Back in the early days of his mayoral tenure, before things began to fall apart, Clarence Ray Nagin was a rock star. He didn’t know much about city government but he was cool, glib and very optimistic.
Did the city need an infusion of money? He’d sell the airport.
Was violent crime a terrible, city-killing problem? He’d put crime cameras everywhere and they would provide the evidence that would enable the police to arrest the criminals and the DA to convict them.
But it turned out that the city couldn’t sell the airport because the feds have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in it. And, the dumb bunnies hired by the city to install the crime cameras turned out to be a modern version of the Three Stooges. They couldn’t have installed bubble gum machines, much less crime cameras.
Then, just when Nagin was really stumbling trying to find answers, Hurricane Katrina came and nearly blew the city and Ray away. Poor Ray turned out to be a lost ball in high weeds.
All of that seemed decades ago this week as C. Ray Nagin entered federal court to plead “not guilty” to 21 bribery-related charges. Still the rock star, Nagin seemed unfazed by the battalion of reporters and photographers that clustered around him. What we were really wondering is, “What in the world is Ray thinking?” Bond was set at $100,000. He surrendered his passport and agreed to limit his travel to Louisiana and Texas, where he now resides. Trial was set for April 29 in the court of Federal District Court Judge Ginger Berrigan. Looks like Ray won’t be making it to Jazz Fest this year!
When the trial starts, arrayed against Nagin will be four of his former friends, each of whom – to save their own ass – appear ready to testify that they engaged in illegal acts with Nagin or with his full knowledge and approval.
When this story got started back in 2002, Nagin jibed at former Mayor Marc Morial and the corruption that seemingly flourished in his administration. Morial didn’t reply but those who know him knew that he was seething. Morial was never indicted although several of his friends went to federal prison. Now, Nagin finds himself a defendant with a case stacked against him by federal investigators. We don’t know exactly what Morial is thinking today but the word “satisfaction” comes to mind.
Maybe Nagin was offered a chance to plead guilty to a couple of counts and go off to prison for four or five years. It would seem Nagin has turned any offer down, apparently believing that no jury could ever find him guilty, regardless of the testimony or the evidence.
Allan has been watching New Orleans mayors for just about 50 years. He thinks that Nagin – not even including the charges of corruption – was one of the worst New Orleans mayors of all time. Allan also thinks it will be a long time until New Orleans voters elect another “business candidate” who has no political experience.
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City Councilwoman Stacy Head, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and council candidate Dana Kaplan.