Monday, April 10, 2006

Why I keep "nit-picking" About the Zoo Turnaround

Frankly, because Forman didn't become executive director of the Audubon Zoo until 1977. Now, any New Orleanian over about 40 or 45 can remember what a source of civic pride the zoo became in early-to-mid seventies. Though I was only a teenager, I can remember that when the previous director (strangely, I couldn't find his name in any Audubon Nature Institute-ANI-literature) stepped down the zoo's turnaround was far enough along that his retirement was a cause for concern. The city was assured that the zoo was in good hands as Forman had been assistant director since 1973*, by 1977 (a mere five years after the heated zoo referendum battle) the zoo was already that important to people.

Remember, Forman's backers don't just credit him with overseeing the (already transformed) zoo's continued expansion and transformation into the vast money making machine that the ANI has become. If they were content to do that, I couldn't disagree. I would point out that ANI has public subsidies and tax breaks that a private business wouldn't have, however. But that wouldn't make him a savior; Forman and his supporters claim he oversaw the transformation from the time that the zoo was a huge embarrassment.

As I pointed out when Clancy Dubos gave Forman a near endorsement in Gambit Weekly, Forman's own book describes how the groundwork for the zoo's turnaround was laid between 1967 and 1972. In the section from pp.132-138, you'll find that a private foundation commissioned the study that drew up the plans for the new zoo in 1971. You'll also find the following passage:

On November 7, 1972, voters demonstrated popular support for the new Audubon Zoo...
But the biggest hurdle in the park's history had been overcome. The voting public had finally endorsed the kind of funding that was required for major developments in Audubon Park

That's not taken out of context; it's not. So why does the Times Picayune run an editorial saying:

He turned a third-rate zoo into a family of world-class tourist attractions -- and an engine for economic growth. Where most people saw acres of warehouses**, he saw a riverfront park and a huge aquarium

I guess Clancy Dubos isn't the only newspaper editor who's too lazy to read a major's candidate's book. A mere seven pages of that book. A mere seven pages with pictures.

*Do any Forman supporters actually want to claim or even imply that the assistant director really ran the show from 1973-78. Even if they did, it would still be difficult to give Forman the credit his fans give him.

**Get Real! The move to the riverfront began with the World's Fair. Remember they're calling him,and he's calling himself, a visionary and a savior.

Hell, if we're going to give Forman that much credit, I think we need to give Rodney Fertel his due, who focused a lot of public attention on the deficiencies of the zoo through his own irreverant campaign for mayor.

And yes, the redevelopment of the riverfront began in 1984, not when the aquariam was built. But, hey, the fix is in. He can be innaugurated wearing a T-P loving cup on his head, while clutching the (borrowed) scepters of Comus and Rex for a day, and get on with the business of cleaning up the city for the right sort of people, the kind Jimmy Riess and the Audubon crowd approve of.
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