On Saturday, Feb. 2 -- the day before New Orleans hosts Super Bowl XXXVI -- voters will go to the polls to elect a new mayor. Our city once again stands at a crossroads. We have made progress in the last eight years, but we still need fundamental change at City Hall. Despite a large and varied field of candidates, a recent poll showed that almost three-fourths of the voters remain either undecided or only mildly supportive of one candidate or another. Literally, the race is still up for grabs. Even at this late stage, voters are still looking for a candidate who can capture their imaginations and inspire their confidence, someone who stands apart from the rest, someone they can trust. In short, voters want someone to shake things up.
We think that someone is Ray Nagin.
We support Nagin for many reasons, but they all come down to this: this election is about change, and change is what Ray Nagin -- more than any other candidate -- will bring to City Hall.
New Orleans is being choked by grinding poverty, chronic budget deficits, blighted housing and, above all, Third World politics. Businesses are fleeing. Our children and grandchildren are leaving in droves for brighter futures in other cities. Our people have lost hope.
The outgoing mayor and his reform police chief have worked minor miracles by proving that both crime and police misconduct can be controlled. Sadly, the sweet taste of safety has not been enough.
New Orleans needs jobs. We need a real economic boost -- not just the traditional changing of the hogs at the public trough. As a business leader who literally turned around a troubled company, Nagin has the credibility and the know-how to restore business confidence in New Orleans.
Nagin is a certified public accountant who serves as vice president and general manager of Cox Communications, the local cable television company. He supervises more than 900 people and an annual budget of $200 million -- more than one third of the annual city operating budget. He is president and founder of the New Orleans Brass minor league hockey team, and he was Gambit Weekly's New Orleanian of the Year for 1998.
An active member of both the New Orleans Business Council and the Jefferson Business Council, Nagin has the experience and the savvy to make regional solutions a reality and not just another empty promise. He also has a social conscience, which is essential for leading our city.
A married father of three children, he has been active in efforts to reform the public school system and to help troubled youths at the Juvenile Alternative Center (a detention facility) and the Milne Boys Home. He is past president of 100 Black Men, an organization of African-American role models. He has chaired Dollars for Scholars and has used his position at Cox to help countless charitable causes.
This is Nagin's first run for political office, but he's no political novice. His company is regulated by elected councils in seven Louisiana parishes. He has seen the ins and outs of politics, yet he remains unencumbered by the kind of political baggage most of his major opponents have in abundance.
"My candidacy represents a total departure from how we elect people in this town," Nagin says. "It says to the political organizations, 'We don't need you.' It says to the business community, 'Your co-dependency on this bankrupt, political system has to change.'"
We couldn't agree more.
As mayor, Nagin will eliminate many of the mayor's 300 unclassified appointees -- and use the savings to raise salaries for those that remain to attract a better pool of applicants. He also will cut waste, cronyism and patronage -- because he owes no political debts. He is underwriting almost his entire campaign himself.
"I'm not the creature or the captive of any political organization," he says. "I'll bring into city government the very best team imaginable. I don't have an entourage of political dependents to support. I'm looking for people who are prepared to work hard in their public positions. I want folks who are looking for a real job -- not a sinecure."
The only knock against Nagin that we have heard is from admiring voters who worry that he cannot win. The truth is, Nagin can and will win -- if voters show the kind of independence in the voting booth that he has shown as a candidate. What have we got to lose -- other than our image as a backward, corrupt city? If you're ready for a paradigm shift in local politics, elect a mayor who is a proven business leader and not a traditional politician.
In this, the first election of the new millennium, let's make a clean break from the past. Let's send a message to City Hall -- and to the world -- that New Orleans has finally embraced fundamental change.
Vote Ray Nagin for mayor on Feb. 2.