The impact of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s controversial comments on Martin Luther King Day landed squarely on the shoulders of local tourism officials Wednesday, one day after the mayor and his staff launched a major damage control effort to temper the firestorm.
As pundits and talk-show hosts parodied Nagin coast to coast, tourism officials tried to soothe angry, disillusioned clients while political observers weighed the potential impact in Washington.
Whether the damage caused to the city and mayor was a temporary setback or a critical blow remains to be seen, business, civic and political leaders said. Nagin repeatedly apologized Tuesday to anyone offended by his remarks, which critics say offended just about everyone.
Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Tourism Bureau, said his office received a handful of cancellations from clients who had booked or were considering events in the city. Others, he said, deluged his staff with irate e-mails and phone calls. Perry said he and his staff are working to reverse the cancellations.
Since Nagin’s prediction that post-Katrina New Orleans would be a “chocolate city at the end of the day”—meaning once again majority African-American—and his claim that last summer’s devastating hurricanes were the result of God’s will, late-night talk-show hosts and political pundits have lampooned him on TV and in newspaper columns. Cartoons and images of Nagin in a Willy Wonka outfit have circulated on political Web sites and Internet Weblogs. “Willy Nagin” and “Mr. Goodbar” T-shirts and bumper stickers have sprouted online.
Washington political analyst Charlie Cook, a Shreveport native, said the negative perception of Louisiana politicians inside the Beltway is real.
“A lot of people in Washington see Louisiana as a banana republic and New Orleans as a kind of zoo,” Cook said. “The mayor’s not helping the city when he says things like that. It just reinforces that negative stereotype and really does hurt your cause.”