Unlike many notorious Louisiana politicians like Bill Jefferson or Derrick Shepherd who had a long track record of questionable behavior, Nagin was initially elected as a reformer in 2002.
A coalition of white and black business leaders supported Nagin as a fresh face who would bring his corporate skills to City Hall and clean up corruption.
In reality, these business leaders were completely fooled as Nagin had no corporate skills and only brought corruption and a pile of phony promises to City Hall.
Besides false assurances of reform, Nagin claimed that he would recruit a world class administration of the best and brightest staffers. Instead, he mostly recruited friends and cronies from his former employer, Cox Cable, and erratic egomaniacs like former Chief Administrative Officer Kimberly Williamson Butler.
His administration was a flop from the beginning, but was fully exposed after the horrors of Hurricane Katrina. His lack of judgment and ability soon became apparent to a worldwide audience in the days and weeks after the storm ravaged New Orleans. Nagin provided New Orleans with more than just embarrassment after Katrina, but tremendous obstacles that thwarted the city’s recovery.
He made the recovery mission much harder by making a stream of asinine statements about a variety of subjects and hiring an incompetent and buffoonish “Recovery Director” Ed Blakely, who lived in Australia, not New Orleans.
What will interest the federal grand jury is not Nagin’s utter incompetence, but his propensity for corruption. Some of his “world class” staffers turned out to be criminals. Former Technology Directors Greg Meffert and Anthony Jones have both been convicted. Mark St. Pierre, the contractor who bribed these directors and in the process received all of the expensive high technology and crime camera work for New Orleans, was convicted on 53 counts and is serving a 17-year federal sentence.
St. Pierre also lavished Nagin with expensive airfare to Hawaii, Jamaica, Chicago as well as $1,500 in lawn care for his Park Island home. The technology contractor also held a pricey fundraiser for Nagin in the Windy City. Yet, St. Pierre was not the only businessman to provide Nagin with free travel to Chicago. Indicted contractor Aaron Bennett flew Nagin and his wife to Chicago as well as Las Vegas. Not surprisingly, Bennett received a City Hall technology contract which basically just funneled more money to St. Pierre, who despite making big money on the contracts, was unable to deliver working crime cameras to a city inundated with violence.
Nagin was not content to enjoy free travel and lawn care; he was also interested in growing his family’s counter top business, Stone Age Granite, LLC. This fledgling operation landed a valuable contract with Home Depot as the company was negotiating with the city over permits for its new store. The Nagin family business was also provided with numerous truckloads of granite, worth thousands of dollars, by convicted businessman Frank Fradella. In return, Fradella’s company received plenty of expensive recovery contracts on everything from the French Market renovations to parish prison work. After his mayoral term ended, Fradella paid Nagin $10,000 a month in mysterious “consulting” fees which gave the Mayor a nice financial cushion after his City Hall salary ended.
In June of 2012, Fradella pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe a public official. Federal prosecutors claim that Fradella gave a public official $50,000 in bribes in June of 2008 as well as a $10,000 a month consulting contract. While Nagin was not named as the public official in question, there is no doubt that he was the object of Fradella’s bribes.
To objective observers, it certainly seems there is overwhelming evidence that Nagin was engaged in wrongdoing, but of course the federal grand jury will have to determine whether it rises to the level of criminal behavior.
Whether or not he is indicted, there is no doubt that Nagin was a painful joke on the people of New Orleans. Of course he was great fodder for our Politics with a Punch show, but aside from comedy, Nagin delivered misery to the people of New Orleans.
He was only re-elected in 2006 by dividing the city on racial lines with his ill-advised “chocolate city” speech. From his horrible selection of staffers to his idiotic statements to his greed and corruption, Nagin held back a robust New Orleans recovery. Thankfully, New Orleans recovered from Katrina in spite of Nagin not because of him.
He was the worst leader at the just the worst time. The citizens of New Orleans are still paying for his incompetence two years after he left office and will pay for his reign of error for many years to come.
At this point, he seems to have left New Orleans. His New Orleans house has been sold and he now presumably spends more time at his “vacation” home in Dallas.
Hopefully, he will officially move to Dallas or prison for his continued presence in New Orleans is a painful reminder that elections have consequences, serious, dire consequences.
Photo: by Chris Granger, Times Picayune
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