CommunityPam's House Blend

NOLA Mayor Nagin is losing it


(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

This man needs meds. It’s bad enough that he made a DVD to tell the underclass without transportation in his city to fend for themselves, now he wants to blame the whole mess on God and the poor displaced people for the lack of progress there.

Mayor Ray Nagin suggested that recent destruction from hurricanes Katrina, Rita and other natural disasters is a sign that “God is mad at America,” and also mad at black communities for tearing themselves apart with violence and divisive politics.

“Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it’s destroyed and put stress on this country,” Nagin said as he and other city leaders commemorated Martin Luther King Day. “Surely he doesn’t approve of us being in Iraq under false pretenses. But surely he is upset at black America also. We’re not taking care of ourselves.”

Joking that he may appear to have “post-Katrina stress disorder,” Nagin, who is black, talked of an imaginary conversation with the late civil rights leader. They “talked,” he said, while he was thinking Monday about what to say at the ceremony outside City Hall to kick off a walking parade in King’s honor.

“I said, ‘What is it going to take for us to move on and live your dream and make it a reality?’ He said, ‘I don’t think that we need to pay attention any more as much about other folks and racists on the other side.’ He said, ‘The thing we need to focus on as a community — black folks I’m talking about — is ourselves.'”

Nagin told the crowd that he also asked, “Why is black-on-black crime such an issue? Why do our young men hate each other so much that they look their brother in the face and they will take a gun and kill him in cold blood?”

Good question, Ray. Not that you — or Kathleen Blanco — were doing anything to really tackle these problems in New Orleans before Katrina, with its corrupt police, terrible schools, and a disproportionately poor and underemployed population that made it a toxic social gumbo. These are complex problems that have no easy answer, but it’s clear nothing serious had been done for years.

Anyone that thought Nagin wants to deal with the issue of the underprivileged in his city post-Katrina is smoking something. Too many on the Left gave him a pass during the hurricane — the bottom line is that the mayor couldn’t identify with someone that couldn’t get a ride out of town because of classism and incompetence.

* He didn’t use the hundreds of NOLA school/municipal buses to help those without transportation out of the city. The Right exaggerated the number of available buses, but the fact of the matter is that there should have been a plan in place to use them long before any hurricane. Even if there were not enough to get everyone out, there’s no excuse for the under-utilization of this resource. It’s sad that a kid had to “steal” one to evacuate people himself.

* Before Katrina there was Ivan, and during that hurricane, cnly at the last moment, did Mayor Nagin open the Superdome because he was reportedly worried that lower-class refugees might damage or graffiti the Superdome.

* Nagin, completely PR tone-deaf and classist, made sure the 700 guests and employees from the Hyatt Hotel (where his communications base was) to jump ahead of those stuck in the festering Superdome in the evacuation line.

This doesn’t remove any huge blame from the shoulders of Blanco, Heckuva Job Brownie, Chertoff or Dear Leader. It’s just a reality that Nagin is a big part of the problem as well.

That said, what’s true about the undercurrent in Nagin’s frustrations is that no one is working together effectively or honestly in the recovery and rebuilding of New Orleans. Black, white and brown, rich, poor and middle class, fed, state, local — all have stakes in what happens to this city. The reality is that all of this puts into clear focus that only a small segment of power brokers really have control over the final outcome. Many in the socioeconomically deprived communities of NOLA — in this case, mostly blacks — are finding out that they are going to be on the short end of the stick (again), with little final say in the matter.

Those raised voices, in-fighting and almost-useless jockeying for position are what Nagin is overcome by. I hate to tell him this, but it won’t stop unless everyone has an equal piece of the pie. I’m not necessarily advocating that because that method comes at a steep price — any progress will take eons because everyone will have to have buy-in on everything — and that’s going to be impossible, given the history, politics, and incompetence at all levels in this disaster. If people there are unhappy with the state of progress and decisionmaking, look for more of the same.

After all, Dear Leader drove through the mildly damaged area of the city on his last float-through and saw major progress — “It may be hard for you to see, but from when I first came here to today, New Orleans is reminding me of the city I used to come to visit.” He didn’t tour the Ninth Ward, he didn’t promise to rebuild the levees to Cat 5 strength.

That should be a clear sign to everyone in New Orleans that they are really on their own. Again.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding