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Come again?
To a casual observer, Rev. Tom Watson’s endorsement of Mayor Ray Nagin in his run for re-election probably didn’t seem puzzling. Watson, who made his own run for the office but was knocked out of the race in the April primary, was a well-known African-American minister even before his latest campaign and might have been expected to back Nagin, who also is Black, against runoff opponent, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, who is white.
But those who have watched the race closely recall that during a televised forum shortly before the primary, Watson lambasted Nagin in one of the bitterest public attacks yet on the mayor. In that forum, Watson accused Nagin of lying repeatedly about why funds for rebuilding damaged homes are not yet in homeowners’ hands. “I rebuke you,” Watson shouted several times, charging that Nagin had ignored the needs of thousands of people.
Last week, however, the Watson-Nagin picture was one of smiles and back-patting as the two jointly announced that Watson had thrown his support behind the mayor. A valuable boost? We’ll find out this Saturday.
Besh gets a Beard
In a sign that New Orleans will continue to hold a place among the top restaurant cities of the world, local chef John Besh last week snagged
the 2006 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Southeast. This was his second consecutive nomination for the high-profile award and the first win for the chef, who is co-proprietor of Restaurant August in New Orleans.
Besh’s high regard in both local and national fine-dining circles rose still higher following Hurricane Katrina due to his volunteer relief work. In the days after the storm, he organized a feeding effort and served red beans and rice to residents and emergency workers from mobile “kitchens” in the form of flat-bottom boats. Later, he continued to serve thousands of meals a day to workers in St. Bernard Parish and has joined in the effort to rebuild Willie Mae’s Scotch House, a well-loved establishment in the Treme neighborhood.
Neighbors force Nagin’s hand
A determined group of local activists flexed their muscle last week on the issue of an eastern New Orleans landfill with the result that Mayor C. Ray Nagin ordered the site temporarily shut down. Nagin had authorized creation of the Chef Menteur landfill near the Village de l’Est community earlier this year, in an effort to speed up clearance of hurricane debris. But neighbors who are trying to repair and rebuild in the flood-damaged area rallied for closure of the landfill based on environmental concerns. Nagin ordered the site closed for 72 business hours, during which environmental testing could be done to see whether the debris poses any threat to either the neighborhood or the nearby Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. Results are pending.
National Trust: Hold on to history
The National Trust for Historic Preservation gave an important nod to New Orleans last week, naming a group of 20 local sites to the organization’s list of the 11 “most endangered historic places” in the United States. It was the first time in nine years that a local site has appeared on the endangered list.
The Trust said the local neighborhoods, all of which are on the National Register of Historic Places, are endangered because of damage done by Hurricane Katrina and because of continuing threats posed by potential widespread housing demolition, budget cuts in local preservation and planning agencies, and future flood threats. Preservationists also raised fears of vandalism of historic structures and thefts of valuable architectural features, along with dangers that inexperienced persons who gut homes may destroy salvageable historic assets.
The endangered neighborhoods are in Mid-City, Holy Cross, South Lakeview, Treme, Broadmoor, Gentilly Terrace, Central City, Parkview and Bywater.
Inhospitable filings
The long arm of Katrina took a swipe at local tourism last week as two icons of the business filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions. Riverboat operator New Orleans Paddlewheels Inc. and bus tour company New Orleans Tours Inc., both subsidiaries of Hospitality Enterprises Inc., made their filings in federal court here.
Hospitality Enterprises, the parent company of as many as a dozen local businesses, was founded by Warren Reuther Jr., a well-known hospitality entrepreneur. During the last decade the company was torn by feuding within the owner’s extended family. Battling among the parties left Reuther’s nephew, James Smith Jr., as president of Hospitality Enterprises. Reuther and his wife owned half of the company, and various members of the Smith family owned the other half.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court may finally have to resolve long-running issues over control of the company, along with a disputed $2.8 million tax bill allegedly owed by New Orleans Paddlewheels to the city. Paddlewheels operates the Creole Queen and the Cajun Queen steamboats, which, until Hurricane Katrina struck the city, offered popular day cruises on the Mississippi River.
In their filings, the companies’ listed both assets and debts in the range of $1 million to $10 million.

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