Now that the feds are officially investigating former Mayor Ray Nagin, the most popular water-cooler conversation starter in town is guessing when he’ll be indicted and on what counts. The Times-Picayune outlined three potential problem areas for Nagin, to which I would add a fourth. And that covers just what’s in the public domain.
The TP noted in its first story about the grand jury investigation that the feds are looking into “three parallel tracks” against Nagin, who campaigned as a crusading reformer in 2002. According to the newspaper, one track involves city tech vendors who provided Nagin with luxury travel and home maintenance; another concerns the Nagin family’s countertop business and its exclusive deal with Home Depot; and a third involves suspicions that the countertop biz got free equipment and materials from city vendors.
Add to that list the City Hall email scandal. Computer records of Nagin’s schedule and emails disappeared — right after WWL-TV asked for them in a public records request. It is a federal crime to tamper with public computers, and if the tampering is done to conceal a crime, we’re talking obstruction of justice.
The stink of corruption was already on Nagin even before he left office. The feds indicted former city tech chief Greg Meffert while Nagin was still mayor. Meffert ultimately pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax fraud. He has yet to be sentenced, but he did testify against his old partner, former City Hall vendor Mark St. Pierre, who got 17-and-a-half years after the feds nailed him on 53 counts of bribery, conspiracy and wire fraud. Another former City Hall tech chief, Anthony Jones, pleaded guilty to bribery and has been cooperating with the feds.
The Albert Ledner-designed, mid-century modern residence was built in 1962. It has 4 bedrooms and 3 baths, as well as a pool (and a pretty sweet kitchen). Known as the "Ashtray House," it also has beaucoup gold glass ashtrays embedded along its roofline.
Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin appeared on the CBS Early Show this morning to offer pearls of wisdom for those freaking out about the approach of Hurricane Irene:
"It's very concerning, because this storm has a larger footprint than Hurricane Katrina and, in my book that I self-published through CreateSpace, I talked about what we did to prepare for it, the evacuation," he said. "Most people don't know, we got about 95 percent to 96 percent of the people who were in the city out of harm's way before the storm hit, so there's many lessons to be learned from our experience."
The good: Nagin does an excellent job of laying out the timeline in the days after the storm — the feeling that New Orleans dodged a bullet, followed by the collapse of the levees; the desperation at the Louisiana Superdome; the cluelessness of the federal government and the growing anarchy on the ground. Much of the book is dedicated to laying blame, and Nagin does not exempt his own performance, but overall paints himself as a civic chief executive whose attempts to do the right thing were thwarted by state and federal powers. The main villains in his account are then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who led the post-K federal response through early 2006. Also unimpressive in Nagin's telling: Sen. Mary Landrieu, FEMA head Michael Brown and President George W. Bush.
There’s a good deal of human and piscine interest material about “Fishy,” young Tianna Nagin’s pet betta fish, which Nagin nursed in his blown-out hotel room while the city fell to pieces several dozen floors below. And the book concludes with a pitch for Katrina’s Secrets 2: Rainbows After the Storm, which Nagin intends to publish next year.
“It was destiny I was mayor of New Orleans when Katrina hit,” Nagin says early in the book, and it just gets more quotable from there …
Former mayor Ray Nagin's Katrina's Secrets will be released tomorrow, but Oren Dorell of USA Today (along with Jon Stewart) got an early look, and his review is online this morning. Well, it's more summary than review, and there's not much in there we don't already know about the book, but give it a read:
The former TV executive, now working on disaster preparedness and green energy, recalls, "I had to keep pinching myself to remind myself that we were in the United States. I never would have thought that this could have happened."
The book covers the first 30 days after the storm. The outspoken Nagin says he chose to self-publish on CreateSpace, a division of Amazon.com, after contacts with publishers left him worried about the editing process, feeling uncertain "that my voice would come out at the end of the day."
Nagin will be having a press event in New Orleans Wednesday morning to dole out copies of Katrina's Secrets. In the meantime, if you missed his interview on last night's Daily Show With Jon Stewart, here it is. Three words: hair care products.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
Matt Lauer interviewed former mayor Ray Nagin this morning on Today, discussing Nagin's new memoir Katrina's Secrets. Verdict: Weaksauce. Totally news-free on Lauer's part. We can hope Nagin's appearance tonight on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart might actually have some substance.
Wednesday will bring the New Orleans unveiling of Katrina's Secrets, with a "morning press briefing" (time and place TBA) at which copies of the book will be distributed, as well as a signing that evening at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center from 6 to 9 pm.
Alex Woodward contributed to this report.
Silence Is Violence, the citizen activist group that sprang up after the murders of Dinerral Shavers and Helen Hill in 2007, is calling for Mayor Mitch Landrieu to dismiss NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas.
In an email this afternoon, the group cited three reasons it was calling for Serpas' ouster: "An inability to break the cycle of corruption," "Criminalization, disengagement, and antagonism of victims" and "A lack of clear strategy for addressing and collaborating with cultural traditions and practices, especially street practices."
Tamara Jackson, the group's director of victim and community outreach, told Gambit this afternoon:
"Today is not anything significant. We've met with several organizations that have this position. Silence Is Violence works with victims of crime, and (releasing the petition) was a response to their concerns, and we felt the need to move forward with their concerns. ...
"Safety is a major issue. When you have the community that already has trust issues, and then you have that officer — and not all officers are bad, but they're in the uniform and it becomes a dangerous situation when they go out into the community — and the community doesn't trust them. They're hesitant about how to interact with the community because of barriers that already exist. ... So it's hard on both levels. It's hard for the policemen to go out, and it's hard for the community to trust them.
"Serpas for sure needs to be removed. And we need somebody, maybe the federal government, to take over, so people can feel safe and that the community can feel safe, as well as the officers feeling safe about doing their job.
"We're the voice of the community. We just ask that people sign on, and their voices will be heard through their signatures. We're asking Mitch to fulfill his promise."
Silence is Violence is the group that led the 2007 crime march on New Orleans City Hall, where an estimated 5,000 New Orleanians excoriated then-mayor Ray Nagin and then-chief Warren Riley. The march was reenacted in last Sunday's episode of the series Treme.
We've reached out to Landrieu and Serpas' offices for reaction, and will update if there's any comment issued.
In this excerpt, Nagin finds desperation giving way to inspiration after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, as people waited for help at the Louisiana Superdome:
"As we looked down I noticed the crowd on the ledge below was significantly larger than usual. I could see and feel their collective anger as they of one accord started to push hard against the barricades around the Superdome. They were fed up, hot and determined to be set free from their misery. The National Guards who were patrolling the barricades had called for reinforcements and most had a look of extreme alarm. They knew we were greatly outnumbered and if this crowd really wanted to they could easily overrun the barricades, which would start a new, much more dangerous riot type crisis.
The sun was at its zenith and the temperature was sweltering like an industrial oven on full blast. It was just another incredibly hot, humid, New Orleans summer day. The sun had beaten on the people for several days as most had been waiting outside fully exposed. They had reached the boiling point and were ready to explode. It was quite evident that whatever control we thought we had was about to be fully tested. My heart was beating so strong that it sounded like it was literally outside my body. I motioned to Wondell to quickly make sure Chief Compass and Deputy Chief Riley were aware of what was transpiring.
Just the day before we had gang members who were among this same crowd trying to figure out how to take guns away from the National Guard. The people around the Superdome had heard many times that buses were on their way and had been waiting patiently among the harshest of conditions. The difference this time was that instead of a small group trying to take matters into their own hands it now seemed like the entire Superdome, all 30,000 were united in a freedom push.
After fully comprehending what I was seeing outside this window I turned to Terry and said, “We could be in big trouble. This thing looks like it is going to blow and it will take a miracle for us to hold it together any longer.” To make matters worse most of our police force was already dispersed throughout the city trying to reclaim order in the dry areas. Other officers were sleeping in their cars, on the floor at the Hyatt, or anywhere else they could find a dry place to rest their heads. They were physically and mentally exhausted.
I remember thinking that things just couldn’t end this way. We needed a special blessing to stop this riot from happening. Thankfully within a few minutes, God answered our prayers. Miraculously, as if taking a heavenly cue, out of nowhere a dark cloud moved over the Superdome. Before I could close my mouth in amazement, cool rain started to fall lightly over the crowd. If Terry hadn’t been next to me to confirm what was happening I don’t think I would have believed what I was actually seeing. It was like something you’d read in the Bible, other holy books, or see in the Ten Commandments movie. It was unbelievable, but reassuring. It wasn’t a big thunderstorm with lighting and thunder but just a light, steady rain that was quietly saying, peace be still. This amazing cloud of grace only appeared over the Superdome area, nowhere else in the city. All I could do was look in amazement and say out loud, “Lord, have mercy”.
The rain shower lasted long enough to wet everything around the Dome, cool the people and their tempers off, and allow us to exhale again. We could now see steam coming off the pavement. It was a different kind of cleansing. It cleansed negativity for the moment. The people stopped pushing on the barricades and some even went back inside the Superdome. And once again we lived to fight another day for survival. Halleluiah!”
If the cover photo of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's upcoming memoir, Katrina's Secrets, seems a little familiar, there's a good reason for that:
The Aug. 31, 2005 photo of President George W. Bush flying over New Orleans was widely criticized upon its release as a symbol of the president's detachment from Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. When his own memoir, Decision Points, was published several years later, Bush told NBC's Matt Lauer that the photograph had been "a huge mistake."
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