Nagin Takes On Race Relations in His Final State of New Orleans Address

Louisiana Weekly, June 3, 2009

In his final State of the City address May 20, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin tackled a wide range of issues including ongoing recovery efforts, crime, redevelopment of the Iberville housing development and a possible new home for City Hall.

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He recounted a number of examples of the racial divide in New Orleans, including the murder of Black college student Levon Jones by four White bouncers outside a local bar, a discrimination lawsuit involving former Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan and a study of the French Quarter that revealed that Black patrons were routinely forced to pay cover charges and charged higher prices than White patrons. Referring to the racially divisive months after Hurricane Katrina during which policy changes were made while many Blacks were still displaced in other states and unable to vote, Nagin said, “We fought each other, blamed each other, vilified certain leaders, targeted and defamed some, and have come to the point where trust in the city is at a very low level. Sorry, but this is the naked truth.

“Five years from now,” Nagin continued, “what will we say about ourselves? What will honest, objective historians write about all of us? Did we come together after facing the ultimate challenge?”

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He didn’t discuss his clandestine meeting with wealthy White businessmen in Dallas in the days after Hurricane Katrina about the future of New Orleans.

When asked by the media about that gathering, Nagin said it was appropriate to meet with the all-White group because Black New Orleans residents didn’t participate in the economy in a meaningful way.

During his speech, Nagin referred to a New York Times article that reportedly quoted a political expert that said “every white person in the city” hated the mayor.

“I know this road to recovery has not been easy,” the mayor, who recently earned the lowest approval rating of any mayor in the history of New Orleans, said Wednesday. {snip}

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Ironically, some credit the mayor with bringing Black and White voters together on a number of issues involving his performance including a lack of transparency at City Hall, a family-owned business that secured a Home Depot contract before eventually shutting down, the slow pace of post-Katrina recovery efforts, the city’s inability to get crime cameras working properly, a series of dinners and parties at expensive restaurants on the taxpayer’s dime, the infamous remark about violent crime keeping “the New Orleans brand” out there, the city’s treatment of the homeless population and a series of Nagin family vacations allegedly paid for by a company directly or indirectly doing business with the city.

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