Thursday, May 18, 2006

Possibly the Best Anti-Nagin Argument

I've mentioned this Stephanie Grace column recently, but if you know anyone who's still undecided about the mayor's race, copy the whole piece (printed below), email it to him, remind him that it was written eight months ago, and ask him how much the mayor has learned since then:

I’m irritated with Mayor Ray Nagin. And I’ve got to say, it’s kind of a relief. In these disorienting and utterly distressing times, it’s one of the few things that feels normal.

Let me say up front that irritation isn’t the same as anger, although I know there are those who are fed up with his mixed signals on whether and under what circumstances they can finally return home.
I get that, but I also sympathize with Nagin’s dream, as President Bush put it, to get the city “up and running” as soon as possible. I’ve seen how Jefferson Parish residents appreciated Parish President Aaron Broussard’s insistence that they be allowed back in to assess damage – albeit far less of it overall – to their homes and businesses. I agree that Orleans Parish residents deserve the same consideration.

I just wish Nagin had thought the repopulation plan all the way through.

Almost immediately after it was unveiled, it became obvious that the devil would be in the details. Were people in the relatively unaffected areas meant to come back and look, as in those early days in Jefferson Parish, or move back to stay? What would they do without water safe enough to drink and bathe, a 911 system, power in some areas, and other necessities of ordinary life? Were stressed-out police and firefighters ready to take on the extra responsibilities? Federal authorities, who belatedly arrived on the scene but are now playing a major role in getting the city back on its feet, expressed genuine concern over health and safety.

Rita is the stated reason for abandoning speedy repopulation, and, with the status of the levees uncertain, it’s a good one. But even if yet another hurricane weren’t churning the gulf, the plan likely would have fallen apart. Just as in the past, Nagin didn’t line up the support he needed before opening his mouth, and he didn’t take care of the specifics. It’s all so familiar.

In retrospect, the aborted return is a logical follow-up to Nagin’s cathartic radio tirade against the federal government as he watched his constituents suffer and die needlessly on rooftops, at the Superdome and at the convention center in Katrina’s immediate aftermath.

“You know, God is looking down on all this, and if they are not doing everything in their power to save people, they are going to pay the price. Because every day that we delay, people are dying and they're dying by the hundreds, I'm willing to bet you,” the mayor let loose, to the cheers of so many who were just as frustrated by the lack of help.

Back then, the outpouring seemed like Nagin’s defining Rudolph Giuliani moment. In hindsight, Nagin wasn’t being Giuliani, he was just being Nagin.

He’s always had a talent for saying what people longed to hear, as he did that fateful day, and for dreaming big, as he has been ever since order was restored and thoughts of the future became possible.

Nothing wrong with that. If ever there was a time for dreaming big, it’s now, when the city is poised to flourish or founder based on decisions Nagin will make in the coming months -- and without the undertow of inertia that has dragged down big ideas in the past.

But, as the whole repopulation drama has shown, the administration still needs to get a handle on its traditional weaknesses: follow-through and communication with other agencies.

People don’t lie awake at night wondering whether the city will build a new municipal complex, just one of many Nagin initiatives that never got off the ground. But they do fret over their homes, their memories, how much of their old lives are still recoverable.

We’re on very personal territory here, and that means the mayor holds a lot of people’s hearts, hopes and fears in his hands. Straight talk and real results have never been more vital.

Thanks for the memories. It feels like years we've been complaining about Nagin's performance. Almost daily something comes up to disappoint. It's time for a change.
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