Monday, May 22, 2006
Nagin and New Orleans
Mayor Ray Nagin has won re-election as Mayor of New Orleans. Contrary to popular expectations, it was not a straight by-race vote. Nagin received a large percentage of white votes, and Landrieu received a large percentage of black votes. Race was pretty much irrelevant here. It wasn't even about the respective visions for the city's future of Landrieu and Nagin. Landrieu was the liberal in this race, Nagin was (and is) the small-government conservative. It was primarily about leadership, and Landrieu simply did not make the case that he could be a more effective leader than Nagin given the circumstances of a bankrupt city that will go underwater again (due to the defective levees) the next time any reasonable-sized storm starts churning in the Gulf.
Nagin was, unfairly I believe, lambasted for his handling of the evacuation of New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina. The City of New Orleans lacked the resources to evacuate New Orleans. The city's bus fleet was evacuating people to the Superdome until it was drowned by the rising floodwaters, and could not have been used prior to the hurricane to evacuate people because the four freeways that are the only way out of the city were jammed with evacuees until the moment the hurricane hit. Over a million people were evacuated over those freeways in the short timespan of 48 hours, an incredible feat but one that kept them packed and moving at a lofty fifteen miles per hour. Sending buses out in the middle of a hurricane onto those exposed bridges over the swamps and rivers and lakes that surround New Orleans would have gotten more people killed than were killed at the Superdome and Convention Center. Regarding using trains to evacuate people, great idea, but Nagin had no power to order the railroad companies to line up cattle cars for a mass evacuation (forget the offer of an Amtrak train -- a typical Amtrak train, with maybe a half dozen cars, can carry a couple hundred people at most), and it is extremely unlike that black people in New Orleans would have voluntarily entered said cattle cars, given the unpleasant connotations that cattle cars have when it comes to transporting people (think "final solution" here, and note that many blacks in New Orleans believe that the white race wants to exterminate them). There is blame to be placed, but it is at a higher level than Nagin -- people who did have the resources, like the government of the United States, refused to deploy said resources until almost a week after it was really needed. People who live in New Orleans understand this, and completely disregarded outside commentators who tried to blame Nagin.
What I can blame Nagin for is his handling of the post-Katrina cleanup and reconstruction. To be fair, the city's resources are virtually non-existent here -- they have no money, most of the workforce has been laid off, and most of the city's heavy equipment that could be used for cleanup purposes was destroyed in the flooding. But Nagin embodies the suspicion of many big-business types regarding volunteer activities. There was a flood of volunteers willing to help with the post-Katrina cleanup and reconstruction. Nagin merely directed them to the American Red Cross, which has nothing to do with cleanup and reconstruction. There was a flood of offers of donations of materials and construction equipment that could have been used, with volunteer labor, to clean up and reconstruct major sections of New Orleans, including repairing the housing that is so vitally needed to house the workers that keep New Orleans working. Mayor Nagin never made any effort to embrace all these people who wanted to help, indeed treated them with suspicion and making no attempt to organize the haphazard volunteer efforts and help them grow, instead spending his time and effort in trying to get federal reconstruction contracts for his cronies in the New Orleans business community.
In short, Nagin has proven to be a typical tool of Big Business, who views the purpose of government as being the steering of contracts to his cronies in the business community, when what is needed is a modern-day Huey Long, who was willing to break the mold of government and turn it into a tool for organizing and helping the people. Landrieu lost because he, too, mostly just talked about how he could get federal contracts for New Orleans-based businesses to aid in the rebuilding of New Orleans, rather than about how he could harness the incredible good will and resources that the American people were and are willing to directly contribute to the people of New Orleans. In the end, when it came to voting for the Big Business crony they knew or the Big Business crony they didn't know, the people of New Orleans chose the Big Business crony they knew. And, for better or for worse, that is what they'll have for the next four years.
- Badtux the Louisiana Penguin
Posted by: BadTux / 5/22/2006 12:59:00 PM
- Name: BadTux
- Location: Some iceberg, South Pacific, Antarctica
I am a black and white and yellow multicolored penguin making his way as best he can in a world of monochromic monkeys.
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