There have been mayors who have said dumb things long before Ray Nagin. Never, however, has there been a mayor who said dumb things at a time when his constituency so desperately needed inspiration and encouragement rather than to be embarrassed and insulted.
Nagin’s speech in Washington before a black press organization slandered the city he was there to represent. He implied that Charity Hospital being closed and the state’s ramped up involvement in public education was anti-black. He did not mention how rickety the old hospital system was and how ineffective the Orleans School system had become. To not mention the new charter schools providing hope throughout the city or the thoughtful effort to develop a modern hospital system with an emphasis on neighborhood clinics was dishonest.
To imply a racist conspiracy linked only to a mysterious “they” was shallow. In the news business, and in the business of most professionals, we have to provide evidence of what we say. For us to report on a conspiracy we have to give names, list sources and offer the alleged conspirators a chance to speak. For a physician to give a diagnosis it is best based on statistical evidence. Mayors, however, are apparently spared such disciplines. They can pander to their audience, use code phrases, then say their remarks were misunderstood.
No American mayor has ever faced such a horrific experience as Ray Nagin in the wake of Katrina. There have been no easy answers but at least he could have been a voice of reason. When the facts are elusive, it is often more valiant just to say nothing at all.
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ERROL LABORDE’S BOOK, KREWE: THE EARLY NEW ORLEANS CARNIVAL- COMUS TO ZULU
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In response to Errol Laborde’s web article on the counterbalancing act of the recovery.
I like to tell people that you can tell any story you want to about New Orleans depending upon where you point your camera.
Want to tell of a town that’s back and open for business and ready to roll? Anyone in town can show you that shot. Take your guest to the French Quarter. Sit them down to eat at a 5 star restaurant. Take them shopping at Saks or Rubenstein Bros. Have them stroll upper Magazine and sit for coffee at one of the many cafes. You would be hard pressed to notice anything of the storm we had here 18 months ago.
Perhaps you have a different view and want to punch up the destruction. You drive the devastated streets of the Lower Ninth. Take your guest into oil sodden, flood ravaged St. Bernard parish. Wander endlessly on deserted New Orleans East Boulevards. Take a drive into parts of the 7th Ward that looks untouched since the canal floodwall patch jobs allowed the pumps to do their work. Wax indignant over the government response and try to temper that with the realization that the process of rebuilding in New Orleans, at its heart, is the accumulation of hundreds of thousands of individual decisions and you can’t really make people do anything they don’t want to do.
The third story is more complicated than those two. It is the story of the damaged but recovering neighborhoods. Obviously flooded homes and obvious signs of life. The streets in Mid-City with storm debris on the curbs but a fresh coat of paints on half of the houses. The newly opened or reopened restaurants on Carrolton to feed those hungry for food… and hungry for some contact with their neighbors. People of places like Broadmoor who are working to ensure that their neighborhoods don’t become a forgotten history of New Orleans buried under a large tract of “green space”.
Damaged but recovering, flooded but rebuilding… it’s the more common and overlooked story of this city. And it’s the hardest story to tell when you are looking for an easy angle. When you have to frame everything in a dichotomy of good and bad, recovered or not recovering, when you don’t have much more than 60 seconds to tell a story with every gradation of gray from fog to charcoal its the easy way out to pick an extreme and go with it. But its not right.. and to those of us working so hard to put our lives and our city back together its not fair. Work a little harder. Tell the third story. It’s richer and it will give people an understanding of what is actually going on down here.