Schoolbus Ray"Schoolbus" Ray Nagin was re-elected as mayor of New Orleans Saturday, despite his inordinate failure to evacuate people and despite the fact that his opponent, Louisiana Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu picked up endorsements from many promenant African-American leaders, including the pastor of New Orleans' largest black church.
Mayor Nagin had hundreds of schoolbusses at his disposal to evacuate the poor and the indigent of the city, but Mayor Nagin elected not to use them. He later attempted to say that he couldn't do so without schoolboard permission. Nagin had, however, declared a State of Emergency before the storm hit-and under Louisiana law (and the laws of nearly every State) Nagin could use the powers he had under the State of Emergency to commandeer the busses for the city's use. Aside from that, does Nagin really expect anyone with a mind of their own to believe the school board would have cared considering the circumstances?
Amtrak also offered trains to evacuate many thousands of people, but Ray Nagin refused the offer that could have saved thousands of lives and spared his city even greater catastrophe. Instead, Ray Nagin sends residents who can't get out of New Orleans to the Superdome. In addition to many of these folks being impoverished and black, there were also many people with disabilities there of all colors. Many of those folks didn't come out alive.
Yet Nagin won re-election in a squeaker, partly because he used race as an issue, attempting to scare black voters into believing that Mitch Landrieu's sudden legitimate challenge was a white plot to regain power. New Orleans has not had a white mayor since 1978, when Mitch's father Moon Landrieu left the Mayor's office. Mitch Landrieu pointed out (rightly so) that he sought and got a great deal of black support in this race, and that this wasn't an issue of race to him-New Orleans is his home, and he wanted to help. (It bears noting that Mitch Landrieu was endorsed by the Louisiana Republican Party in the runoff.)
When you have a candidate of one race pointing at a candidate of another race and saying "this person's candidacy is really a racial plot,"(which Nagin did not say directly, but certainly implied on several occasions, including the infamous "chocolate city" speech) then we haven't come very far in the South on the issue of race-or perhaps we've made a circular turn. What would happen if the roles were reversed? What if Nagin had been white and Landrieu black, and Nagin made the same implications? Nagin would be justly branded a bigot of the first order.
To be fair to Ray Nagin, the Landrieu family isn't exactly known for political cleanliness, and were I a New Orleans voter, I am sure I would not have voted for either Nagin or Landrieu in the Primary. What's more, Landrieu is the Lieutenant to a Governor who is as much at fault as Nagin, although how much of a role Landrieu could have played in decision-making, I am not entirely certain. Perhaps people in New Orleans thought that it was better the devil they knew than another Landrieu? After all, Mary Landrieu isn't exactly the world's greatest Senator. Ray Nagin had better count his blessings-whether he (or we) likes it or not, New Orleans will be a very different city four years from now.