Thursday, October 13, 2005

My thoughts on Mayor Nagin

There is much being said around the blogosphere about New Orleans Mayor Nagin. And, I thought that I would add my local two cents.

First, you have to understand the state of New Orleans politics over the past few decades. In every level and layer, corruption has been running rampant. From the school board to the city commission to the parish. Heck, corruption is synonymous with Louisiana politics. The previous mayor's administration was no different. In fact, I would argue that Marc Morial actually took corruption to an all new level. Which is saying a lot in Louisiana. When Nagin took office three years ago, this was all laid at his feet.

He ran on a platform of cleaning up the city. He wanted to take the corruption out of New Orleans politics. Unfortunately for him, that corruption was so ingrained and so beneficial to all those in politics and in charge, that he didn't stand a fighting chance. In fact, he was doomed. Every initiative, every plan, every candidate, etc. That he supported met with defeat. He had absolutely no support. No one wanted him to reform New Orleans' government because it would lead to their loss of power.

Last year, we were faced with Hurricane Ivan. Nagin ordered the evacuation of New Orleans. Other mayors and parish presidents did the same in their areas. What a disaster that was. Since that time, an evacuation plan was developed. Unfortunately, another outcome of that disastrous evacuation for Ivan was a huge backlash for Nagin. The parish officials in Orleans parish used this to grandstand for their own benefit against Nagin. They convinced their constituents that Nagin was wrong to order an evacuation. There was no need to leave. This set the stage for Katrina.

What many people don't realize is that we didn't know Katrina was threatening Louisiana until Friday before the storm hit. Before that time, Katrina was being forecast as hitting the panhandle of Florida. I remember how surprised I was when, while I was eating dinner out with my husband Friday night, I saw on an overhead TV that the storm was now being forecast more in our direction. Even then, however, it was still just being forecast as a Cat 1 or 2. Nothing too bad, nothing really to worry about.

On Saturday morning, the news started to turn bad. All of a sudden there was a flurry of information as it seemed that the storm continued to grow in intensity. Nagin, as well as other officials, were constantly on TV telling people to leave. Nagin also told people, "Do not come to the Superdome. It is not set up as a shelter. It will be used only as a last resort for the sick and infirm." Nagin kept telling people to make their own evacuation plans (of course, he had been saying this for the past year as part of his evacuation plan). Contrast this with Houston's evacuation for Rita and you will see that they had several week days to evacuate the city. That being said, there were mistakes made. Big mistakes. Buses went unused. Provisions not collected. You all know the mistakes. (I heard that the reason the schools buses were not used is because local officials wanted the buses to have bathrooms and air conditioning. I don't know who decided not to use them for those reason, but knowing the reputations and past idiocy of the city and parish officials, I don't find this difficult to believe).

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Nagin was being compared to Guiliani after 9/11. This was totally unfair. Katrina totally wiped out all forms of communication. There was no cell phones, no land lines, no two-way radios. Nothing. Top that with levees breaking, widespread looting, trapped citizens, officers abandoning posts and total mayhem. He needed help. He felt helpless and hopeless. I don't blame his outbursts. He was in a situation that was totally unprecedented. Those first few days were hell and it was scary. Imagine how you would have handled it. Although his outbursts and rants were widely televised and reported, what was not was the fact that he met with the President and apologized. Nagin and Bush both made amends and both said there were no hard feeling between the two men. Bush seemed to understand the circumstances surrounding Nagin's speech.

Since that time, Nagin has done everything in his power to rebuild the city. He recognizes what needs to be done, that now is the time think "outside of the box." He also realizes that he now has the time to clean up the city. He wants to rid it of corruption. Last Thursday, he spoke to a group of small and medium business leaders about their concerns and the future (Listen here). It was a great speech and when he was done, I was actually excited about the prospects for the future of New Orleans. Some of the things he said were:

1. His goal is to have a transparent city government. He wants to have all dealing with the city in the "sunshine." Closed door deals breed corruption. Those will be stopped.

2. He told everyone there to get used to working with people that don't look like you.

3. He challenged banks to help small businesses with loans.

4. He gave the following advise to the business owners: (paraphrase) If a politician comes to you and offers to reward you with a bid for a percentage of the profits, you kick them out of your office. (This has been the predominant way of doing business in New Orleans. As much as business owners hated it, they had no choice. Too much corruption before. I believe this advise will be wholeheartedly taken.) He also told politicians not to even try it.

5. He said that if you expected to come into New Orleans and win bids without doing much work, they could leave now.

These were amazing words coming from a mayor of New Orleans. I also love his idea of expanding casinos in New Orleans. It is a way to get tourists into the city fast.

So, what is Nagin's biggest obstacle? Not the lack of citizens, not the lack of money, not the police department, etc. His biggest obstacle is Governor Blanco. She has been the true disgrace of our state.

So, do I think that Nagin will win re-election in February? That is a tough question. I think that it depends on who comes back into the city. I hope that he does, but I also hope that those on the city council don't. We need a fresh start. We need to get rid of all those politicians who are in it for power. Unfortunately, that is most of Louisiana politicians.

When Nagin was elected almost four years ago, the conservatives locally were excited about the prospects. Those prospects were extinguished over the next few years. Now, I see a small flicker of hope again. I guess we will see if that light will grow to rival the bonfires that light the way for Papa Noel along the Mississippi River or if it will go out forever. This is our last chance to save New Orleans.