New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin held a press conference earlier this week to set the record straight on remarks first reported by the Washington Post -- and repeated here on Facing South -- that the bungled rebuilding is part of a plan to change the racial makeup and political leadership of his and other cities.
The specific comment the Post attributed to Nagin was: "Ladies and gentlemen, what happened in New Orleans could happen anywhere. They are studying this model of natural disasters, dispersing the community and changing the electoral process in that community."
Nagin said the Post story unfairly took his comments -- made last week at a meeting of the black press' National Newspaper Publishers Association -- out of context, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports:
"I've been in enough hot water for things I have said," Nagin said. "And this is what makes me mad. Because I didn't say it, and now I'm almost in hot water, so this is just not right."
Though Nagin didn't deny making the comment, he accused Post reporter Hamil Harris of distorting its meaning:
"My take on it is that it was some young reporter in the back of the room, looking for some way to get a nice story out," Nagin said. "He jumbled everything I said up, and brought some things in the middle of the talk to the front, and painted this picture that was just not what I intended to do, nor would I say."
The Post said it stands by its story. It even ran an editorial this week criticizing Nagin for the reported remarks:
Maybe Mr. Nagin lashed out in frustration. No question, there's plenty of blame to go around as city, state and federal officials continue to bicker and point fingers over decisions large and small. But his latest racial ramble distracts from the real issues facing his hobbled city. The slow pace of recovery, the fleeing professional class and crime are a few of them. Mr. Nagin's considered opinion on those weighty matters would be most welcome.
At Monday's press conference, Nagin denied saying anything racial, according to the Times-Picayune:
He added, however, as he has said previously, that he believes if Katrina had occurred in a locale with higher incomes, such as Orange County, California, "it would have been a different response."
Because of race?
Not exactly. "I thought it was more of a class issue than a race issue," he said Monday, adding: "Now, racial aspects are obviously in everything we do."
We invite readers to make up their own mind about what Nagin said and meant by reading the transcript of the speech, which has been posted to the Times-Picayune's Web site here.
Of course, for those of us who have been living through or closely following the disastrous rebuilding effort in New Orleans, it's difficult not to suspect that both racism and classism have been factors. And as we pointed out in our earlier post about Nagin's remarks, the mayor himself has furthered these nefarious causes by promoting policies that have benefited the propertied classes and investors while largely ignoring or even being outright hostile to the needs of his city's poor, who are overwhelmingly black.
At Monday's press conference, Nagin also complained that the Post mistakenly assumed he was referring to Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, his recent mayoral runoff opponent, when he made reference to a "golden boy" supported by his detractors. Without naming anyone, Nagin implied that he was referring to Audubon Institute CEO Ron Forman, who led the candidates in fundraising heading into the primary, in which he finished third. This point was also made here on Facing South by commenter jeffrey:
Nagin was referring there to Ron Forman who was, in fact, seized upon in the early part of the race by the "Uptown conspirators" looking to install a true white plutocrat in the mayor's office. In a sense, Nagin's characterization of this maneuver is correct. What he doesn't tell you is that in order to back Forman, the white Uptown conservatives backstabbed and abandoned Nagin who they had installed as their puppet in 2002. In order to overcome this, Nagin reinvented his political persona as a racial panderer. Once Forman was eliminated in the primary, the conservatives "came home" to Nagin backing him against the more liberal (but white) Landrieu. So Nagin's new formula is: Kowtow to capitalists and Republicans while pandering to the black community by demagoguing against a mysterious "they".
Indeed, Nagin's speech to the NNPA did nothing to dispel the notion that he embraces a neoliberal philosophy that favors the capitalist investor classes over the poor. In fact, he urged his listeners to come to New Orleans and invest in cheap property -- that is, property that was once home to the city's dispossessed:
So I'm not going to stand up here and moan and groan about our struggles in New Orleans. I'm telling you, New Orleans is coming back. Y'all come visit us during Essence Fest. You're going to have a good time, and we are going to have some entrepreneurs in New Orleans that will be making big bucks because, guess what, they can't hold this money back much longer because its starting to hurt other folks, and ya'll know what I'm talking about, so they got to let it loose. And in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast they estimate they will spend within 30 and 100 billion over the next five to seven years. If you don't hear nothing else I say tonight, buy some dirt in New Orleans, buy some dirt in New Orleans. Real estate values are going to go out the roof and you need to be a part of that. We have programs where you can buy adjudicated and blighted properties for half their appraised value and you hire your own appraiser.
Hire your own appraiser? Sounds to us like the Post may have ignored the real outrage in Nagin's speech: an invitation to rip-off.