Hurricane Katrina

Friday, October 25, 2013

The final chapter

Posted By and on Fri, Oct 25, 2013 at 12:17 AM

Ray Nagin
  • Cheryl Gerber


Former Mayor Ray Nagin’s federal trial on 21 public corruption charges was postponed again last week — for the third time. The former mayor is now set to stand trial on Jan. 27, 2014. If and when Nagin does go to trial — or if he pleads to a reduced charge — it will be the final chapter of Hurricane Katrina’s political arc.

Guilty or innocent, Nagin’s fate will bring closure to a city that arguably suffered as much after the storm as during it, thanks in large measure to the former mayor’s failure to implement a recovery program with any traction.

Nagin faces six counts of bribery, one count of conspiracy, one count of money laundering, nine counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns. All of those are major felonies, which means Nagin faces a lot of jail time, even if he’s convicted on just one or two counts.

Federal prosecutors often pile on charges, sometimes adding one or two “minor” counts. In addition to having evidence of multiple crimes, prosecutors use the threat of lengthy jail time to leverage guilty pleas to lesser crimes with reduced sentences. At the end of the day, a win is a win.

Earlier this week, for example, former St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to steal money from the coroner’s office, which carries a maximum sentence of five years. That’s serious jail time, but it’s a lot less than Galvan might have drawn had he gone to trial facing multiple counts of public corruption.

In Nagin’s case, a conviction on all 21 counts would send him to jail for a very long time, possibly longer than the 17-plus years given to Mark St. Pierre, the former City Hall tech vendor who rolled the dice and went to trial on 53 bribery counts rather than accept a plea deal. St. Pierre was convicted on all 53 counts. Now he’s anxious to testify against Nagin, hoping it will get him a reduction in sentence.

If convicted of even one count, all of the other counts against Nagin would still factor into his sentence as “relevant conduct” under the federal sentencing guidelines. The former mayor thus faces a lengthy prison term for any conviction — and the fact that he was a public official at the time of his alleged crimes enhances his potential jail time.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Saenger Theater opens with speeches, unveiling of $52 million renovation

Posted By on Fri, Sep 27, 2013 at 1:54 PM

The Saengers curtains parted to reveal the lit letters of the Canal Street theater
  • The Saenger's curtains parted to reveal the lit letters of the Canal Street theater

The Saenger Theatre opened its doors today for the first time since Hurricane Katrina closed the Canal Street landmark in 2005. Under new twinkling fiber optic ceiling stars — part of a $52 million renovation — Mayor Mitch Landrieu proclaimed the project a symbol “of resurrection, redemption, resilience, of building the city not back the way she was but the way she should have always been.”

The Saenger was built in 1927 and the team of public-private entities responsible for its renovation, including the Canal Street Development Corporation, Ace Theatrical Group and the City of New Orleans, restored the building to reflect the original, with modern accoutrements like an expanded stage. The inside is complete with the dashing red carpet reminiscent of the original, and everything from the chandeliers to the paint scheme was researched for historical accuracy and constructed to reflect the building’s original interior. “All of the work that you see here is a reincarnation of the original designs and the original paintings,” Landrieu said.

The Saenger will host a slew of Broadway shows, musical, comedic and stage acts, including a grand opening performance by Kristin Chenoweth and the Louisiana Philharmonic Oct. 5. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld performs three shows during this weekend’s soft opening. New Orleans is the third largest producer of Hollywood films, behind New York and Los Angeles, thanks to film credits offered by the state and will have an originating tax credit for Broadway productions as well, Landrieu said, “because, in order for this thing to work, these seats have to be full, and the productions have to be great.”

Broadway Across America President Lauren Reid said “New Orleans will now be a destination for Broadway’s best and brightest.”

Though the opening is one of the most anticipated post-Katrina rebuilding efforts and a linchpin of the Canal Street corridor rehabilitation, Landrieu said “there’s other stuff going on. This is not the only thing that’s happening as you think about what is occurring just in this general space, in these two square miles. You have the VA and UMC hospitals, $2 million coming out of the ground as we speak.”

New Orleans City Council President Jackie Clarkson was in the Saenger for her fifth birthday, before World War II. “Thanks for the memories,” she said. “Many a tale has been woven in this edifice.”

After dozens of stakeholders squeezed behind a gold ribbon for a photo-op, the curtains of the Saenger opened to display its historic SAENGER letters, lighted and floating on the newly revealed stage. “You have this before you today,” Landrieu said. “It’s a gift to the people of the city of New Orleans.”

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ed Blakely is about to start rebuilding Sydney, Australia — one shopping mall at a time

Posted By on Thu, Sep 12, 2013 at 10:48 AM


Dr. Ed Blakely watchers know that former Mayor Ray Nagin's "recovery czar" declared mission accomplished on the rebuilding of New Orleans in 2009 and took his metaphorical "cranes in the sky" to Australia, where he now works with the University of Sydney's United States Study Centre (bless their hearts).

But now Blakely has a new challenge. He's teaming up with "urban designer" Ethan Kent to revitalize a shopping mall in the Sydney suburb of Parramatta.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Gambit interview: Steve Gleason

Posted By and on Wed, Sep 4, 2013 at 1:56 PM

Steve Gleason in July 2013. - WWL-TV
  • WWL-TV
  • Steve Gleason in July 2013.

It was seven years ago this month that Steve Gleason achieved immortality among New Orleans Saints fans when he blocked a punt in the team’s first game in the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina. But it was two years ago this month that Gleason inspired people far beyond the gridiron when he revealed he is living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

On the eve of Gleason Gras, his annual event to raise awareness of ALS and support the Gleason Family Trust, Gleason agreed to an email interview. He answered Gambit’s questions with the use of assistive technology that allows him to type using his eyes.

Questions by Gambit staff writers Kevin Allman and Alex Woodward

GAMBIT: You've been traveling a lot in the last few months. Where have you been, and what have your experiences been like?

STEVE GLEASON: We try to go back to the Northwest in the summers. It gets me out of this heat, and helps us see our Northwest friends and family. We were in Sandpoint, Idaho, which is about 90 minutes from Spokane, Wash., where I grew up. As a kid I spent summers and winters in North Idaho, snowboarding and water skiing.

We took an ALS patient to Hell’s Canyon, where we caught an eight-foot sturgeon and slept under a full moon for two nights. One of our highlights was going to Wrigley Field to watch Pearl Jam. It was a memorable night. A massive thunderstorm came through so it was a two-hour “rain delay,” but not one person left and PJ played til 2 a.m.! A few New Orleans friends met us at Wrigley because they won sidestage passes for the show at last year’s Gleason Gras ...

It gets harder and harder for me to travel but we keep figuring out ways to keep rolling!

G: In June, you held the first Team Gleason Summit for the Cure. Tell us what that was, what it accomplished and what you hope it will accomplish in years to come.

SG: During the Super Bowl here in New Orleans, we launched our new campaign, "Putting our heads together to find a cure for ALS.” Our hope in doing so was to bring all ALS stakeholders together, look at the roadblocks with new eyes and formulate a plan or strategy to end ALS. The recent Team Gleason Summit was the first step.

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Y@ Speak: with honors

Posted By on Tue, Sep 3, 2013 at 1:05 PM

Last week, as Labor Day approached, we offered memorials in the wake of the anniversary of the federal floods, and stood alongside protestors demanding fair wages.

We also paid tribute with statues honoring fast food moguls, Twitter verification, misspelled plaques, and fuchsia hues lighting the afternoon skyline along "God Hates" signs. New Orleans, we salute you.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

New poll finds many Louisiana Republicans blame Obama for botched response to Hurricane Katrina

Posted By on Wed, Aug 21, 2013 at 11:05 AM

It's been a busy week for Louisiana polls and pollsters, and this morning Talking Points Memo provided a sneak look at a new Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey of 274 Louisiana Republican primary voters, taken Aug. 16-19.

The poll's top line regarded preferences for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, and it pitted Gov. Bobby Jindal against a wide field of Republican leaders: former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, N.M. Gov. Susana Martinez, Ky. Sen. Rand Paul, Fla. Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisc. Rep. Paul Ryan and former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum. (Jindal scored 10 percent support among Louisiana Republicans, putting him in the middle of the pack, but behind "Someone else/not sure.")

But it was the answer to this question that raised eyebrows:

Who do you think was more responsible for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina: George W. Bush or Barack Obama?

George W. Bush
Barack Obama
Not sure

A statistically insignificant difference, to be sure. Of course, Bush was president at the time and Obama was a freshman Illinois senator in his first year of office. (In the crosstabs, older people were more likely to blame Obama, while younger voters were likely to be not sure.)

But it raises a further question: Why was it asked in the first place? PPP, which largely conducts polling for Democratic and liberal groups, is fond of throwing curveballs. In 2011, PPP asked GOP voters whether they thought either Obama or former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would be Raptured into heaven (19 percent thought Obama would; 51 percent thought Palin would). Three months ago, PPP conducted a poll about Americans' attitude toward "hipsters," which included a question about whether hipsters just “soullessly appropriate cultural tropes from the past for their own ironic amusement.”  It also asked respondents to rate the palatability of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. 

Whatever the motivation behind the Katrina question, it's sure to be used as ammo against Louisiana Republicans' brain power (and ammo against Louisianans as a whole), while it also will give conservatives a chance to squawk they were set up.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

7th Ward hucklebuck ladies: Do they still exist?

Posted By on Tue, Jun 25, 2013 at 1:12 PM

Hucklebuck: A frozen treat made of flavored syrup and water. Also known as a huckabuck, frozen cup, iceberg, cool cup or cold cup.

“Are there hucklebuck ladies around here anymore?” I ask a woman sitting on her Hope Street porch in the 7th Ward, my childhood stomping grounds. “I’m sure all the ones I knew growing up are dead.”

“No, not anymore,” she responds, a hint of longing in her voice. As I hang my head a little, feeling embarrassed for even asking the question, she shouts, “Well, there might be a lady by the park, but I don’t know.”

I thank her and skip toward my car, hearing a dog bark and thinking about how I called Hope Street "Dog Street" when I was a girl, since there were so many vicious-looking dogs there.

I quickly realize a tan pit bull is chasing me. The nice things I’ve read about pit bulls from their advocates leave my mind and are replaced with 6-year-old Megan’s memory of Uncle Bobby Sardie’s German Shepard leaping up and biting his hand, getting blood everywhere on Easter morning.

“Get it away from me!” I shout repeatedly, wishing I would have just walked to my car instead of skipping there. Thankfully, the dog’s owner calls it back to herself and away from me.

Safely in my car, I begin to wonder if my search will be fruitless. I see a man around my age and ask him the status of hucklebuck ladies in the 7th Ward. He confirms their absence. I turn down New Orleans Street, thinking of the hucklebuck ladies around Hardin Park I knew growing up, like Miss Thibodeaux who always had double- and triple-color ones. Perhaps hucklebuck ladies are casualties of Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods or maybe of 9/11.

Lester and Carolyn Vallet have been selling hucklebucks on North Broad near St. Bernard for years.
  • Lester and Carolyn Vallet have been selling hucklebucks on North Broad near St. Bernard for years.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Y@ Speak: Suspicious packages

Posted By on Mon, Apr 22, 2013 at 11:51 AM

The horrible Boston Marathon bombings happened this week, and terror and panic followed in the form of lockdowns, bomb threats, suspicious packages and Diner en Blanc. Also this week: Earth Day celebrations, a dumb Katrina/other bad thing comparison, wine ice cream?

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

George H.W. Bush on his son's leadership following Hurricane Katrina

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 11:11 AM

President George H.W. Bush's 1999 book, All the Best, George Bush; My Life in Letters and Other Writings, is being reissued this month in an updated version, and CNN was provided an advance copy. In the book, Bush 41 discusses his feelings after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, when his son, President George W. Bush, was being criticized for the federal government's response to the unfolding disaster in New Orleans:

"I am really down about the way the President has been attacked," Bush writes in a 2005 letter to journalist and long-time friend Hugh Sidey about the criticism directed at his son for the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. "Over and over again the networks attack him. First for being late in moving. Then for over flying Louisiana on the way back to Washington. Then on the snail like pace of relief."

Bush went on to say "My heart went out to him. Here is a guy who cares deeply. Who wants every possible resource of the Federal Government brought in to bear to help people, yet he is being roundly accused of not giving a damn...the critics do not know what is in 43's heart, how deeply he feels about the hurt, the anguish, the losses affecting so many people, most of them poor."

The senior Bush goes on to compare the criticism of his son with his own experiences being shot down by Japanese forces during his time in the U.S. Navy, and concludes, ""Now I see some of his most nasty critics trying to shoot down my beloved son — shoot him down by mean-spirited attacks. I was a scared kid back then. Now I am just an angry old man hurting for my son."

In other Bush family news, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum (known as Bush Center) will be unveiled next month at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Circle Food Store to reopen summer 2013

Posted By on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 1:05 PM


Raindrops filled a few puddles inside the shell of Circle Food Store, the iconic domed Treme grocery store and community space, which has stood empty since the 2005 floods when 5 feet of water filled the landmark. It first opened in 1939 as the first African-American-owned grocery store in New Orleans. Today, city officials and owner Dwayne Boudreaux held a ceremonial groundbreaking and announced the store's reopening in summer 2013.

"This was an iconic place for so many of us. It was the hub of the 7th Ward," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "There are very few symbols of what New Orleans was and what it could be than Circle Food Store."

Last summer, Landrieu's office announced a $1 million loan from the Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which launched in March 2011 to offer low-cost, flexible financing to retailers looking to expand affordable fresh food options in under-served neighborhoods. FFRI is financed by $7 million in Disaster Community Development Block Grant funds, matched by the Hope Enterprise Corporation (totaling $14 million in FFRI funds).

Boudreaux told Gambit construction will likely begin next week and he anticipates the store reopening in July. Landrieu's economic development advisor Aimee Quirk said the store will employ 75 full- and part-time jobs.

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