Good for the jurors who yesterday found former Mayor Ray Nagin guilty on 20 of 21 criminal charges in federal court.
Those of us who have watched Nagin closely for the eight years he was in office believe Ray thought he could con the jury, just as he fooled New Orleans voters in the 2002 and 2006 mayoral elections. His hubris brought to mind Danae’s initial impression after Ray’s emergence as a major candidate in the 2002 election. “Ray is a rock star,” Danae said. “He’s cool, handsome and clever. Ray’s not about substance. He’s about being Ray.”
But Ray’s luck ran out when he encountered a team of federal prosecutors who painstakingly put together a thorough group of documents cataloging the details of Nagin’s corrupt practices that began before Hurricane Katrina and picked up steam in Ray’s second term.
But even apart from yesterday’s guilty verdict, Allan believes that Nagin was one of the worst, most failed mayors in New Orleans’ near-300 year history.
The Nagin years were all about promises never delivered. Remember the crime cameras? Remember the jazz park to be built on Duncan Plaza? Remember the proposed technology revolution that Nagin administration was going to bring to City Hall and the city? Remember the millions of dollars that were supposed to be supposed to be realized by the sale of Armstrong International Airport?
All those things and dozens more were promised and never delivered. It was easy to see in the screwed-up crime cameras fiasco that Nagin’s gang couldn’t shoot straight. Nagin had the Midas touch in reverse – everything he touched turned to manure, except for the spoils he kept for himself.
Nagin was in large part an invention of the late Jim Carvin, the brilliant PR guy who helped elect a string of New Orleans mayors. He fashioned Nagin as the clean businessman who would bring new, clear thinking to City Hall and a commitment to reform. Thanks to Nagin, it is likely to be many decades from now before New Orleans voters again take seriously a so-called “businessman” candidate without political experience for mayor.
One way to know just how bad a mayor that Nagin was is to think back to a couple of guys who actually were great New Orleans mayors. Allan believes that Moon Landrieu (1970-78) and Dutch Morial (1978-86) set the standard by which New Orleans mayors can be judged. Both immersed themselves in city government. They knew as much about the mechanics of their departments as any department head. Danae, who was an aide to Dutch, remembers the 5:30 a.m. calls from the mayor to staffers and department heads to plan what would happen on the coming day. Those of us who saw Nagin working out at the Rivercenter Tennis Club at 10 a.m. on weekdays never got the impression he was planning a long work day for himself at City Hall. Moon and Dutch were workhorses. Nagin is a show horse.
Allan believes that “buyer’s remorse” had a lot to do with current Mayor Mitch Landreiu’s overwhelming victories in 2010 and 2014. Allan thinks thousands of New Orleans voters know they should have elected Landrieu over Nagin in 2006. Remember the folks back then who said, “Better four years of Nagin than eight years of Landrieu.” Shame on them.
In 2018, New Orleans will celebrate her 300th birthday. One thing that many of us will agree on is that in the course of 300 years, C. Ray Nagin was the worst chief executive the city has had in three centuries.
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.