Forever Linked to Katrina, Ray Nagin Reflects on His Term

New Orleans mayor concedes mistakes, but 'did the best he could'

What needs to happen for New Orleans to have a successful urban renewal?

I think it’s in place. When you look underneath the surface of some of the things that they’re complaining about and you look at the fundamentals of this economy, you look at the fact that we’re building a 70-acre medical complex with $2 billion hospitals that are under construction, and you look at the riverfront development, you look at a lot of the transformative projects—even the public housing developments have been totally transformed in New Orleans—when you get underneath all of that there is significant opportunity that has existed and will continue to exist for urban Americans to participate in this economy and this boom, which I predict is going to last another five to seven years.

Are African Americans playing a significant role in the recovery in New Orleans or are they being left out?

Well, I think it depends upon who you talk to. I had big controversy in some of the things that I’ve done to make sure African Americans were included before Katrina and particularly after Katrina. I didn’t buy into this notion that you have to do 35% disadvantaged business enterprise contracts because I know if you’re not at least an equal partner in a business venture, then you’re on the short end of the stick. I pushed hard for 50-50 joint ventures or for African Americans to be prime contractors. For the most part you have two African Americans that provide all of the clean up garbage, semi-automated garbage services throughout New Orleans and they’re long-term contracts. Those contracts have been attacked by the elite of this city consistently, but they’re still in place.

How has the oil spill complicated rebuilding efforts and impacted small business in New Orleans?
I don’t think it has hit New Orleans significantly yet. If anything, it’s hitting our restaurants, and the industries of small businesses that were directly involved in the fishing industry. Most of those businesses are in other parishes or counties. We had a local oyster processing plant that closed down, but there are very few small businesses that have been forced to shut down as a result of the oil spill—yet.

You were term-limited out of office. Your tenure as mayor ended with low approval ratings. Voters are unhappy with the city’s lack of progress and high crime rates.

Polls have never really captured my approval ratings very accurately. When I first ran, I was at 3% two weeks before I ran first in the primary. This last time I ran for re-election, everybody was predicting that I wouldn’t make the run-off or I’d be beaten in a landslide and I ended up winning. So, polls are a snapshot in time and I think over time people will come to appreciate more and more the things that I’ve done.

The Landrieu administration recently said that the government you left behind was dysfunctional and disorganized, with lax policies and recordkeeping. How do you respond to that?

Every administration comes in with a certain bravado and this one is no exception. We had to document just about every and anything in order to make sure that the recovery dollars flowed, so I’m sure if they dig deep enough they’ll be able to find it.

Katrina aside, what do you think your legacy will be? How will you be remembered?

Oh, it’s all about Katrina. I think when people think of me they’re going to think about my interactions with the federal government during Katrina, radio outbursts, and the fact that I was very controversial. And I think when all of the dust settles, they’re going to see me as the person that made a lot of tough decisions and made more right decisions than wrong ones.

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  • John

    What a joke? Your failure to question the mayor about his trips paid for by vendors of the city, and his ceo who recieved millions from the same vendor is suspect. Nice to hear from the mayor now that he is out. You couldn’t find him in his second term. His legacy is what he made of it. He was reelected unexpectedly and he acted resentfull that he was even challenged. It would be best if he had just admitted that he was not up to the challenge. He protected all of his department appointees, especially the sanitation lady. Wonder why?

    • Debbie in Treme

      You are right. He is in denial. He was overwhelmed and so was his staff he refused to replace. So, we all suffered waiting for change.

  • John

    Unbelievable. Your failure to question the mayor about his trips paid for by vendors of the city, and his ceo who recieved millions from the same vendor is suspect. Nice to hear from the mayor now that he is out. You couldn’t find him in his second term. His legacy is what he made of it. He was reelected unexpectedly and he acted resentfull that he was even challenged. It would be best if he had just admitted that he was not up to the challenge. He protected all of his department appointees, especially the sanitation lady. Wonder why?

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