Go Way, Ray!

Community Organizing Personal Writings

Indianapolis    In Chicago a week ago speaking to the SEIU Public Sector Division Leadership Assembly, then on Saturday to the ACORN Field Operations Meeting in Nashville, and again at the Progressive Strategy Seminar in Boston, I have been clearer and clearer — Mayor Ray Nagin is destroying New Orleans as effectively as Katrina tried to do. Ray has to go!

    For most New Orleanians and for that matter, most Americans, watching — and worst, listening — to Mayor Ray (and his cowboy police chief, Eddie Compass) hip shooting during the storm panicked the city and the country with tales of mass marauding. According to Ray there were murders and raping everywhere, even if none of this turned out to be true. There were going to be 10,000 dead — a thousand is bad enough, but why say so, Ray? There’s an irony here for those who still appreciate such things — a Mayor owned lock, stock, n’ barrel by the hospitality and tourism industry — probably cost the industry a billion dollars with his mouth connected to nothing but wild rumors with absolutely no mental filter.

    Ray has now bought a house in Dallas, moved his family there, and enrolled his kids. Later he denied that, but come on…

    Ray has now proposed that in addition to rebuilding New Orleans as a weird Disneyland by the River, that every hotel with over 500 rooms should be able to run a casino making Canal Street sort of a Vegas strip. Where did this come from? And, of course Ray has no say over this anyway since the State Legislature decides such things; much less the fact that the City of New Orleans has an agreement with Harrah’s that they are the only land based casino in town. But, who cares? Who wants this for New Orleans anyway?

    Ray says he’s going to appoint an advisory committee of 8, but it turns out to be 17, and then it’s nothing but Joe Canizaro’s Committee for a Better New Orleans — Chamber outfit, masking as folks who care about New Orleans economic development. Apologies to Wynton Marseles, he was undoubtedly duped from New York, and to Oliver Thomas, President of the City Council, who has publicly said he found out he was on about 5 minutes before the announcement in a typical Ray “working with others” move. He appointed the businessman now famous everywhere for telling the Wall Street Journal right after the storm that this was an opportunity to “whiten” the City again and maybe make it Republican. This advisory committee is about nothing. That one appointment would kill it anyway. Let me add that Ray also put on Boysie Bollinger, the right wing shipyard builder, who doesn’t live in the city or have much to do with anything other than the state right to work committee and Republican politics. Give me a break!

    Enough, I could go on forever, but what I really wanted to share is that a movement seems to be finally building around Ray and the fact that he must go away. Others are jumping on the bandwagon. Here are two clear voices.

    One is the voice of the old Uptown — Michael Lewis — the author of Liar’s Poker and a number of other excellent books about business, tech, and even baseball is now a special features writer widely read in the New York Times Magazine. In last Sunday’s NYT he detailed a trip home in the wake of the hurricane. After spending some time debunking the rumors and detailing how safe New Orleans had really been during and after the storm, the old Newman graduate and scion of uptown, lays one over the plate hard.


    “A lot of New Orleanians, from the mayor on down, obviously did not feel so easy. They harbored a deep distrust of their own city and their fellow citizens — which is why they were so quick to believe the most hysterical rumors about one another. The water came to expose those fears and to mock them. The ghosts have been flushed out of their hiding places; now there’s a chance to chase them away, or at least holler at them a bit.”

    How can Ray Nagin be afraid of his people and his city, hold it in contempt and fear now revealed, and pretend to govern the city?

    Lolis Eric Elie represents the other side of the New Orleans lineage. His father was one of the great civil rights lawyers who fought to open the city up 40-50 years ago so that the majority could be heard and heeded. Lolis graduated from public schools — the outstanding and elite magnet high school, Franklin — not an upper class prep school like Lewis. His is the voice of the old Creole establishment in the same way that Lewis speaks for an Uptown sensibility. After years away from the city as road manager for Wynton Marselis, he came back, moved into Treme, and became a columnist — the only African American regular columnist — in the Times-Picayune. Yesterday, Lolis came out clearly in his column with a scathing indictment of Ray as having no vision and understanding of New Orleans. After a multi-point indictment largely focused on Ray’s embrace of gambling as the “vision” for the city that includes one great sentence: “He [Ray] destroys that which he does not understand in the hope of replacing it with the shiny, shallow, new stuff he does understand.” — Lolis ends with a final judgment that must be remembered:

        “I conclude that Nagin really does not understand New Orleans. Though born and bred here, he fundamentally doesn’t understand those things that make us great. He understand why people love Las Vegas. But he doesn’t understand our city. His city. I wish he was more thoughtful. I wish he was less generic. I wish there was time for him to take a crash course in New Orleans culture. I wish that the poverty of the mayor’s vision had not been unmasked just when boldness is so desperately required.”

    The election is February 5th, 2006. I am delighted to find that I will not be the only one who took a vow in the heart of the hurricane that this is one Mayor who is going down.

        Go way, Ray!

October 15, 2005