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The Perfect Comeback 

Growing up as I did in the city's Ninth Ward, I understand the notion that sometimes you just can't turn the other cheek. Sometimes an affront cries out for a reply, even when your better nature tells you to let it go. Mayor Ray Nagin knows that feeling, too, which is why he finally replied to the anonymous pamphleteers who've been trashing him lately.

What pushed Nagin's button was a slick, four-color flier that was distributed to many (if not most) African Americans in New Orleans recently. The flier in effect accuses Nagin of having too many white friends.

The center spread of the four-page pamphlet identifies six whites (and no African Americans) as the "Nagin Inner Circle" -- intergovernmental relations director Garey Forster, technology officer Greg Meffert, lawyer Bill Hines (who's not part of Nagin's administration), economic development director Beth James, Regional Transit Authority chairman James Reiss and homeland security chief Terry Ebbert.

The truth is that Nagin's inner circle includes at least seven African Americans who have his ear on a daily basis -- Communications Director Patrick Evans, Chief Administrative Officer Charles Rice, City Attorney Sherry Landry, Finance Director Reggie Zeno, Executive Counsel Kenya J. H. Smith, Police Chief Eddie Compass and Fire Chief Charles Parent.

The flier also alleges that Meffert and James gutted the city's DBE ("disadvantaged business enterprise") program. The truth? During the previous administration, there was hardly anything "disadvantaged" about the politically connected firms that got fat on public contracts primarily because their owners were pals of then-Mayor Marc Morial. Nagin didn't just pull those patronage hogs away from the trough; in some cases he abolished the trough altogether.

Now the hogs are squealing.

Of course, truth rarely serves the purposes of those who engage in political invective, so it's no surprise that the fliers' creators chose to shield readers both from the authors' identities as well as anything resembling objectivity. All the same, it's nice to see them putting some of their loot back into the local economy.

When Nagin finally decided to reply, he answered in two stages.

First, in a Times-Picayune story about the fliers, he called the anonymous authors "ginny women." Now there's a word I hadn't heard since my days in the old neighborhood. The exact definition won't be found in Webster's, but Nagin offered a pretty good take on it.

"When I was growing up, we had these guys in the neighborhood that were always portraying themselves as big and bad, but underneath it they were really kind of soft and they would always run," Nagin told the T-P. "And we used to call them ginny women. That's what they remind me of: those ginny women."

Then, at his first annual State of the City address last week, Nagin fired another round at his critics. Speaking to a crowd at the future site of the Crescent Crown Distributing Co. warehouse in eastern New Orleans, Nagin juxtaposed his public efforts to bolster economic development with the "petty racial politics" of his anonymous critics.

"The changes that we have instituted in city government have not come easily," Nagin said. "In fact, over the last 12 months, we've ruffled a few feathers and bruised a few egos. Those who resist change have resorted to name-calling or sending anonymous faxes or glossy fliers espousing baseless accusations. This kind of petty racial politics has impeded progress in this city for too long. It's obvious that this campaign has fallen on deaf ears. We will continue to do the will of the people and we will never bow down to those tactics."

The crowd answered with thunderous applause.

It was the perfect comeback, answering his anonymous critics from the site of one of his most public triumphs -- after calling them out as ginny women. Moreover, Nagin's 80-percent voter approval ratings in recent surveys back up his claim that the pamphleteers' campaign isn't working.

Still, something tells me we haven't heard the last of those ginny women.

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