Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out

The military patrols in front of my house after Hurricane Katrina:  Hummers, guns, and soldiers

The military patrols in front of my house after Hurricane Katrina: Hummers, guns, and soldiers

I moved to New Orleans sight unseen about 14 years ago.  It’s a city with much charm and beauty, tons of eccentricities and eccentrics, and it’s own brand of food, architecture and music that make you feel like you’re not quite in the US.   For as much culture shock as I experienced when I first moved down here from cold, efficient, clean, crime free,  marvelously developed and governed Minneapolis, I’ve learned to love my quirky home.  I really don’t feel right when I go other places these days.  It always feels like something is missing.   I come back again to New Orleans own brand of wonderful food which rivals its music and architecture for my love and adoration.  All of them are cheap, readily available, and wonderful.  For those of us that live here, those cultural things completely outweigh the lack of amenities and civilities found around the rest of the country.

Hurricane Katrina changed some things.  I was hoping that the aftermath would bring the best parts of this city to light so that we would be appreciated as the National Treasure that is New Orleans.  It seems folks were fascinated with us for awhile, but there’s always a new thing to distract our fickle media and citizenry.  For every celebrity and charity that is still hanging in here with our painfully slow recovery, there is now the old refrain that there is something ‘not quite right’ with us.

The first thing I would like to do is to ask Time Magazine if this headline is really necessary?  Is Baghdad Now Safer Than New Orleans? The article uses murder statistics around the world to compare to the level of violence experienced in Baghdad.  Even this quote shows the reach to meet the comparison.  It further dismisses the roots of our problems which are related to our huge problems with black-on-black crime associated with drug use, poor education systems, and basic lack of opportunity for inner city teenagers.  How do the problems of a largely ignored, poorly run and funded US city compare on any level with a city in a developing nation that we invaded only to unleash a set of bloody tribal wars?

Let’s go to the numbers: Caracas, with about 3.2 million people, is in a bloody league of its own, with an estimated murder rate of 130 per 100,000 residents according to government figures. Cape Town is about the same size as Caracas but nearer to Baghdad’s murder rate with 62 violent deaths per 100,000 people. New Orleans, with an estimated post-Katrina population of just over 300,000, is tiny in size compared to its rivals. But the number of murders is huge; figures vary, but even the low estimate puts the city on a par with Cape Town. By way of comparison, Moscow, one of the most violent cities in Europe, has an estimated murder rate of just 9.6 per 100,000 residents. New York City’s murder rate is 6.2, Washington D.C.’s about 32.

Today, the NY Times had a feature article on our goofball mayor, Ray Nagin who may have just achieved the lowest approval rating of all times, any where. Here’s the article: Term Limits Say New Orleans Mayor Can’t Return; Residents Say They Don’t Mind.

In a recent poll by the University of New Orleans, Mr. Nagin was cited as one of the “biggest problems” for the city, coming in third after crime and education. Just 24 percent of residents over all said they approved of the mayor, a drop from 31 percent the year before.

“It’s the worst approval rating we’ve reported since 1986,” when the poll was first conducted, said Robert T. Sims, the director of the university’s survey research center.

Among African-Americans, support dropped to 36 percent from about half of those polled last year. Among whites, who constituted much of Mr. Nagin’s voting base in his first election, the approval rating was 5 percent. (The survey’s margin of sampling error for whites was plus or minus five percentage points.)

Edward F. Renwick, a retired professor of political science at Loyola University and a pollster himself, said he found that figure surprising. “I have hardly ever seen 5 percent,” Dr. Renwick said. On the other hand, he added, “I have never met a white person who doesn’t hate him.”

That sentiment can be seen in a $2 bumper sticker that has become popular in the city’s souvenir shops. In vivid Mardi Gras colors, it says: “May 31, 2010: Nagin’s Last Day. Proud to See Him Gone.”

Usually, Nagin only pops up on the national radar when he makes one of his outrageous, shoot from the hip comment like the chocolate city kerfuffle.  I can only say it has been a very long second term for those of us living here.  I have to tell you that I voted for him the first time he ran because he seemed more out of the box than most of the politicians around here.  In the end, he’s proven himself totally worthy of the label New Orleans politician.  I have to tell you that right now, my last state senator is in jail (Derrick Shepard) , my used-to-be-favorite city council man is in jail (Oliver Thomas), my last congressman is indicted (William Jefferson) and a good number of members of the New Orleans school board and other boards across the city are doing time too.

Besides spending the majority of his week in his Dallas, Ray’s turned into the poster child for questionable ethical judgment.   His credit card expenditures include many lunches at expensive restaurants with his wife and other questionable charges,Besides spending the majority of his week in his Dallas, Ray’s turned into the poster child for questionable ethical judgment.   His credit card expenditures include many lunches at expensive restaurants with his wife and other questionable charges.  The latest of a series of scandal includes a family trip to Hawaii basically paid for by the jobber of our nonfunctional but very expensive crime cameras.

Now, however, that sense is coming to an end, after accusations arose in a civil lawsuit concerning city technology contracts. In a deposition, a former city official said he took a Hawaiian vacation with Mr. Nagin and their families in 2004 that was paid for by a company whose owner did extensive business with the city through other companies. Claims of other trips raising ethics questions were raised in later testimony.

At a news conference on April 7, the mayor defended the Hawaiian vacation. “I don’t see it as a violation of any law, any ethics rules,” he said, because he had been told that the city official — Greg Meffert, the former chief of technology for New Orleans — was paying for the trip, not the contractor.

“It’s been cleverly portrayed that there’s something wrong here, and no one has proven that yet,” Mr. Nagin said at the time. He acknowledged, however, that “there’s still a question whether this is illegal or unethical.” He declined requests for an interview.

Mr. Nagin has also been in a long stalemate with the City Council over budget issues and a struggle with news organizations over public-records requests for his e-mail messages. After a judge ordered the messages released, it emerged that thousands of messages had been deleted.

Here’s the mayor’s home page which appears to have a severe disconnect with the reality we now expect from Ray.  He’s got the entire city in a grid lock and yet he touts progress.

Mayor Nagin’s progressive policies resolved to erase the image of New Orleans as place where graft is part of the old world charm. He launched several high profile investigations that resulted in a paradigm shift that unleashed unprecedented economic development in his first term. Mayor Nagin built his administration using progressive, business oriented individuals who are making a difference for New Orleans. They immediately eliminated back to back budget deficits, launched a new city web site that currently ranks as the nations best, streamlined bureaucratic processes, making City government a viable and accessible force in local life

If you really want to hear what the locals think about this, please visit  NOLA where they comments on the Times article are telling.  The problem is that it’s really difficult to get anything done right now because of the racial divide.   Many folks are just plain disgusted with how the city has evolved recently but the thought of returning to any kind of white hegemony that resembles that old, Jim Crow days of New Orleans is obviously anathema to the black community.  They basically don’t trust any nonblack candidate for office. Unfortunately, the line these days when one of the black politicians get caught  is nobody complained about the corruption when it was the whites doing it.  There is also a group of black politicians and preachers in the town that seem to make a living off of perpetuating racism as much as there is a group of white folks that are just plain racist.  Both groups make any progress towards dialogue seemingly impossible.  For those of us that really love the city and the unique culture here, it’s painful to watch and to live through because this place is damned special and deserves better treatment on all sides.

So the press, the city council, and the mayor all fight it out while the number of crimes and murders gives the national press an opportunity to highlight our woes that under the current stand-off, will never be solved.  This mayor is beyond incompetent,  the city council frequently votes strictly on racial lines, and we continue to see elected official after elected official do the perp walk since the only functional form of justice at the moment is actually our Dubya-appointed Federal Prosecutor.

Yea, we have our warts and they seem, at times to be rather big and ugly but this is and will be a great American city with perhaps the only uniquely American culture.  I’m just hoping that the next election season brings us something different.  My nightmare, however, is that Ray will just walk on into Jefferson’s old seat and we’ll get more of the same.   My neighbor Antwoine  and I were talking about this the other day while I was out walking the dog on the neutral ground. It just seems like whoever we put into office down here just winds up being the same old same old self serving politician.  What’s Baghdad on the Mississippi to do?


5 Comments on “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”

  1. NewOrleansPuma says:

    Computer not working too well yesterday so I missed this one..dakinikat.

    The arrival of Katrina where Nagin..Blanco and every other elected official who had the gall to call Bush and cronies on their total ineptness at the time and soon after the worst of scenarios a Mayoral election crushed Nagin’s opportunity to continue what I thought was and remains and excellent first term.

    When it seemed everything was for sale in the city …at that time…and the Rebuild New Orleans Commission was set up…all hope for anything he might have imagined was lost. I satirized that Commission the Mardi Gras after Katrina and masked as “Da We Steal New Orleans Commission Official Election Ballot” in which I listed and satirized again 13 of the in my historical perspective standard sleze mongers who were circling us…

    Everyone of the candidates for Mayor except Nagin were on the list..I will send it to you for a good laugh!
    Nagin is the only black Mayor in the history of the city who was called out in public by former crony black ministers of the Morial regime and recepients like many others along the years who received no strings attachecd except political get out the troops on election days community development money..and called a White man in a Black Man’s skin…and why? Why?
    Because Nagin had the audacity to require an independant audit of former money use and an itemized budget…Now this as happened with Barack is racism as well…convenient and political.

    I am happy that you love New Orleans..but your particular perspective here does miss a number of components which I hope some time we can in fact talk about over that Abita!

    Thanks for the piece! (My response should be considered extremely mild…given other perspectives I have…!)

    • dakinikat says:

      I actually think Nagin lost it during Katrina … he’s been a bit of whacko since then. I thought the first part of his first term was pretty good–especially cleaning up all that Morial corruption business with the taxi cabs and the safety stickers.

      But, I really think he flipped out during Katrina and has been in la la land since then.

  2. 1539days says:

    Does that make Jindal good, bad or indifferent?

    • dakinikat says:

      I think Jindal is a complete nutter … he really hasn’t been very good for the state and I think exempting his own office from ethics laws is extremely hypocritical.

      • 1539days says:

        Actually, I think it’s genius. Sarah Palin has an ethics complain lodged against her every week by her political opponents. Democracy by legal intervention.