Even as a former resident of New Orleans who truly loves the city, I have been a long critic of Nagin who I met a number of times through the years. I was mystified and irritated by the failure of the voters to toss out Nagin from office after his shameful performance during the Katrina disaster. Nagin was widely ridiculed for his virtual absence during the disaster as he stayed in his hotel room overlooking the city. Moreover, the national media fawned over the young, handsome mayor even as he made unhinged comments and pranced around like a prima donna. In the meantime, Nagin set out to profit from the disaster both politically and personally. Nevertheless, the voters of New Orleans reelected one of the worst mayors in the country as they sought federal funding for disaster relief. He is now a convicted belong after a jury found him guilty on 20 of 21 federal corruption counts, including bribery. It is one of the least surprising legal stories of the decade. His conviction should cause some in the Democratic party, in the media, and particularly among the voters of New Orleans to consider their own complicity in enabling this corrupt, narcissistic politician.
The 57-year-old former mayor was found guilty of accepting bribes in a variety of forms as contractors fought over the federal largess pouring into the city. These include outright bribes as well as expensive trips and even free granite for his family business.
Each count carries a maximum of 20 years and, as someone of betrayed the public trust, he would normally be given a sentence at the high end. However, this is Nagin who has spent his life getting passes from virtually everyone in his path. He may however find the federal courts less than enamored with his persona.
Nagin was always able to distract the media from his poor performance as mayor by using the disaster or race. When some critics were noting his lack of real involvement during the disaster, Nagin famously gave his “Chocolate City” speech to portray the demand for more federal funding as a race and civil rights issue on January 16, 2006. He played the race card brilliantly, declaring “We as black people, it’s time, it’s time for us to come together. It’s time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans. And I don’t care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day.” The questions in the media largely stopped and Nagin proceeded to cash in on the billions of relief.
As I wrote at the time, I was most ticked by the lack of accountability for any Louisiana politicians. When I lived in New Orleans, every hurricane season was greeted with local articles of how little preparation was being done on such a scenario. The dumping stations were often in ill-repair and warnings to people like Nagin were largely ignored or treated as someone else’s problem. The Big Easy just keep drifting along with no one making the tough calls. When the inevitable disaster hit, all of these politicians expressed total shock and demanded billions in aid.
Nagin always reminded me of Ted Stevens (R., Alaska), who I was also critical of during his tenure in the United States Senate. Like Stevens, Nagin walked around with the attitude of someone who was untouchable. Both were known as politicians for sale, but their respective parties did nothing to stop their corrupt practices.
Nagin was indicted in January 2013 bribes to help local businessmen Frank Fradella and Rodney Williams. He testified at his own trial. I expect that he hoped that he could pull off one last con job, but it did not work. Before the verdict, he said outside the New Orleans courtroom: “I’ve been at peace with this for a long time. I’m good.”
So are we, Ray, so are we.