It starts at the top. Mayor Ray Nagin's above-it-all attitude toward other elected officials, the media and even the public is emulated down the line by administration sycophants.
It should come as no surprise, then, that two of hizzoner's top aides spent more than $81,000 on travel and entertainment in a six-month period while many neighborhoods struggle just to survive and citizens still wait for public recovery projects to get off the ground. In one instance, the mayor's communication's director, Ceeon Quiett, used her city-backed Visa card to pay a nearly $3,900 tab at Morton's Steakhouse ostensibly to entertain and inform City Council members and legislators about all the progress and vision emanating from the Nagin Administration. A month earlier, Quiett used her card to cover a $2,800 holiday party at Ray's Over the River nightclub. To paraphrase the ubiquitous Visa ad, she's everywhere we want to be.
Quiett and intergovernmental relations aide Kenya Smith defend their extravagance as vital to the city's efforts to reach out to lawmakers and other decision makers who can help the city's recovery efforts. No doubt Nagin should establish and maintain good political relations; it's part of every mayor's job.
We'll have to take Quiett and Smith's word, however, that the eye-popping tabs were incurred for a good cause. As of press time, they had not disclosed details of any of their expenditures except for one: Quiett acknowledged that she charged a $3.90 smoothie on her Visa card to reward a staff member who had done a good job. Lord knows how much she might have spent if the employee had actually gone above and beyond the call of duty.
In a similar display of Naginesque conceit, chief technology officer Anthony Jones ignored repeated City Council demands that he explain why two-thirds of the city's crime cameras don't work, how much the city's 311 nonemergency hotline is actually costing taxpayers, and why there seems to be no follow-through after calls come in (a longstanding complaint about this administration).
Such displays of official indifference ought to be expected. These folks see their boss preening his feathers and pretending no one else matters, and they take their cues.
Nagin's unique combination of incompetence, detachment and narcissism was on national display again last Thursday, when he blithely suggested that New Orleans' homeless should be given one-way tickets out of town. He later said the comment was made "tongue-in-cheek," which only underscores his vacuous disconnect from a post-Katrina reality that would shame any other mayor.
In some ways, Nagin's comment was a rare moment of candor, coming as it did from a man who lives in a mansion on Park Island, one of the toniest neighborhoods in town, and who bought a "weekend home" in Dallas after Katrina. How metaphoric of Nagin and his second term: While his administration does next to nothing to help displaced New Orleanians return home, as he continues to make and then ignore grand but empty promises of recovery, he buys a second home in Dallas and then jokes dismissively about the homeless living in tents a short walk from his office.
Homelessness now there's a subject ripe for parody, eh, Mr. Mayor? Who's your next target, the mentally ill? How about crippled children?
But let's look on the bright side: New Orleans is now more than halfway through this pompous, pinheaded peacock's second and final term as mayor. We've survived famines, floods, hurricanes, epidemics and occupation. We can and will survive Team Nagin's parade of arrogance for another 23 months.