Friday, 15 May 2020 22:09

Fielkow on Covid-19 Response, Future Plans to Re-Open Community and Sports Featured

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Is the New Orleans area and Louisiana, as a state, entering a new phase of coronavirus protections and risks, too quickly?  Are we emphasizing our health and safety needs more than we should?  Are we abandoning the very real risks of the aged, the unhealthy and those prone to get sick or worse, die? Or, shouldn’t we recognize the irreparable harm to our institutions, our economy and our way of life?

A few days ago, I discussed these general issues with Arnie Fielkow during a Facebook Live event. I looked forward to the interview because it is not everybody who has held the positions of President of the New Orleans Saints, the New Orleans City Council, the National Basketball Retired Players Association and now, the Greater New Orleans Jewish Federation. I thought he would bring an articulate, divergent and interesting perspective to the controversy.  After all, looking at the issue from the vantage point of an NFL team executive would be different from the perspective of a top public servant or a head of a major not-profit organization.

 I believe, once you review the interview, you will agree.

Below is the transcript of part one of our discussion. Also below is the video of the entire interview.

Stephen Sabludowsky  

Hi, everybody, I am Stephen Sabludowsky, Publisher of, and today we're going to be talking to Arnie Fielkow. Just everybody here knows Arnie Fielkow. But those who haven't had the pleasure, Arnie is an old friend of mine. He's a former president of the New Orleans Saints. And after Katrina, he became New Orleans City Councilman and then president of the New Orleans City Council. A few years after that, He took off for Chicago, became president of the New Orleans, I'm sorry, the National Basketball Retired Players Association. And now I'm happy to say that the President of the Greater New Orleans Jewish Federation. So Arnie, how you doing today??

Arnie Fielkow  

Good, Steve. It's a It's a pleasure to join you. And you know, we're all of us are living in this virtual world. So we're getting used to zoom in other technologies, but wonderful to be able to converse with you and I look forward to discussion.

Stephen Sabludowsky 

Okay, thank you so much. In fact, I'm looking off to the left side, where I have a couple of computers right now. So if I look distracted, it's only because I'm doing that and just trying to see whether or not it has actually come up on. It says lock, okay, so I think it's just a little delay. So, that being the case, if anybody has a question or comment, I will be looking to get whatever comments or questions that you might have.

Stephen Sabludowsky 

let's first talk about if you don't mind, let's talk about, we're actually the same ones is, is going to reopen on Saturday. Tell us what you know about that.

Arnie Fielkow

Well, obviously like everyone else, I have been following the declarations earlier this week, on Monday by Governor Edwards and Tuesday by Mayor Cantrell and Jefferson Parish, President Lee Sheng. They're pretty similar. There are a few differences certainly between New Orleans and the state. But I I have to say and I you know, I've said this pretty publicly and also privately for the last month. I really want to commend our Governor, Mayor Cantrell, all of our regional officials our New Orleans City Council, I think they've done an outstanding job of navigating the crisis, prioritizing citizen health, trying to keep us safe. And, you know, we will see. I think all of us are, we understand that there has to be some reopening of society for many reasons that I'm sure we'll talk about. But I think all of us are also or at least I am, I'm very concerned about the safety.

We've, Steve, we've we've lost over 2200 Louisiana residents, almost 1000 people from our own local community. I mean, those numbers are staggering, and it's it's a frightening disease and virus and I don't want to see any more loss of life. That's really my top priority right now is the loss of life is you know, we we've been able to avoid a healthcare capacity crisis due to good decision--with our hospitals,  but I am hopeful that if we start to open very slowly that people will follow the rules follow the mandates, even if not to follow the safety precaution in order to keep people safe if not for themselves for others.

Stephen Sabludosky  

So you give them pretty good marks. How do you compare them to others around the country?

Stephen Sabludowsky  

I mean, with that without specifying any particular state, but just in general,

Arnie Fielkow

yeah, no, I I think our state and local leaders have done an outstanding job. You know, I it's not an easy job. I was in office in the months after Katrina. There are life decisions that are being made. These are there's no rulebook to follow in many cases. And I just think from the governor, to the mayor, to our elected officials in our region, they've really done a great job. And, you know what I like about what they've done. And others have done this well, but I, I think, I think Louisiana and in the New Orleans area, they've done it even better. They have really focused on citizen health from the very beginning. And they said that we're going to let science and health guide us. And that's the right approach that we should be doing. When I look around at other parts of the country, I will tell you, I'm, you know, I'm a little frustrated and a bit disappointed with some of our leaders.

I think that first of all, you know, we should have had and should today have a stronger federal response. I think decentralizing some of these efforts. It's not the wisest thing to do. And I'll give you two examples, if I may, you know, to have different states with different reopening rules, and different requirements, next to each other. I mean, really, to me, makes no sense at all. I mean, we in Mississippi, you can have one set of rules, I believe, like the restaurant rules. I think they started at a 50% opening, I believe I saw--we're at  25%. I mean, we're not going to close the borders. We're not going to keep people from Mississippi out no more than they're going to keep people from New Orleans from going to the Gulf, the Gulf Coast. But we should have uniform standards. I mean, that's going to be the best way to protect people. The other story that's in the news in the last 24 hours that really just amazed me, is my home state of Wisconsin. And for people that don't know they have a they have a democratic governor, who I believe is in many ways follows a lot of the rules that Governor Edwards has followed in terms of health-- he has been, he's erred on the side of protecting citizens health, and that he's faced with the legislature like we had in Louisiana, not not our entire legislature, but a few leaders that wanted to overturn the powers of the governor on his emergency authority.

Well, that case yesterday went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court sided against the governor. And as I'm reading some of the articles today, they're a state they're in a state of some chaos in Wisconsin right now, because you don't you don't really know what the reopening rules are. As you know, Wisconsin has a lot of taverns. For example, there's a very strong organization called the tavern League of Wisconsin, immediately upon a Supreme Court ruling yesterday, they said all taverns and bars in Wisconsin are open. I mean, is that really what we want to see from government? Is that the uniformity we want to see I don't think so. And that, you know, that would be my one of my biggest complaints that for what's going on last two months.

Stephen Sabludowsky  

I saw that in terms of the Supreme Court holding, what was the the the holding itself in terms of least the basis of the holding? That is that people have right To access so they have a right, a first amendment right to freedom, liberty. I mean, that's pretty much what people have argued throughout the country.

Arnie Fielkow  

Yeah, I think that's the consistent legal business ethical argument that that folks have made. Um, you know, unfortunately in most states and, and nationally as well, um, politics clearly are at play- the Wisconsin Supreme Court-- I'm not expected Louisiana's to know this, but-- it is a majority republican state legislature and it is the majority republican conservative Supreme Court. They just had an ad. They just had an election a few weeks ago, where a liberal was elected to the Supreme Court, which will make it a five four majority for the conservatives, but it's very political. And unfortunately, Steve, you know, when really--the only thing that ought to be talked about right now is health, science, the economy, those are all legitimate topics for us to talk about. It just seems not only in many states around the country, but certainly in our national politics, you know, decisions and, and arguments are being driven by partisan politics. And and that is, you know, we knew that existed before COVID clearly, it's, it's, it's reared, I think it's ugly face since COVID.

And, you know, I for one, I mean, I feel like I'm sometimes living in a altered universe because you could turn one station on at night, and then another station on at night, and the cable networks are, we're almost in different worlds here. And you know, we shouldn't be there right now. We are all in this together. We are all you know, the victims of a terrible global pandemic. And the focus should not be in politics or partisan aspect. focus should be on how do we keep alive and help those people that are unemployed, help them get back on their feet in a way that's safe. And instead I fear that some of these debates arguments that are going on around the country really are, are almost just a ramp up to a national presidential election, as opposed to what we should really should be focusing on.

Stephen Sabludowsky  

So as you know, I love playing devil's advocate and I'm gonna do so. Alright, continue to do so. And that is let's, I mean, for example, you were president of the New Orleans city council. And certainly each council person had its own say district, and you wouldn't want say, to be had the city to impose something in your district that you didn't believe was suitable for your your district. And so wouldn't the argument be that, say, North West Florida should not be under the same rules and guidelines, say Southeast Florida?  I mean, it's the same with with Wisconsin. I mean, that's the argument that I've heard. Go ahead, please.

Arnie Fielkow  

Well, I'll answer it in two ways. First of all, I think certainly early on, you saw differences across the country of states that were hotspots and those that were not obviously Louisiana, especially the New Orleans area, Region One was a hotspot in late March in early May, and a very big way. You looked at states like back then like Montana, Wyoming, Maine, Vermont, you know, that were less so. And, you know, I think that some of the, you know, some of the precautions, rules, standards and You know, could be easy and could be a little bit different in that area. The problem is, I think, as we get to today, I think we've learned a lot from this virus. I think, first of all, we understand that, you know, a state not being a hotspot may reflect the fact that they didn't do as much testing as another trick of their area. But it doesn't mean that the COVID does not exist there. Um, I'm just very concerned that I don't know how you can have maximum safety--when you have these disparate standards that go on. I thought, for example, if you remember a couple weeks ago, um, you know, some of the Northeast states got together, they almost formed a coalition on reopening some of the West Coast states as well. We did not do that in the South. And so as a result, you saw our neighbors, Arkansas, Mississippi, are really very different standards, I think in many ways than what Louisiana did, in terms of shelter at home, and in terms of, you know, what now are reopening is?

The other thing that I would say, though I think it's even more important is, and I'll use the city council example. Um, yeah, of course everybody that's elected has their own electorate and their own constituency. But I think it changes when you get to an emergency situation. We saw that after Katrina. I mean, I don't think you would have wanted a mayor in a hurricane situation, you know, saying a, and then the council member from district, D and E having a whole different policy, that would be a disaster. And you know, what, what I think is somewhat troublesome is, you know, we are a country of laws where we operate by the rule of law. And we have given our governors and we've given our mayors certain emergency powers and our president as well, that in an emergency they have the right to basically be the boss and to make the rules and make the decisions. And when I see us trying to overturn that legislatively, and now, you know, with Wisconsin from a judicial standpoint, I mean, I really think we're hurting ourselves. I think it goes against the rule of law in many ways. And, you know, we fortunate in Louisiana, we've pretty much been together.

And again, I give a lot of credit to the governor of holding all of our parishes together with many of the same standards throughout. But, you know, to have a situation where different parishes or counties and other states would be doing one thing, and not being done in the other or different adjoining states doing one thing and not the other. I mean, I just, I don't I worry about the fact that at the end of the day, what's going to really hurt us is health. And, you know, I think we can all agree on one thing, and that is that as we're reopening, if a month from now, we have to pull back and go back to a sheltering situation and close the economy totally back again. That's the worst consequence of all. So I just think we need to be very cautious, I wish. And again, I'm not really being overly critical, because this is a playbook that nobody had. I mean, you know, nobody, nobody has navigated and responded to a situation exactly like this. So we're all learning by each and every day, we're learning new things. And I just hope that our elected officials, as we now have made the decision to reopen Louisiana New Orleans area. Um, I hope that we proceed cautiously, that we proceed with health of our citizens top of mind, and if things need to change that they rapidly change, so that, you know, we don't get into a New York situation that we would never want to see here.

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