C. Ray Nagin performed an appearing act at One Shell Square in the CBD today. He toured the facilities (including a visit to the virtual reality center I once ran) and held court before a jampacked audience of Shell employees. Starting with a five-minute overview of the city’s progress over the last few months (nothing new, just in case you’re wondering), Nagin opened the floor to questions. What really upset me about this meeting is everything he promises with nothing delivered. Where are past and upcoming milestones? For more Nagin-ization, read this Adrastos post.
Select statements from the overview:
- * “The press has been giving me a hard time about the 100 days. Remember that I was sworn in on June 1st and we started counting a few days later.”
- * “I don’t have a script and you know how I get when I’m unscripted.”
- * “The Corps [of Engineers] needs one more year to provide the kind of protection we need. Pray to whatever god you believe in that a hurricane doesn’t head this way in the next few weeks.”
- * “Crime has a smaller footprint in this city … We have to deal with a group of people who don’t respect life.”
- * “I’m an optimist.”
- * “We will begin enforcing the September-end gutting deadline. However, if you are a senior citizen or otherwise unable to clear out and gut your house, we will consider you a special case and assign you to an organization that can help.”
- * “Everything I now say is a national or international event, so I must watch myself with your questions.”
Select questions with punch-quotes from the answers:
- * Q: “When do you see the city coming back?”
A: “I hope to see 250,000 people in the city by next year and for it to reach pre-Katrina populations by two years.” Say what?
- * Q: “What are we doing to improve the elementary education system?”
A: “We need to do something between the first and third grades when students start to fail.” [Update: I just remembered this morning that Nagin mentioned Steve Bingler as having a plan to turn schools into after-school community centers.]
- * Q: “What are we doing to improve the criminal justice system?”
A: “There are three elements – police, D.A. and judges. We’ve stabilized the police attrition rate and have help from the National Guard.” Following this, he mumbled something vague about corrupt judges and the D.A.
- * Q: “What are we doing about the stressed medical community?”
A: “There aren’t enough psychiatric hospital beds with citizens walking around with a lot of stress. People are dying of broken hearts. Deaths in this city are up 50% from before Katrina.” Holy hell.
- * To Colette’s question, “How do we attract young people to technical jobs in New Orleans and retain them?”
A: “Good question. Any new business gets tax credits and 50% depreciation when they open shop here.” Didn’t say anything about providing a competent and educated worker base.
All of the above is secondary to strong levee protection. I addressed the mayor (with the scratchiest microphone ever), “This morning, I watched your BNOB report-out in which you characterized New Orleans as being hit by the worst natural disaster in American history. The hurricane didn’t almost destroy New Orleans, the levees did. As our city’s foremost ambassador, I hope you tell the rest of the nation and the world the dire situation of our levees. I know you addressed this a bit earlier, but can you talk about the relationship between the Corps of Engineers and your office? What level of accountability do they have to you?”
After assuring me that his outreach contains the urgency of levee restoration and upkeep, Nagin said, “We meet with the Corps every other week to get updates and address concerns. Teams go out to check on the progress of the levees and associated projects … In the end, the Corps has no liability. They can’t be sued.”
In other words, the City has told me that the Corps will continue its work with little to no oversight and has no accountability to Ray Nagin, the mayor of the city of New Orleans, and his people. How comforting. I dream of the day when we were Americans …
Today’s meeting with Nagin hasn’t changed my outlook on this city in the least. Nothing mentioned was a revelation – no good, no bad. The invitation by Shell was simply an opportunity to interface with approximately 300-400 employed citizens at once and to provide some face time. While I appreciate this effort, we’re not the ones who need a conversation and reassurance. There are many displaced, returning and returned-and-struggling New Orleanians who deserve this meeting a lot more than we do. They need the hand-holding, answers (straight or not) and moral support. They need to be told what to hang on to and why to stay. And we all need results.