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Nagin's New Orleans mayor legacy in rubble of chocolate city granite

Written by  // Thursday, 13 February 2014 13:19 //

Nagin crimeYesterday, in an overwhelming victory for federal prosecutors, former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was found guilty on 20 of 21 corruption counts. A jury convicted Nagin of bribery, wire fraud, money laundering and filing false tax returns. The former Mayor could face decades in prison and will be sentenced on June 11, his 58th birthday. 

 

It is fitting that he will serve the next four months under electronic monitoring in Plano, Texas. It is the same area where Nagin spent so much time during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as his citizens were struggling to rebuild their lives. 

As the trial showed, Nagin did not care about his fellow citizens; he was only interested in selfish gain. As Mayor and even on the witness stand, Nagin lamented about the massive pay cut he faced when he left the corporate world. Nagin resigned from a management position at Cox Communications that paid over $300,000 annually to become Mayor and make only $130,000 per year. Obviously, he was intent on keeping his luxurious lifestyle and used illegal means to supplement his income.   

The federal government showed how he accepted vacations and air travel from vendors and illegally charged taxpayers for personal expenses, such as dinner with his wife. While the corruption started before Hurricane Katrina, the opportunities to cash in on his powerful position really presented itself after storm when he made over $300,000 in illegal bribes. 

In the end, his arrogance was his undoing. Nagin refused a plea bargain and arrogantly believed he could convince the jury with his testimony. Of course, he was wrong this time, but, in 2002, during his first mayoral campaign, his arrogance was not discovered by the voters of New Orleans. Unfortunately, at that time, New Orleans voters did not want to see the truth. They accepted the Nagin campaign line that he was a fresh reformer, without really examining his scant credentials and phony rhetoric. 

He claimed that he was going to clean up City Hall, but, in reality, he introduced rampant corruption as early as 2004, a year before Hurricane Katrina. His much publicized crackdown on corruption at the taxicab bureau was mostly smoke and mirrors. It was long on publicity, very short on actual results. 

Nagin also boasted that he would staff his administration with the best and brightest individuals from around the world, but, in reality, he mostly brought to City Hall former colleagues from Cox.   

He also hired people like Kimberly Williamson Butler, who compared herself to Gandhi after a one day stint in prison. He tapped Eddie Compass as Police Chief, who had a nervous breakdown during the hurricane and ordered the confiscation of firearms in the immediate aftermath of the storm that devastated the city. During a time when people needed guns for protection, as thugs were running rampant on the streets and the police force was decimated by desertions, Compass and Nagin insisted that the remaining police officers disarm a nervous public.

 In 2006, his poor record should have disqualified Nagin for re-election; however, he sealed his victory by the infamous racial appeal of his “chocolate city” speech. He appealed for African American votes by claiming that God wanted the city to stay a majority black community. While he won re-election, he destroyed any chance he had of uniting New Orleans during the recovery period.   

In fact, his tenure during the hurricane recovery was particularly disastrous. He hired Dr. Ed Blakely as the Recovery Director, but his appointee continually insulted the people of New Orleans and actually commuted to his home in Australia. Needless to say, Blakely got little accomplished. Today, New Orleans could be much further along in the recovery process from Katrina if Nagin and his team of corrupt and incompetent lieutenants had not in charge during the crucial aftermath of the hurricane. 

Of all his questionable appointments, the worst was Greg Meffert, the corrupt self-appointed Deputy Mayor and Technology Chief. He bamboozled the entire community by claiming to improve technology at City Hall. Instead, he was living large on the credit card of a technology vendor, Mark St. Pierre, who was being given all of the lucrative business.   

To fight the city’s most pressing problem, crime, St. Pierre was given the contract for crime cameras. Yet, this was not his area of expertise so the cameras never became operational. It eventually cost taxpayers millions of dollars, but enriched another Nagin crony. 

When the city was in the throes of horrific violence in January of 2007, a massive demonstration descended on City Hall. As the citizens cried out for help, Nagin sat on a stage in front of the crowd reviewing his phone and exchanging emails about his family granite business, Stone Age, LLC. 

The granite business was the proverbial nail in the coffin for Nagin and he worked corrupt deals with everyone from Home Depot to businessman Frank Fradella, to funnel money and contracts to the floundering family owned business. 

This conviction makes Nagin the first Mayor in the 300 year history of New Orleans to be indicted and convicted of corruption charges. He adds to the well deserved reputation of Louisiana as a den of corruption. Our state has more public corruption convictions per capita than any other state in the nation. In fact, once Nagin is in prison, three of the top political leaders in charge as Katrina hit the region, Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, New Orleans Congressman William Jefferson and Nagin will be in prison at the same time. They are joined by convicted politicians from St. Tammany, Plaquemines, St. John parishes and many other local areas. Soon, other politicians, including former city council members and legislators will be sentenced and join this corrupt crew in prison. 

Overall, it is a tragedy for this region. Louisiana has untold natural resources and should be a state that is flush with money and job opportunities. Instead, we are often at the bottom of most good lists and the top of the bad ones such as poverty, crime and poor public schools. 

One of the major reasons for these dismal results is that voters keep electing the worst type of self serving, corrupt politicians like Ray Nagin to office. In other words, we get what we deserve. 

Marc Morial: Justice served, Nagin spoiled office of Mayor of New Orleans

Part I of Multi-Part Interview with Marc Morial

Jeff Crouere

Jeff Crouere is a native of New Orleans, LA and he is the host of a Louisiana based program, “Ringside Politics,” which airs at 7:30 p.m. Fri. and 10:00 p.m. Sun. on WLAE-TV 32, a PBS station, and 7 till 11 a.m.weekdays on WGSO 990 AM in New Orleans and the Northshore. For more information, visit his web site at Ringside Politics.

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