In a post-Katrina World, there are two things that should be obvious by now. One, you can’t ask for billions in recovery aide from the federal government without expecting to be under a public microscope and, two, you can’t fake leadership in such a demanding environment as the pressure will surely expose your weaknesses.
Cases in point, Governor Kathleen Blanco’s hesitation and inability to emerge as a leader when her state needed it the most, Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard who seemed to be out of control with his doom and gloom reports, Saints owner Tom Benson who attempted to capitalize on the devastation as an excuse to abandon Louisiana and most recently New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s “chocolate” comments that insisted New Orleans would be a majority African-American city because God wants it that way.
Mayor Nagin has his job cut out for him. Never before has a mayor been forced to deal with such widespread destruction. But, it is actually bigger than just a New Orleans issue. As the mayor of the largest populated area and center of the region’s media market, he has the unofficial task of serving as the spokesman for an entire region.
I have lived in St. Charles Parish all my life, but I still consider myself as a New Orleanian. We may not have to vote in New Orleans elections, but Nagin is, in many ways, our mayor as well. As goes New Orleans, so goes the region. The city’s successes, weaknesses and image have tremendous impact on us in a national and global economy.
I have often applauded Mayor Nagin for applying a business approach to government. What a refreshing change from what has become the norm! But, the pressures of being all things to all people are beginning to take its toll on him, something that has never been more evident than the Mayor’s MLK speech that sparked debate worldwide.
Some support his comments, many were offended, and interestingly enough these feelings don’t seem to follow racial lines. His comments offended across the board. It did, however, accomplish an unintended byproduct. On a day when tolerance and inclusion are the theme, the mayor’s comments gave a different slant on how a lack of sensitivity can foster racism.
Either way, what I see in Ray Nagin is a man under extreme pressure, attempting to chart a course through treacherous waters without a legible map, and six months later he hasn’t been able to leave the harbor. People need answers of which he has not been able to adequately provide, Yet, they still look to you for something, anything, because they want to believe there are brighter days ahead.
In such an environment, one’s inability to give real answers often leads way to rhetoric. I feel that Nagin was playing to an audience, giving them what he perceived that they wanted to hear. His error was not understanding how his rhetoric would be received by both his intended audience and those whom I am guessing he thought would not have heard them.
Mayor Nagin has apologized and that is good enough for me. Whether it is because he is sincere or simply responding to criticism, again offering up rhetoric in the absence of a valid answer, it is sort of irrelevant at this point.
It is time to move on, there is far too much to do. As my unofficial mayor, I accept his apology and feel he now, more than ever before, fully understands the need to build a more inclusive recovery plan.
It takes a great deal of wasted energy to hate. It is going to take the positive energy of the entire region to overcome the challenges Katrina has thrown upon us.