Nagin Brought Up Injustice, So We Get Real

Ray Nagin’s indictment came as little surprise in New Orleans. Credit: Derek Bridges from Flickr

Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s first public comment after being indicted last week on 21 counts of corruption was a quote from civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Nagin tweeted to his 2,436 followers.

Ray Nagin’s first public comment after being indicted was a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. on Twitter

The irony here is rich, but because we too agree with Dr. King, we’ve created a timeline of notable injustices levied on New Orleans by the former mayor. This is a selective timeline and does not purport to represent the full scale of Nagin’s legacy.

August 27, 2005: Meteorologists are predicting that Hurricane Katrina poses a direct threat to New Orleans and the Louisiana governor has declared a state of emergency. Meanwhile in New Orleans, Nagin has not yet ordered a mandatory evacuation and public safety officials are raising concerns about residents getting stuck in the eye of the storm. Nagin tells reporters that he needs to consult with city lawyers before making a decision. Also late in the making: A plan for public transportation to evacuate the 27.5 percent of New Orleans households that don’t have cars.

August 28, 2005: Hurricane Katrina is declared Category 5 storm, the highest possible rating of severity. Nagin orders a mandatory evacuation. Unfortunately, this late in the game, he can’t commandeer as many vehicles as needed to move the thousands of largely low-income New Orleanians still stuck in the city. The mayor announces the Superdome will be opened as a shelter of last resort. He warns people to bring their own food, water and supplies because the city won’t have enough.

Sept 6, 2005: The city has flooded, the levees have failed and the storm has ripped two giant holes into the Superdome’s roof. A panicking mayor announces on national television that people are being raped and murdered in the Superdome. “They have people standing out there, have been in that frickin’ Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people,” Nagin said on Oprah. The news is broadcast widely and police in New Orleans turn to brutal crowd-control tactics. The mayor’s comments are later proven to be untrue.

Nov. 2005: Nagin and his family go on vacation in Jamaica. City technology vendor Mark St. Pierre pays for the trip. (St. Pierre will eventually be convicted of bribing a member of the Nagin administration for lucrative contracts.) The Nagins fly first class. Meanwhile in New Orleans, city residents, if they’ve made it home at all, are living in FEMA trailers.

January 2006: Nagin returns to the national headlines with racially charged remarks. From CNN:

I don’t care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day,” Nagin said. “This city will be a majority African-American city. It’s the way God wants it to be.

August 2006: Nagin’s lawn gets $1,500 worth of TLC thanks to a freebie from St. Pierre.

May 2006: Mayor holds a campaign fundraiser in Chicago. St. Pierre helps pay for the posh occasion and the mayor’s airfare.

June 2006: The mayor is sworn in for a second term. He celebrates his reelection on a yacht owned by St. Pierre.

Nagin’s approval ratings dropped precipitously in his second term. Credit: Derek Bridges from Flickr

Jan. 20, 2007: Nagin, along with others who will later plead guilty to bribery charges, flies to Chicago for a Saints-Bears game in a private jet chartered by one of the contractors.

April 2007: A company owned by Nagin and his sons, Stone Age, gets an exclusive contract at four Home Depot stores in the region. The deal is made after Nagin gives Home Depot a break on city taxes and backtracks on a promise made to community group that there will be local hiring requirements for a store in Central City.

August 2007: A television reporter asks the mayor whether New Orleans’ murder rate hurts the city’s tourism economy. Nagin offers an… unexpected response.
From the Times-Picayune:

“Do I worry about it? Somewhat. It’s not good for us, but it also keeps the New Orleans brand out there, and it keeps people thinking about our needs and what we need to bring this community back. So it is kind of a two-edged sword. Sure it hurts, but we have to keep working everyday to make the city better,” Nagin said, according to a transcript of provided by FOX8.

Jan. 2008: A construction subcontractor pays Stone Age $60,000, according to the federal government’s case against Nagin. In short order, Nagin selects the company as a vendor for public works and capital projects. Their contracts balloon into more than $3 million worth of no-bid work for Nagin administration, according to the federal case against the former mayor.

May 2008: Nagin comes under fire after a Times-Picayune investigation discovers that his administration charged more than $150,000 to a taxpayer-financed credit card for meals, travel and hotels over six months.

August 2008: A $1.5 million program touted by Nagin as a centerpiece of his 2007 budget that would help 5,000 homeowners is exposed as sham benefitting contractors, among them Nagin’s brother-in-law. When confronted about the corrupt program at a news conference, the mayor explodes, accusing the blogger and reporter who broke the scandal of “hurting the recovery.” The incident is later featured on an episode of David Simon’s HBO drama, Treme.

August 2009: New Orleans marks Katrina’s fourth anniversary. While residents slowly continue to return, huge swaths of the city still haven’t been rebuilt and most recovery projects are still in planning phases. Nagin is roundly criticized for slow progress and for failing to take strong leadership steps that would have prevented people from returning to parts of the city that are unlikely to recover.

Oct. 2009: Nagin gives himself sole decision-making power over professional service contracts. The executive order reverses measures intended to make City Hall’s notoriously opaque contracting process more transparent.

Feb. 2010: The bad news is that the city’s finances are in dissaray. The good news is the Saints are winning! Taxpayers cover Nagin’s trip to the 2010 Superbowl in Miami. When asked about criticism for the spending, Nagin stayed cavalier. “To me, the criticism is just part of the game right now,” he said. “I think if I turn left on Rampart Street, they say I should have turned right.”

May 3, 2010: Nagin’s last day as mayor.

Ariella Cohen is Next City’s editor-in-chief.

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