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Half-Cocked, Once Again Mayor 

Ray Nagin has once again let his mouth — and his fragile ego — overload his brain. And once again, New Orleans has to pay the price for his mindlessness. That Nagin shot off half-cocked wouldn't even be worth noting but for his additional sin of race baiting, which he also seems to have a penchant for doing when it suits his political purpose.

The latest example of Nagin's numbskullery came last week when Hizzoner reacted to a heated exchange between his sanitation director, Veronica White, and City Councilmember Stacy Head during the council's annual budget hearing process. During that exchange last Tuesday, Head accused White of not telling the truth about the availability of a list of addresses served by the city's three garbage collection contractors. White said she gets monthly updates of the list, at which point an incredulous Head answered that she had asked for the list "no less than five times" for at least a year.

"You have never asked me for the list," White shot back.

"Miss White, this is grounds for discharge," an obviously flustered Head replied.

"Do what you have to do," White answered.

"I cannot believe that you are sitting here testifying that you have received approved service location lists on a monthly basis, with the certification, when that has been the main issue before the council for at least one year in writing — documented and I'm not going to even go to that issue any more with you," Head said. "We'll go back with the inspector general, and potentially there's contractor fraud."

"Please do," White answered.

Head then began summarizing how sanitation contractors bill the city, but White had had enough. "I reserve my comments for the inspector general," she said.

Head then threatened to withhold her approval of White's budget, adding, "You are not telling the truth, Miss White, and I find that incredibly offensive."

"And I find it offensive that you're saying that I'm not telling you the truth, when I've always been truthful," White replied. "The problem is with you — you have selective understanding, and your motive is to paint a picture as if everyone in this department is thieves and crooks, when you're the one. I'm not holding my tongue anymore!"

The two women then began shouting over each other, prompting Budget Committee Chair Cynthia Hedge-Morrell to declare a five-minute recess. Council President Jackie Clarkson announced to Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Hatfield, "This department head is out of order to speak to a councilmember in this manner."

By then, White was walking out of the chamber. In response to Clarkson, she shouted as she neared the door, "The councilmember is out of order!"

There are lots of online video links to the exchange, and Nagin would have been well served to review one of them before jumping in. But that's not his style. He'd much rather not let reality cloud his worldview.

Instead, he fired off one of his trademark emails to Clarkson, accusing Head of "profanity" and "very crude race-baiting," adding that he has told his department heads to follow White's example and walk out of council budget hearings "if they are verbally assaulted or personally insulted." In an astounding admission, Nagin conceded in the email that he had not seen a video of the meeting.

Head told The Times-Picayune that Nagin's accusations of profanity and race baiting were "inflammatory and baseless."

She's right. In fact, Nagin is the one playing a race card. Again.

Apparently Nagin thinks that if a white councilmember (Head) asks pointed questions of a black department head (White), race must be the motive. One can't help but wonder if Nagin would accuse, say, Hedge-Morrell, who is black, of race baiting if she were to grill city Public Works Director Robert Mendoza, who is white, about street repairs.

Don't bet on it.

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