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New Orleanians want their city back, but going back to the future is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, for the Big Uneasy. 

Recovery? What Recovery? Only in New Orleans could "recovery" mean a prolonged period of increased alcohol consumption on a massive, citywide scale. Then again, can anyone think of a better way to take the local news these days?

The year began with everyone anxiously awaiting the recommendations of the mayor's Bring New Orleans Back Commission -- a blue-ribbon panel of local business and civic leaders that hired the Urban Land Institute to devise a grand comeback plan for New Orleans. When the plan was unveiled, it was more like a vision, and the vision that BNOB proposed was too bright for myopic New Orleanians, many of whom wanted their old city back exactly as it was. Where flooding was the worst, the plan suggested possible "green space" (represented by large green dots on a map). That sent some neighborhoods scrambling to mount a counter-offensive and launched a citywide debate about the so-called "footprint" issue: how sprawling should New Orleans expect to be with a population that's maybe half what it used to be? At year's end, and several "plans" later, that question remains unanswered. All the various plans are supposed to be combined under the ambit of the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP) by the end of January. Hope springs eternal.

Meanwhile, Mayor Ray Nagin finally got around to hiring a recovery czar -- more than 15 months after the disaster. Everyone hailed Dr. Ed Blakely when Nagin appointed him to lead the city's Office of Recovery, but it remains to be seen if hizzoner will give Blakely the free rein he needs to make tough decisions -- those that Nagin seems loathe to make himself.

As 2007 dawns, city services remain spotty, utilities and infrastructure remain unreliable and largely held together by wishes and prayers, insurance rates are soaring through blue-tarped roofs, homeowners are still fighting with insurance companies and waiting -- impatiently -- for government aid, streets are filled with potholes big enough to swallow SUVs, many stoplights still don't work, affordable housing remains more a dream than a plan (let alone a reality), and the city's population remains a fraction of what it was before Katrina.

New Orleanians want their city back, but going back to the future is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, for the Big Uneasy. Road to Nowhere Republicans blasted Gov. Kathleen Blanco for putting her name all over signs and ads for the Louisiana Recovery Authority's "Road Home" program. But once it became clear that the "Road Home" was more like a road to nowhere, the GOP was only too happy to wrap Blanco and the glacial homeowner-assistance program around each other. In the final weeks of the year, state lawmakers unanimously passed a resolution urging Blanco to fire ICF, the Virginia-based company that administers the program. As of early December, ICF had billed the state more than $60 million in fees and costs but had paid out less than $8 million. Worse yet, after deducting insurance proceeds and various other deductibles, the average "award" was but a fraction of the $150,000 "maximum" allowed under the program. As Blanco enters the 2007 elections, the "Road Home" is shaping up to be her Road to Perdition. Bright Spots To paraphrase Flannery O'Connor, good news was sometimes hard to find in a city still reeling from the after-effects of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. Thankfully, New Orleans saw plenty of bright spots during 2006, each of which reminded us -- and the rest of the nation -- why we're still here.

Speaking of the rest of the nation, the best news of all may have been that America hasn't given up on New Orleans. Throughout the year, volunteers and donations continued to pour into the city to help with the recovery, and the nation's newspapers and broadcast media continued to keep our city's plight in the headlines -- even if the news wasn't always rosy.

New Orleanians did their part, too. Citizen activists organized at the grassroots level to bring about fundamental change in the way New Orleans conducts its public business. Who would have thought 18 months ago that in the space of less than a year we would combine area levee boards, consolidate the city's seven assessors into one office, and merge the two local court systems -- along with the clerks and sheriff's offices? It all happened because citizens became enraged and engaged, proving once again that when the people lead, politicians follow.

Nothing is more New Orleans than Mardi Gras, and Carnival 2006 was seen as one of the first milestones of the city's recovery. Traditionally viewed as New Orleans' gift to the world, Mardi Gras 2006 was for the home team as New Orleanians came together for a season that was both a celebration and a balm. Best of all, visitors filled our hotels and saw firsthand both the extensive damage and the fact that much of the city remained vibrant and viable.

New Orleans is known the world over for its world-class restaurants, and throughout the year our best eateries continued to reopen to the delight of locals and visitors alike. Each reopening was a milestone in the city's recovery, and many diners are anxiously awaiting the anticipated return of the Camellia Grill in early 2007.

On the artistic front, many galleries likewise reopened, as did the New Orleans Museum of Art. NOMA featured the stunning photography exhibit, Katrina Exposed, which served at once as a reminder of the storm's wrath and as an opportunity to heal through art.

Local theaters returned, although not necessarily in their familiar venues. One of the highlights of the year was Southern Rep's staging of Christine Wiltz's The Last Madam, an account of the life and times of the notorious Norma Wallace. The production combined the talents of local writers with the allure of a historical figure in a locally produced play that helped signal the local theater community's recovery. The best news of all for the theater community is the announcement, in Gambit Weekly, of plans for a massive restoration of local theatrical landmarks as part of "Broadway South," the brainchild of New Orleans native and impresario Roger Wilson. The initiative will combine federal tax breaks with state tax credits to rebuild and reopen venerable venues and attract Broadway-bound productions to their stages. The plan requires legislative approval in the spring, and Wilson already has lined up local sponsors as well as a long list of business and theater supporters.

Meanwhile, "Hollywood South" began a comeback of its own as the Louisiana Institute of Film Technology (LIFT) began construction of massive studios. The film industry, which Katrina blew out of southeast Louisiana, returned in a needed show of support as film producers once again sought to include the local landscape -- and state tax credits -- in their productions.

Musically, New Orleans may be in the midst of one of its most intense and creative periods ever. Jazz Fest returned with phenomenal performances by many local acts as well as an inspired turn by Bruce Springsteen. Also during Jazz Fest, Elvis Costello joined local legend Allen Toussaint to launch a national tour and a Grammy-nominated CD, The River in Reverse. Other Grammy nominations featuring local performers or performances include Branford Marsalis for "Hope" from Braggstown, Tab Benoit for Brother to the Blues, Dr. John for Sippiana Hericane, Irma Thomas for After the Rain, Harry Connick Jr. for Broadway's The Pajama Game, U2 and Green Day for their opener to the Saints' Sept. 25 return to the Superdome, Christian Scott for Rewind That, and Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy for Adieu False Heart. Not to be outdone, Wynton Marsalis, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Yacub Addy debuted Congo Square in Congo Square in April as part of the orchestra's weeklong residency in New Orleans. The work was then performed on tour from Florida to New York. Looking ahead, Mayor Ray Nagin unveiled plans for a National Jazz Center anchored next to the Superdome and stretching down Loyola Avenue to the library. The center will house the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra as well as performance space and a museum.

The local hospitality industry struggled with labor shortages and canceled conventions, but New Orleans received rave reviews after hosting successful conventions for librarians and realtors. The New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau launched an aggressive campaign to recapture New Orleans' brand as a red-hot tourist and convention destination, and by year's end the effort was showing signs of success as Essence Fest announced it would return to the Superdome in 2007.

Among the most anticipated "returns" in 2006 was the reopening of the Fair Grounds Race Course. The nation's second-oldest racetrack returned to accolades on its traditional Thanksgiving Day opener under the banner of track owner Churchill Downs, which has fattened purses and is set to bring some of the finest horses in the country to the historic Gentilly course.

As all of south Louisiana struggled to recover, 2006 closed with news that Congress finally voted to correct an old wrong. Passage of landmark legislation co-authored by Louisiana's U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu will allow our state to start getting its share of mineral revenues from the outer continental shelf. For about 50 years, Louisiana had been getting screwed by the feds on this one, but Landrieu's bill will start pumping $200 million into state trust funds for coastal restoration and hurricane protection over the next 10 years, with half of that coming to Louisiana in the first two years of the program. The annual take will jump to about $650 million a year in 2017, which will help Louisiana match federal dollars and bring real hurricane protection -- and wetlands restoration -- to the state's fragile coast. From Worst to First After finishing a Katrina-disrupted 2005 season with a record of 3-13, the Saints underwent a massive overhaul. First-time head coach Sean Payton took over for the departed Jim Haslett. The Saints cut quarterback Aaron Brooks and signed free agent quarterback Drew Brees to a six-year, $60 million contract, even though Brees had just had major surgery on his right shoulder. Then, with the second overall pick in the NFL draft, the Saints selected Heisman Trophy-winning USC running back Reggie Bush, who was miraculously passed over by the Houston Texans. The Saints also struck gold with their final selection as seventh-round pick Marques Colston, from Hofstra, emerged as one of the finest rookie receivers in the NFL. When Payton finished his makeover, more than half the team's roster consisted of first-year Saints as a slew of new players assumed starting jobs. Flexing a high-powered offense and a vastly improved defense, the Saints shocked the league by racing out to a 5-1 record. By week 15 of the regular season, the Saints clinched the NFC South title -- only their third divisional title in franchise history. It also assured their first trip to the postseason since 2000. A Night to Remember The scene of so much anguish during Hurricane Katrina, the Superdome once again became a symbol of pride -- and recovery -- when it was made ready ahead of schedule for the Sept. 25 home opener of the New Orleans Saints against the hated Atlanta Falcons. And what an opener it was! On Monday Night Football, the Black-and-Gold spanked the dirty birds 23-3. Throughout the evening, network coverage featured positive views of the city, the Dome and the fans. It may have been New Orleans' finest night in a decade. 'World Series Contenders' The Zephyrs, New Orleans' AAA minor league baseball team, became the first pro team to reopen in New Orleans after the storm. It was a magic moment for the franchise. By year's end, the Z's signed a two-year player-development contract with the New York Mets, ending the team's affiliation with the Washington Nationals. "We could not be happier to join forces with the Mets. It was our top choice," said GM Mike Schline. "The Mets are a World Series contender and have a terrific reputation in baseball." The Mets will provide the players and coaching personnel for the Zephyrs, which opens its 15th season on Friday, April 13, against the Nashville Sounds. Scandals, Scoundrels and Screwballs What would New Orleans be without the usual gaggle of scoundrels and screwballs posing as political leaders? The year 2006 proved that, even after Katrina gave rise to a groundswell for change, some things about our city will never change.

Mayor Ray Nagin got the year off to a bizarre start with his infamous "Chocolate City" speech on Martin Luther King Day. Apparently ad-libbing and blatantly trying to reinvent himself as a black man, Nagin riffed for seven minutes outside City Hall, telling the small crowd about a "dream" in which he spoke to the late MLK. He digressed into a Farrakhan-esque rant about Katrina being God's wrath for America's war against Iraq, then closed by predicting New Orleans would remain "a chocolate city." His timing was curious, to say the least -- right before qualifying opened in the mayor's race.

"Chocolate City" was just the warm-up for Nagin, however. On the eve of Katrina's one-year anniversary, Hizzoner appeared on CBS' 60 Minutes and dissed New York for not recovering faster after 9/11. He referred to Ground Zero as "a hole in the ground" -- then had the audacity to go to New York seeking investors.

Speaking of audacity, Congressman William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson promised voters "an honorable explanation" for the $90,000 in C-notes that the feds removed from his freezer in August 2005 -- but he demurred on the campaign trail when asked to cough it up. Meanwhile, two of Jefferson's associates pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy in the ongoing corruption probe of the congressman. Look for him to be indicted in the first half of 2007.

On another federal front, the long-running investigation into the Marc Morial administration continued this year as Morial's uncle Glenn Haydel was sentenced to two years in jail and fined more than $540,000 for his role in pilfering $550,000 from the Regional Transit Authority during his nephew's tenure. Several other Morial associates are scheduled to stand trial in early 2007.

Criminal Court Judge Charles Elloie was suspended by the Louisiana Supreme Court after more than 50 complaints were filed against him for improperly -- if not illegally -- paroling persons accused of crimes ranging from domestic violence to aggravated rape. One study concluded that Elloie alone accounted for more than 35 percent of the "release on recognizance" bonds issued at Criminal Court over a period of five years. There are more than a dozen judges at Tulane and Broad.

Elsewhere at Criminal Court, clerk Kimberly Williamson Butler remained in the spotlight for outrageous behavior. She went into hiding after Criminal Court judges issued an arrest warrant for her for refusing to follow an order putting her predecessor, appellate Judge Edwin Lombard, in charge of cleanup efforts in the court's evidence room. Butler eventually spent three days in jail for contempt of court. She emerged from prison comparing herself to Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. -- then announced she would run for mayor instead of re-election as clerk of court. Butler had previously mismanaged the clerk's office so thoroughly that Secretary of State Al Ater had to be brought in to conduct the citywide elections in April and May.

New Wrinkle "Operation Wrinkled Robe," the long-running FBI probe of corruption at the Jefferson Parish courthouse, appeared to draw to a close in late 2006 when convicted bail bond mogul Louis M. Marcotte began serving a two-year federal prison term. The investigation sent two district judges to prison and resulted in federal convictions of five Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies assigned to the parish jail. And it's not over yet. Sam Dalton, the 79-year-old iconic lawyer Gambit profiled in a cover story ("The Old Lion," Nov. 21) has sued powerful Sheriff Harry Lee in connection with Wrinkled Robe -- using a federal civil racketeering law, or "RICO" statute. The suit also names Marcotte, his sister Lori Marcotte, and the five convicted deputies as defendants. Filed on behalf of a competing bail bond company, the suit alleges that Lee "knew or should have known" of Marcotte's attempt to monopolize the lucrative bail bond industry in Jefferson Parish by gaining control of releases from Lee's jail. The feds did not charge Lee. In court filings, the sheriff denied any wrongdoing. Stressful Times The tortured search for Hurricane Katrina's dead continued deep into 2006. Suspended for three months amid bureaucratic infighting between city officials and FEMA, the search for more bodies resumed anew in March. Led by New Orleans firefighters, the search focused on the hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward. Cadaver dogs and specially trained handlers arrived from around the country, a blessing given the advanced decomposition of the dead. Unfortunately, squabbling over who would pay the dog teams' hotel bill -- FEMA or the state -- cast a pall over the already grim search. Even a surprise motorcade visit from President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, who apparently were unaware of the tempest, did not help. Several search teams pulled out and reinforcements were slow in coming. By June, the search was discontinued. Then in November, Orleans Parish Coroner Frank Minyard told the City Council that the swampy Michoud area had not been canvassed. The week before Christmas, Minyard's chief investigator John Gagliano said the search for Katrina's dead would resume yet again "after the holidays." Throughout the year, newspaper obituary pages swelled noticeably and, according to some families, prematurely as seniors seemed to lose the will to live in such stressful times. 'Made Whole in God's Arms' Despite many frustrations associated with counting Katrina's casualties, anguished families may find solace in a seldom-reported ritual. State Medical Examiner Dr. Louis Cataldie told Gambit Weekly that whenever recovery workers found a body, work stopped. A volunteer chaplain then rushed to the scene. Standing over the remains of the victim, the clergy member then read the same "recovery prayer" that was recited over 9/11 victims pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center in New York City: "We give thanks for this person's life. We give thanks that this person was found. We give thanks for the persons that found them. We ask that they may be made whole in God's arms and that they know peace." During such rituals, firefighters and other recovery workers gathered in a circle and listened with their heads bowed, says New Orleans Fire Capt. Steve Glynn, who led the citywide search in 2006. "Then, if anybody wanted to say anything, they could," Glynn recalled recently. The remains of the victim were then placed in an ambulance and taken to a morgue. "And we went back to work," Glynn said, armed with a list of the missing. Same Old, Same Old If there was an early silver lining to Katrina's devastation, it was the expectation that the storm would shock New Orleans into a higher consciousness that would give rise to a groundswell for political change and reform. To a large extent, that happened in the form of citizen activists taking up the cause of consolidating local and parochial offices. It did not, however, manifest itself in the form of high-profile changes in the city's political leadership.

For a while, folks weren't even sure if there was going to be a citywide election. Originally scheduled for Feb. 4, the primary was pushed back to April 22 -- a move that probably helped Mayor Ray Nagin recover from his infamous "chocolate city" remark.

Though weakened by his own utterances and the city's sluggish recovery, Nagin won re-election after a racially divisive campaign that initially saw him facing more than 20 opponents, then Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu in the runoff. The mayor was out-spent but not out-gunned. Shedding his mostly white political base of 2002 and instead running as a born-again black man, Nagin put together the unlikeliest of coalitions -- left-wing blacks led by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and right-wing whites who never forgave Landrieu's father, former Mayor Moon Landrieu, for integrating City Hall. The election also marked the first time that voters displaced by Hurricane Katrina could vote by fax, mail or in selected satellite voting centers across Louisiana.

To the extent that anything changed in New Orleans as a result of the citywide elections, it would be the City Council. For the first time in 12 years, a majority of the council members are rookies. They include Councilman-at-Large Arnie Fielkow, District A Councilwoman Shelley Midura, District B Councilwoman Stacy Head and District C Councilman James Carter.

Turnout is always a major concern in elections, and the relatively high turnout (considering the post-Katrina condition of the city) in the mayor's race was followed by a dismal turnout for the Sept. 30 statewide special elections. Ironically, one of the offices on the ballot that day was that of secretary of state, which supervised elections. With less than 23 percent of Louisiana's voters going to the polls, two Republicans swept a pair of statewide offices -- Jay Dardenne in the contest for secretary of state and Jim Donelon in the race for commissioner of insurance. This happened less than six weeks before Democrats toppled the GOP's hold on Congress, proving once again that when the nation zigs, Louisiana zags.

If any election qualified as an "off" election, it was the Dec. 9 congressional runoff between Bill Jefferson and state Rep. Karen Carter. Jefferson stunned his critics and the rest of the nation by winning re-election in a landslide -- 57 percent to Carter's 43 percent. Then again, only 16 percent of the electorate bothered to vote, particularly after Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee advised white voters to "stay home." They did, helping Jefferson win. Because Jefferson is expected to be indicted and convicted as a result of a far-reaching federal corruption probe, voters may get a "do-over" in the Second District before long. That's certainly what losing candidate Derrick Shepherd hoped for when he endorsed Jefferson in the runoff. Medical Emergency One of the biggest casualties of Katrina remains the city's medical infrastructure. New Orleans still has no level-one trauma center, and anyone with a serious or life-threatening injury must go to Elmwood for treatment. At the same time, the state's goal of merging its "two-tiered" system of health care faltered on the shoals of politics. Charity Hospital, which remains structurally sound, still sits idle while politicos squabble behind the scenes over how to divvy up federal recovery funds. Our best medical advice: don't get shot or badly hurt in an accident in Orleans Parish any time soon. Bad Medicine What can state officials do when hospitals close and doctors start leaving the area in droves? State Attorney General Charles Foti took an interesting tack -- he arrested the widely respected Dr. Anna Pou for allegedly murdering four elderly patients at Memorial Medical Center during the horrific days immediately following Hurricane Katrina. Foti alleges that Pou and two nurses who worked with her during and after Katrina deliberately injected four patients with a "lethal cocktail" intended to euthanize them. Foti has since turned the case over to New Orleans DA Eddie Jordan, whose office has yet to make a final determination. Foti's move against Pou and the nurses touched off a firestorm of criticism in the medical community and elsewhere, which may explain why he punted the case to Jordan after initially basking in the post-arrest media spotlight. The case may turn on still-unreleased findings by coroner Frank Minyard. Corps Confession It took months of prodding by scientists, politicians and just plain folks, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finally admitted the obvious during 2006 -- the flood that swamped New Orleans after Katrina was the Corps' fault. The Corps designed and built floodwalls that were not up to modern standards and tried to give New Orleans hurricane protection on the cheap. To no one's surprise, it didn't work as promised, and more than 120,000 homes and businesses are now paying the price. In a related development, the Corps also agreed -- sort of -- to begin closing the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, the 75-mile "storm surge superhighway" that sliced eastern St. Bernard Parish in half, destroyed many square miles of pristine wetlands and never lived up to its economic promise. Oh, yeah, it also gave the Gulf of Mexico a shortcut into our living rooms. Even in promising to close the MR-GO, the Corps initially dragged its feet. That prompted Louisiana's U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who got $75 million dedicated to the closure, to call Corps officials on the carpet and demand faster action. Gone Fishin' -- Not! While the Corps dawdled over the closure of the MR-GO, fishing communities in lower St. Bernard struggled to stay alive. Katrina devastated not only the towns that provide fresh seafood to New Orleans-area restaurants but also the infrastructure that allowed fishermen, shrimpers and oystermen to ply their trade. Ice houses, wharves, processing docks and scores of boats remained in tatters as hoped-for state and federal aid either failed to materialize or came too little, too late. If help does not come soon, Louisiana will lose a historic and vital industry. Off-Season Buzz Despite winning 20 more games than the previous season and narrowly missing the NBA playoffs in 2005, the New Orleans Hornets sought a major roster upgrade going into the 2006 season -- and owner George Shinn was willing to pay the price. The Hornets embarked on an off-season spending spree that saw them add nearly $200 million in new aggregate salaries. In free agency, they signed veteran marksman Peja Stojakovic, sixth man Bobby Jackson and reserve guard Jannero Pargo. They also traded forward P.J. Brown and former No. 1 draft pick J.R. Smith to the Chicago Bulls for promising center Tyson Chandler. The flurry of transactions was designed to enhance the playmaking abilities of 2005 NBA Rookie of the Year and emerging superstar point guard Chris Paul.

The off-season moves seemed to pay off as the Hornets won the first four games of the season -- their best start in franchise history. But a series of crippling injuries sent some of the big-money stars to the bench and the team into a downward spiral. West and Stojakovic both underwent midseason surgeries, and Bobby Jackson missed significant playing time with a cracked rib. The year ended with good news, however, when team and NBA officials announced that the Hornets will return to New Orleans for all 41 home games in the 2007-08 season.

Now, about those playoffs ... Back to School Public education has been in a state of crisis in New Orleans for decades. In the wake of Katrina, many hoped that the massive damage inflicted on public schools would give rise to renewed interest -- and hope. The interest seems to be there, but when a system is as broken as this one, the first steps are bound to seem awkward. State legislators took responsibility for all below-par public schools in New Orleans away from the local school board in 2005 and transferred their operations to the newly created Recovery School District (RSD), under the authority of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. RSD superintendent Robin Jarvis of Baton Rouge opened several dozen new schools in the fall of 2006, but she encountered many familiar problems -- lack of textbooks, not enough teachers, truancy and more. Charter schools play a big part in this great experiment, and some of them seem to be generating extensive support. Overall, the results are mixed -- but even that seems like an improvement over what was there before. Like the rest of the recovery, public education's comeback is going to be a long journey over a rocky road. Uptown Fixer-Upper Tulane football coach Chris Scelfo was well acquainted with hardship. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina forced his team to play 11 games in 11 different cities. The Green Wave finished 2-9, but was held up as a national example of athletic perseverance and dedication. Those plaudits were not enough to save Scelfo's job in 2006, however, as the Wave failed to qualify for a bowl game for the fourth straight year. Tulane finished 2006 with a record of 4-8, and Scelfo was fired after eight seasons as head coach. In a surprising move, Tulane hired New Mexico offensive coordinator Bob Toledo to succeed Scelfo. The 60-year-old Toledo is best known for his time as the head coach at UCLA, where he won two Pac-10 championships and amassed a school-record 20-game winning streak. Toledo has made it clear that he's not using Tulane as a launching pad for a future job. He wants to use his vast experience -- he's coached 12 bowl games in his career, while Tulane has played in 10 in its entire history -- to make his final coaching job a successful fixer-upper. Crime's Comeback While most of inundated New Orleans struggled to gain some traction in the city's nascent recovery, one part of life in the Crescent City came back with a vengeance: violent crime. Joint intelligence efforts by the FBI and NOPD to track the return of so-called "legacy" criminals as well as ethnic gangs seeking new drug markets failed to stop crime's comeback. And the violence wasn't limited to the city as drug-related murders helped fuel a record homicide rate in suburban Jefferson Parish.

Newly minted NOPD Chief Warren Riley brought a welcome, commanding public presence to the crime fight -- but he hurt his cause by refusing to release crime stats after publication of the second-quarter figures, saying he wanted a more comprehensive population report upon which to base (and to compare) the city's per capita homicide reports. Riley and Mayor Ray Nagin favored optimistic population estimates in post-Katrina New Orleans -- their "guesstimates" topped 250,000 by year's end, even though no independent survey came close to that figure.

After a quintuple murder in June, Nagin told grieving mothers and a surprised City Council that he had asked Gov. Kathleen Blanco to send in the National Guard to help NOPD. She obliged, and news of the Guard's deployment raced 'round the world. Tourism suffered and fall enrollment dropped by double-digits at area colleges and universities as a result of another murder spree in late July. The 300 Guard troops and 60 State Police officers were heartily welcomed, given the post-Katrina depletion of several hundred cops at NOPD. The extra help was expensive (an estimated $88,000 a day) as well as insufficient as crime waves rolled through Algiers, Treme, Faubourg Marigny, Bywater and other areas. Blanco has extended the Guard deployment until June 2007. Racial Divide In Jefferson Parish, Sheriff Harry Lee blamed black-on-black crime for the rising increase in violence. He joined the NAACP in a search for "best practices" that took the strange bedfellows to New York and Boston. Upon their return, Lee quickly reverted to form, threatening to stop young black males at random (an idea he soon dropped). Still, Lee's comments added more salt to region-wide racial wounds, including lingering resentment from the Gretna police confrontation with evacuees trying to flee the city on foot across the Mississippi River bridge after Katrina. Not one elected official in the metro area exerted the healing force needed to cool the region's long-simmering racial cauldron, although the parish councils from Orleans and Jefferson held an unprecedented joint meeting that could begin bridging the divide. Tale of Three Cities For a while after Katrina, New Orleans was a living example of a tale of two cities -- one that was devastated, and one that was relatively unscathed. Now it's more like a tale of three cities: some parts of the city, which did not sustain massive damage during Katrina, are doing quite well; others, which sustained extensive flood and wind damage, remain desolate and virtually unchanged since the water receded; while still other parts of town are struggling to recover, ever so slowly, and seem to be trapped in a sort of urban limbo -- somewhere between ruin and recovery, teetering back and forth between the two.

As always, there is hope that the New Year will bring better times.

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