The legacy of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin will be forever intertwined with the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Though it was a disaster of immense proportions and consequences, Nagin, 54, received a great deal of criticism on how he handled the evacuation process to his proclamations that the city would be “chocolate” again.
His second term in office was beset with accusations that Nagin’s plans to rebuild New Orleans were unclear and taking too long to come into fruition. Nagin left office in May with low approval ratings and charges that he left behind a government in dismay and a brand new and crumbling Roots of Music Cultural Sculpture Garden, that some believe is symptomatic of his tenure.
But time will tell a different story, says Nagin, who has said more than once that when people look back they’ll realize that under the most unimaginable circumstances, he did more right than wrong. What’s next for the former mayor, well, according to him, he’s still figuring it out.
BlackEnterprise.com: As we approach the anniversary of Katrina, how would you describe the state of New Orleans five years later?
Former Mayor Ray Nagin: I would describe her as moving toward full recovery and I point to a couple of indicators for that. About 82% to 85% of our population is back, we recently were noted as having the lowest unemployment rate in the country.
How do you think you handled the aftermath and the rebuilding of New Orleans?
I think I did the best I could with the resources and the processes and the conflicts that were on the table at the time. I had a Republican president and a Democratic governor who weren’t seeing eye to eye and I was the guy who was closest to the action, so I took more of my share of heat.
Do you have any regrets about how you handled anything?
Absolutely. I don’t think anybody in [that] situation could have been perfect. So there are many things that I could have done better—from the evacuations to managing public relations to dealing with government officials to even dealing with the media. I was under attack from so many different fronts that I think I got too combative at times. I wish I hadn’t done that.
Compare and contrast the city’s economic condition when you first took office, after Katrina and when you left it.
Pre-Katrina we inherited some pretty significant budget deficits, we were losing jobs, the economy was really struggling. Right before Katrina we had three years in a row where we’d had record number of tourists coming into town, the economy was stabilized, we had job growth, and things were moving in the right direction. In a post-Katrina world, while the rest of the country is struggling mightily with the economy, our economy’s doing pretty decent, and is primarily being driven by construction-related activity.