted, "We need to clean up City Hall with a shovel and not a broom!" according to his biography on his personal Web site. Although still relatively inexperienced politically, Morial was an enthusiastic campaigner who quickly gathered popular support. Most African-American adults still held his father, Dutch Morial, in high regard and were willing to throw their support behind his son. The mayoral race intensified dramatically when Morial's top opponent, Donald Mintz, a Jewish lawyer long active in New Orleans politics, tried to divide the city's electorate along racial lines. During the campaign anonymous, racially-charged fliers began appearing across the city. Many of these fliers denounced Mintz with slogans such as "Stop the Colored/Jew Coalition," and one depicting Mintz with a man resembling Nelson Mandela.
Morial and his campaign team accused the Mintz camp of creating the offensive fliers themselves, and were partially vindicated. The New Orleans Human Relations Commission launched an inquiry, and found that at least two fliers originated from within the Mintz organization. More damaging to Mintz, however, was the fact that his campaign staff had used the fliers in a national fundraising effort to evoke sympathy for victims of anti-Semitism. These fundraising efforts helped generate $200,000 in donations for the Mintz campaign. The National Jewish Relations Advisory Council in New York "had concluded that they [the fliers] were probably not the work of hate groups," according to Ronald Smothers in the New York Times.
At a Glance...
Born Marc H. Morial on January 3, 1958, in New Orleans, LA; son of Ernest "Dutch" (a lawyer, judge, and politician) and Sybil (a teacher) Morial; married Michelle Miller. children: Kemah and Mason. Education : University of Pennsylvania, BA, 1980; Georgetown University, JD, 1983. Politics : Democrat.
Career : Barham & Churchill, New Orleans, LA, associate, 1983-85; Marc H. Morial Professional Law Corp., New Orleans, LA, managing partner, 1985-94; Xavier University, adjunct professor of political science, 1987-90; Louisiana State Senator, District Four, 1992-94; City of New Orleans, mayor, 1994-2002; Adams and Reese (law firm), New Orleans, attorney, 2002; National Urban League, president and CEO, 2003–.
Memberships : American Bar Association, National Bar Association, Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association, National Conference of Black Lawyers, Louisiana State Bar Association, Harare, chair, 1983-86, Louisiana Association of Minority and Women-Owned Businesses, Louisiana Special Olympics, board of directors, 1991–.
Awards: Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Shriver Award for Equal Justice, 2004.
Addresses : Office — The National Urban League, 120 Wall Street, 8th Floor, New York, NY, 10005.
Until the hate literature debacle, Mintz had been slightly ahead of Morial in the polls. On election day, Mintz received more votes than Morial, but was unable to win a clear majority. As a result, a runoff election was scheduled to determine a winner. In the weeks heading up to the runoff election, the campaign grew increasingly bitter. There were allegations that Morial had once been admitted to a hospital for an erratic heartbeat. Allegedly, Morial had told medical personnel that he had snorted cocaine earlier that evening, a claim that Morial strongly denied. Voters, however, were not swayed by the negative attacks on Morial. "Morial, despite his relative youth and perceived inexperience, has basked somewhat in the aura of his father's reputation for assertiveness and savvy," declared Smothers. His New York Times article went on describe the toll that rampant crime and financial mismanagement had taken on New Orleans residents and how Morial's presence in the race had "evoked a time when a Morial was in City Hall and things were better," wrote Smothers.
Curbed Crime in New Orleans
In the runoff election of March 5, 1994, Morial emerged victorious with 54 percent of the vote. In his victory speech, Morial urged city residents of all ethnicities to come together to work toward the future, declaring, "tomorrow we will start rebuilding the city in the physical sense and the spiritual sense. We don't plan to take a vacation," Jet reported him as saying. Morial also broke with tradition by choosing not to hold the inauguration during the day at City Hall. Instead, he was sworn in during the evening at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, a change that allowed more residents to attend the inauguration. During his first 100 days in office, Morial worked to improve and expand youth programs sponsored by the city's recreation department in order to reduce the high rates of juvenile crime in New Orleans. He recalled that becoming involved as a youth in many city-sponsored recreational programs had kept him out of trouble.
In an attempt to bring the crime rate in New Orleans under control, Morial implemented a controversial "community policing" program and instituted a curfew for all juveniles. Anyone under the age of 17 had to be off the streets after 8 p.m. on weekdays, and by 11 p.m. on weekends. Juveniles who broke the curfew and their parents were required to attend a counseling session and repeat offenders were subject to fines. Two months after the program went into effect, crime during curfew hours decreased by 38 percent, and in the span of three months, the city's overall crime rate dropped over 14 percent.
To address problems within the New Orleans police department, Morial hired a new police chief, put more officers on the street, gave the force pay increases, and moved the citizen-complaint department out of a police precinct building. By the end of 1995, reported Mary-Margaret Larmouth in Nation's Cities Weekly, New Orleans' murder rate had dropped 18 percent, and civil-rights complaints against police officers also dropped by 30 percent. During Morial's first term in office, the crime statistics continued to plummet: the murder rate fell from a high of 424 in 1994 to 266 in 1997. At the city's housing projects, people began using the picnic tables and playgrounds again. New York Times reporter Bragg also wrote that young residents of one the city's most crime-plagued housing projects no longer slept on the floor because of stray bullets.
Earned Respect as Mayor and Organization Leader
Some of Morial's detractors pointed out that the overall violent crime rate had dropped nationwide, and that the mayor and his policies did not deserve full credit for the drop in crime in New Orleans. However, Morial remained extremely popular within the city's African American community and he easily won a re-election bid in 1998. Poll results showed that Morial had received 93 percent of the city's African American vote and 43 percent of the white vote.
In his second term, Morial continued his efforts to clean up and improve New Orleans. He focused on maintaining and re-opening many of the city's parks and recreation facilities, rebuilding and repairing historic Canal Street, and expanding the city's convention center and airport. As his second term came near its end, speculation had begun regarding Morial's plans. Morial so enjoyed his position as mayor that in 2001 he gathered enough signatures to vote on rescinding the mayoral term limit requirements, so that he could run for a third term in office. His effort did not work, however, and he soon sought other work. Ebony writer Muriel L. Whetstone asked Morial what he hoped his legacy would be. "We want to leave a mark that we took a city that was dying and we reinvigorated it, we revitalized it," Morial told the magazine. "Also that we, in a very real way, created an opportunity for the African-American community to participate in the economics of this community, and that's a tough challenge."
After leaving the mayor's office, Morial accepted a new challenge; this time one with national impact. He became president and CEO of the National Urban League in 2003. A community-based civil rights group formed in 1910, the National Urban League Morial took over had a budget of $40 million and over 100 affiliates. Great things were expected from Morial, the man who turned around the "murder capital" as New Orleans was often referred before his tenure. "Anyone who can successfully manage a city like New Orleans and turn it around like he has done demonstrates he has a capacity to lead," the National Urban League's search committee chairman, Charles Hamilton Jr., told Jet. For his part, Morial knew exactly how he wanted to lead the organization. "We are in [the] post-Civil Rights Era where the work of so many organizations is respected in history and not understood in a contemporary context, and that is going to be one of our challenges, so that people understand what our role is," he explained to Jet. From the outset, Morial set a new course for the organization, embarking on a plan he called an "Empowerment Agenda." Citing the inequality that plagued the lives of black Americans, Morial focused his agenda on educating youth, connecting blacks with meaningful employment, addressing healthcare issues in the black community, taking positive steps toward civil and racial justice, and promoting civic engagement.
Black Collegian, October 2003, p. 106.
Ebony, November 1994, p. 80; August 2003, p. 28; April 12, 2004, p. 4; August 2004, p. 18.
Jet, February 21, 1994, p. 8; March 21, 1994, p. 4; June 2, 2003, p. 4; August 25, 2003, p. 4; August 23, 2004, p. 6.
Nation's Cities Weekly, November 6, 1995, p. 3.
New York Times, February 27, 1994, p. 20; March 27, 1994, p. 24; February 17, 1998, p. A10.
PR Newswire, May 10, 2002.
Washington Post, January 6, 1995, p. A21.
Marc H. Morial, www.marchmorial.com (April 27, 2005).
National Urban League, www.nul.org (April 27, 2005).
—Carol Brennan and Sara Pendergast
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