Monday, May 3, 2010

Sympathy for the Devil

I am tempted to wager that there’s a better chance of the Orleans Parish School Board renaming a school for a Confederate general than the ex-mayor.

Clarence Ray Nagin’s mayoralty started off with much promise but suffered from disasters, natural, rhetorical and appointive. The Nagin era has been hammered on the front pages of the Times Picayune and the sides of Krewe d’Etat floats.

That said, here are a few highlights of the Nagin Administration:

1) The demise of Orleans Parish political machines that were largely responsible for the culture of corruption in City Hall and the wrecked public school system started with Nagin’s election in 2002. And once in office, Nagin did not set about creating a new machine (unlike the beatified Morrison).

2) The Big Four housing projects were demolished during his administration. If only Nixon could go to China then only Nagin could stand up to the professional protestors that wanted these high-density/crime havens of death and despair reopened.

3) New Orleanians finally found the guts to stand up to City Hall. Anyone remembered all of those protests about corruption, crime, etc. during either Morial Administration? Didn’t think so. Why? Because Nagin apparently had thicker skin than anyone that’s held the office and was not inclined towards political vengeance. For the first time, calling out the mayor didn’t feel like the equivalent of taking on the mafia. Be sure to remember this one.

4) Nagin showed more maturity dealing with President George W. Bush than Governor Kathleen Blanco and a number of other Democratic officials. While Blanco’s staffers were worrying about HWKRST (How Would Karl Rove Spin This?), Nagin didn’t let his party affiliation get in the way of working with the one man who could do the most for the city’s recovery.

5) He warned us about Kimberly Williamson Butler. But the voters elected her Clerk of Criminal Court anyway leading to missing evidence and election machines being delivered to polling locations late.

6) He cursed for all of us. While the Times Picayune has had some fun posting a Nagin comment soundboard, the mayor’s exasperation broadcast across the globe during the worst of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath expressed the frustration we all felt with the storm, the Army Corps of Engineer’s levee system (and shipping channels that contributed to the collapse of the former) and the incompetence of the state and federal governments’ response to the storm.

7) Hollywood South. Before it became K-Ville, New Orleans was a new hub for the movie industry and had a big cheerleader in the mayor. Don’t think having the mayor’s support matters? Try getting the permits needed to close streets with City Hall against you. Film shoots garnered the Crescent City publicity and provided jobs for workers of all skill levels, from lighting technicians and caterers to extras.

8) He brought people together. It took mass disaffection with Nagin’s mayoralty to get many voters beyond race. For the first time since 1978, the city’s racial demographics alone were not the primary reason why a particular candidate was elected mayor. Nagin, who didn’t shy away from acting like an African-American version of Roswell Thompson, attempted to motivate black voters to act to keep the “franchise”; that kind of talk fell on deaf ears in 2010.

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