After parking his silver SUV in front of the Court of Two Sisters, Cesar Burgos struggled to maneuver his injured left leg, bound in a cast, out of car. Burgos, in typical style, insisted on driving himself to the October news conference, where he was set to announce the creation of a new krewe — this one designed to celebrate Halloween.
“This is no problem, no problem at all, ” said Burgos, as he wiped a bit of perspiration from his brow. “You can never let ’em see you sweat!”
Balancing on one leg, the slim, athletic lawyer whipped his crutches out of the car and headed toward the podium to greet local officials and the media.
Now routine, such appearances were not a part of his life until recently.
Burgos can’t recall ever appearing on TV before the storm, he said, or having a name well-known to many city leaders. But these days, Cesar Burgos is chairman of the Regional Transit Authority governing board, serves as captain of the Krewe of Boo and heads the First Responders Fund, which the krewe started to help New Orleans emergency medical personnel, firefighters and police officers get back into their homes after the hurricane.
He also sits on at least a dozen charity boards throughout New Orleans and is a past president of the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Louisiana.
Though he never has considered himself much of a public person, Burgos’ big and broadening plans for the city of New Orleans have put him directly in the public eye.
Este es el ano de Senor Burgos. This is the year of Mr. Burgos.
“You can’t ever plan every detail of your life, and I never plan to be out there in the public trying to lead change, ” said Burgos, 41. Honduran-born, Burgos says New Orleans is and always will be his home. “Now more than ever, this city needs people to do something. I am tired of hearing about cleaning up and what we need to do. . . .Give me a broom and let’s get this thing done!”
Named to his RTA post by Mayor Ray Nagin in September 2006, Burgos is proud finally to see the St. Charles streetcar line running to Riverbend. Still, things never move fast enough for Burgos. Though the streetcar was back on track ahead of schedule, the progress of the RTA and the city can’t keep pace with the plans in his head.
“A thousand times a day, I think, well, what if we tried this; would that make things move faster?” said Burgos. “This is my home; there isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be, so in my head 24/7 is: How do we get this city’s problems resolved?”
With a song by Latin artist Luis Miguel playing over his SUV stereo, Burgos drives down Canal Street from his law office toward the Louisiana State Court of Appeals building in the French Quarter. Along the way, where others might see blight and trash, Burgos sees possibilities. Burgos has decided not to sit and wait for change. He opted to be the agent of change.
“For us, our family and our friends, there was no question about coming back; it was always a matter of when we could come back, ” said Burgos, who along with his ex-wife, Tina, and most of his office staff, lost his home in the storm. “Right now, there are a number of people who want to broadcast the negatives of this city, but I don’t see any reason behind that. I see a chance to move forward, a time to change what didn’t work before, get past it and become better.”
Before August 2005, Burgos went about his life playing sports, spending time with his family and working 12-hour days practicing law and developing real estate. He grew up in Kenner, is an alumnus of Alfred Bonnabel High School and a graduate of Loyola University with a bachelor’s degree and a law degree. He met and married his now ex-wife here and currently shares custody of his two children, Adrian, 10, and Amanda, 7.
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Along with his success comes something else new to the ambitious lawyer: public attention. The “noticias, ” weekly Spanish-language newspapers, often publish Burgos’ handsome mug in the social pages. His looks and charm, community chatter says, make “Senor Burgos New Orleans’ new prince.”
Another prince of the city, Blaine Kern Sr., would agree.
Not long after the levee breaches, Kern and Burgos became acquainted through Mayor Nagin’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission; Burgos served as the head of the cultural committee and Kern was a member. Working with some of the city’s biggest movers and shakers in the entertainment field — such as Paul Prudhomme, Irvin Mayfield, Don Marshall and Wynton Marsalis — Burgos led the team through the planning stages of using New Orleans’ best-known attributes (music, food and culture) to bring back its most vital asset: tourism.
Kern approached Burgos to develop two events he hoped would draw new seasonal visitors to the city. The first was to be a cultural festival at which locals could celebrate the growing Latino influence in the city; the second, a grand-scale Halloween party with a full parade and after-party to match those during Carnival. The Halloween party would benefit not only the local economy but the city’s first responders as well, many of whom were still living in trailers.
It became Kern’s mission to develop a nonprofit that could be led by “a young, vibrant New Orleanian” who would ensure his dream of supporting the city’s emergency personnel now and in the future.
“The key to this city’s rebirth is our young folks. Cesar is the perfect ‘poster boy’ for our renewal, ” said Kern, who, along with Burgos, hosted the first Krewe of Boo extravaganza this Halloween. “What is so refreshing about Cesar is his ability to communicate with anyone effectively. No matter who he’s in a room with, white, black, Hispanic, he uses his knowledge to build a bridge between all of the communities. More importantly, when he is dealing with you, you know he is sincere in his word. He’s not doing all this to get rich. Cesar’s stepped up to ensure this city’s going to be a good place for his children — and all of our children and grandchildren.”
At the October news conference, New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley said he hopes Burgos’ enthusiasm for the city catches on with more people. Riley said he remembers Burgos from just after the storm when he offered to help the Police Department in some way. It was then that Riley told him about the many displaced NOPD officers and their families.
“It’s been a tough two years. The men and women of this department are going through many of the same things everyone else is experiencing, only day in and day out, it’s their job to deal with other people’s issues and problems out on the street, ” Riley said. “Then they must come home to a box-sized trailer and try to cope with their own stress. This fund is a wonderful idea come to life.”
In 2007, Burgos and his investment firm did more than $70 million in business locally.
He also turned his penchant for soccer into a full-time passion by forming a joint venture with the New Orleans Shell Shockers. He plans to expand the team and eventually market New Orleans as a hub for international soccer teams to spend their off-seasons, basically making New Orleans much like cities in Florida and Arizona, where major league baseball teams often do spring training.
Burgos said negativity and fear of change have held New Orleans back for too long, and it’s time to innovate. He said he doesn’t want to see New Orleans’ fine architecture and structural integrity compromised, but change must be embraced if the city is to survive.
“We have to capitalize on these times and stop staying stuck in our old ways. It can’t be enough to rebuild what we had; we need to rise and create something better for ourselves, ” said Burgos, who has worked closely with RTA administrators to figure out how to look ahead at the transportation issues facing a smaller population that has dispersed in smaller pockets of rebuilt communities. “Not everyone shares my vision, and I know forced change can be painful, but the old way of thinking and planning needs to go.”
As one of the Fleur-de-Lis ambassadors — citizens who visit cities across the country to spread the message that New Orleans is an “economically viable, livable city with a long-range recovery plan” in progress — Burgos has heard first-hand the doubts about whether city leaders can handle new business or industry, let alone rebuild what was lost.
“My common sense tells me New Orleans has been around 300-plus years, and we were hit possibly by the biggest tragedy to ever face any American city, and we’re still here, ” Burgos said. “What I try to tell folks in other places is yes, we have some work to do, but, quite honestly, there isn’t any city that doesn’t have similar problems. My feeling is if we didn’t fall immediately following Katrina, we’re not going to fall now. . . . The challenge is: Are you going to be a part of that growth or sit back and try to capture what used to be?”
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Burgos often works seven days a week, sometimes from dawn to midnight, trying to create the New Orleans he’d like to see for his children.
His children, meanwhile, have their own wish lists for a new New Orleans. On a recent school night, they eagerly shared with their dad their visions for the city.
“It bothers me that no one seems to care there’s so much trash around, ” said Amanda, the 7-year-old who’d like to work with her dad as a lawyer some day. “All the time you have to see the trash on the playgrounds, the houses with trash and streets full of trash. . . . ”
“Amanda’s a bit of a neat freak, ” Cesar interjected.
Adrian nodded in agreement.
“I have this plan, ” 10-year-old Adrian said. “I want to run an indoor laser tag in that old place — what is it, Dad?”
“Robert’s Grocery on Broad Street, right?”
“Yeah, yeah, we’re going to open up a laser tag place when I get old enough, like 13, so I can run it on my own, ” Adrian said. “Then kids will have a safe place to play and parents won’t have to worry, and it’ll make a good business. Right, Dad?”
“You’re going to run it on your own?” Cesar asked.
“Yeah, when I am 13, and you can help, ” Adrian said to his father, who is consistently amazed by his children’s ideas and passion for the city.
Burgos said that all day, whether he is in his car, surrounded by staff in his office or attending a ball, he imagines creating a perfect place for Adrian and Amanda. He knows it can be done. In reality, he said, it’ll take an army of willing citizens to accomplish.
“They say a revolution is never started by one person; it’s many people who lead to change, and under any circumstances I would stand behind Cesar Burgos, ” said Irvin Mayfield, musician and co-founder of the First Responders Fund. “He is a man who can bring communities together, and a clear model of what it means to be a true New Orleanian.”
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This article was published and authored by:
Maria C. Montoya, The Times-Picayune By Maria C. Montoya, The Times-Picayune on January 01, 2008 at 10:44 AM, updated January 11, 2008 at 10:16 AM
Lawyer, businessman and RTA appointee Cesar R. Burgos and his children Adrian and Amanda.
By Maria Montoya
Staff writer Maria Montoya can be reached at email@example.com or at (504) 826-3446.
This article was republished on 7/13/2016 on burgoslawfirm.com as a reproduction of the original.