Monday, August 28, 2006

Nagin Apologizes But Still Won't Admit His Failures

Appearing on "Meet The Press" on Sunday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin apologized for referring to the World Trade Center site in New York as a "hole in the ground." Nagin said "I wish I would have basically said that it was an undeveloped site, which it is."

This is just another in a long line of verbal miscues from Nagin since Katrina, with his referring to New Orleans becoming a "chocolate city" again during his re-election campaign coming quickly to mind. Rep. Peter King of New York said of Nagin "It's really disgraceful and shameful. Ground zero is sacred ground. To refer to it as a hole in the ground, to me, is shocking and inexcusable. Especially considering Mayor Nagin's own record. I mean, when Katrina was there, he was the one who had 500 school buses under water, he's the one who wasn't able to evacuate his city, he's the one who lost his composure on national television several times."

This month on HBO, Spike Lee's movie "When The Levees Broke" debuted and brought the tragedy of Katrina back into full light. As we reach the one year anniversary, if you can call it that, it still seems that many people, including Nagin himself, don't want to admit that if blame must be placed somewhere for the tragedy which was and still is Katrina, it starts with Ray Nagin.

Speaking to the National Association of Black Journalists, Nagin said "The tragedy of Katrina was awful. It exposed the soft underbelly of America as it relates to dealing with race and class, and I, to this day, believe that if that would have happened in Orange County, California, if that would have happened in South Beach, Miami, it would have been a different response."

While that may be true, it was Nagin and the city of New Orleans that were the first responders in Katrina, and they failed miserably. With no disrespect to Rudy Guliani, had Nagin and his administration responded with some semblance of competence, he would have had the opportunity to be considered on par with the former New York mayor who suddenly became "America's Mayor." 9/11 was a terrible day, but what really did Guliani do? What really could he have done? He reacted to an event that was unforeseen, and it was more that the brave men and women of New York's Police and Fire Department reacted, not Guliani.

Nagin had the opportunity to plan for the disaster that struck his city and to act on that plan and he did neither effectively. While the State of Louisiana and the federal government, specifically FEMA, should share much of the blame for the failed Katrina response, Mayor Nagin's failure to properly protect the citizens of his city was the first, and worst, failure of them all.

While "race" and "class" and how our nation deals with each will always be fertile ground for discussion, Nagin's inept management of the Katrina catastrophe is where the discussion should begin. An African-American mayor in a "chocolate city" should have done a better job for his citizens, all of them. That he did not is his failure. Admit that first and then we can talk about everybody and everything else.

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