C. Ray Nagin, the man who was elected mayor of New Orleans as a reformer has finally been indicted by federal prosecutors after a multi-year investigation.
With this 21-count indictment on bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering charges, Nagin has been revealed as the most corrupt mayor in New Orleans history. No other mayor in the almost 300 year history of New Orleans has been indicted for corruption charges by a federal grand jury.
This marks a new low for New Orleans politics. Nagin promised citizens clean, pro-business, policies that would be the envy of the country. Instead it is alleged that he took payoffs of $50,000 in granite for his Stone Age LLC company. He was also charged with taking bribes from businessmen looking to score contracts with the city of New Orleans. The federal government alleges that Nagin illegally received $50,000 from Frank Fradella, formerly of Home Solutions of America, and $72,500 from Rodney Williams of Three Fold Consultants.
In the 2002 campaign, Nagin claimed he would search the world for the best and brightest employees to lead City Hall. Instead he hired cronies from Cox Cable and unstable personalities like Kimberly Williamson Butler, who emerged from a short jail stint comparing herself to Gandhi and Martin Luther Jr. His top assistant was a law breaking egomaniac, Greg Meffert, who as technology director and deputy mayor enriched himself at the public’s expense and pleaded to conspiracy charges.
Nagin associated with corrupt business people like Fradella and technology vendor Mark St. Pierre, who is serving a 17-year jail sentence. St. Pierre provided Nagin with $1,500 in free lawn services, access to a luxurious yacht and free vacations to exotic destinations like Hawaii and Jamaica. Along with being corrupt, St. Pierre was incompetent as well. One of his foremost missions was to install crime cameras in New Orleans. After years of out of control crime, camera malfunctions, and other disappointments, the high priced cameras were eventually abandoned. The only people to benefit from the high tech crime fighting tools were St. Pierre and Nagin. Sadly, the citizens of the Murder Capital of the nation remained under assault on the crime ridden streets of New Orleans.
When the exasperated citizens of New Orleans marched on City Hall to demand action on the crime issue, Nagin was so disinterested that he practically ignored the massive rally and spent his time texting business associates regarding his granite business. His preoccupation in the granite company led Nagin to deliver favors for Home Depot in exchange for Stone Age receiving granite contracts with the company.
Overall, his leadership of the city post-Katrina was a nightmare. After refusing to order the use of school buses to evacuate citizens in New Orleans, Nagin spent precious hours in the aftermath of the storm on the top floor of the destroyed Hyatt Hotel. During the crucial post-Katrina period, Nagin retreated to a vacation home in Dallas so often that he became a fixture in that city. Today, Nagin lives in Dallas, not his home town of New Orleans.
In maybe his worst personnel decision, Nagin hired maybe the most delusional “recovery director” imaginable in Ed Blakely, a self-described worldwide expert who promised “cranes in the sky” within a year of his hiring. Sadly, Blakely spent much of his time bashing the citizens of New Orleans, collecting his lucrative salary and traveling back and forth to his home in Australia.
Nagin impeded the growth of New Orleans with his corruption, arrogance and incompetence. To members of the media who tried to expose his corruption, Nagin acted like a street thug. In fact, he even threatened to fight the news director of WWL-TV in the station’s parking lot.
In this re-election campaign, his shameless descent into racism with the “chocolate city” comments was a stunning blow to unity in New Orleans and served to further impede the recovery of the city post-Katrina. He was only re-elected in 2006 after he delivered racist appeals, for he could not run on any accomplishments.
In his final term, Nagin worked to enrich himself at the expense of the people of New Orleans. His final project, the Armstrong Park renovations, was a fitting end to his disastrous second term. Nagin hired a convicted felon to oversee the project, which ended in a total mess with the expensive sculptures in disrepair and even the sidewalks improperly installed.
Throughout his second term, Nagin made stunningly embarrassing comments that made citizens cringe. He said he wanted to send the homeless on a one-way ticket out of town. Nagin referred to himself as a “vagina friendly” mayor in introducing the “Vagina Monologues” to New Orleans. The mayor even traveled to New York and criticized their recovery from the 9/11 attacks by calling the sacred site a “hole in the ground.”
In short, Nagin was a public relations disaster for New Orleans. He delivered nothing but corruption and broken promises.
Hopefully, he will be receiving what he deserves; justice for the many crimes he is charged with committing.
Ray Nagin is a sad reminder that elections matter, they truly matter.
Jeff Crouere is a native of New Orleans and he is the host of a Louisiana-based program, “Ringside Politics,” which airs on WLAE-TV 32, a PBS station and on WGSO 990 AM in New Orleans and the Northshore.