Tuesday, May 30, 2006

What MOM says about THE GREAT DELUGE

To begin, I can't think of anything on the national level quite comparable to the local media's reaction to The Great Deluge. During the 2000 election, there was exaggerated outrage in response to Fahrenheit 911 combined with repeated distortions--I believe that Brinkley focused on hiding much more than crying--in an effort to turn it into a campaign issue, but that was mostly in the conservative media. Of course, the major difference would be that Bush was, in fact, the target of Fahrenheit 911, Nagin was, at most, a target of The Great Deluge--if the The Great Deluge can even be said to have had targets in the same mannner that Fahrenheit did.

I have no idea rather real life criminal investigators ever discuss MOM--motive, opportunity, means--or whether it was an invention of TV crime writers. However, it would be a good test for journalists (or bloggers) to subject their theories to before alleging planned questionable activity. On the theory that the release of The Great Deluge was timed to influence the election, even motive doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Leaving Brinkley out of the picture, what would have been HarperCollins motive? To keep Brinkley happy? It's possible, but it certainly would have involved a rather interesting conversation between author and publisher. Since the Fall mid-term elections are largely expected to be a referendum on the President's performance, and since the book is very critical of Bush (did the T/P's political columnists read the book editor's column?) a late Summer release would have been much more controversial.

It would be laughable to hear Grace, DeBerry or Steve Sabludowsky even attempt to establish opportunity. I have no idea how far in advance book release dates are set (a quick google search wasn't very informative, I doubt that Brinkley's local critics gave it much thought), but I imagine that for large printings with accompanying publicity tours and magazine cover articles, the logistics of scheduling and re-scheduling would be rather difficult. A federal judge gave the final approval to the rescheduled elections, day before the April 22 primary. It could have been planned, but one can't help but wonder whether Grace, DeBerry and Sabludowsky even considered Ockham's razor.

Since I'm not alleging planned wrongdoing, the same test would not apply to the above. Although, I wouldn't put dishonest reporting on the recent election past Sabludowsky, there's does seem to be some connection between Sabludowsky's BayouBuzz and the GNOR. In the case of DeBerry and Grace, it would probably be more subconscious based on the fact that they just liked Nagin (the maverick) more than Landrieu (the political insider). It might have had something to do with what I said about the Times Picayoyo (lame attempt at being clever, accurate description, IMO), though. I'll explain that when I finish the subject tomorrow or Thursday.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

More Than Ever, Time to Question the CW

Before I decided that it wasn't directed at me personally, something that I read on another blog made my blood boil:

Let me say it as politely as I can: anyone who attempts to link convicted felon Edwards and future-jailbird Jefferson with our mayor doesn't have a flippin' clue. Ray runs the city like his chosen hairstyle: clean and bright. Any editorial or blog that uses the word "corrupt" against Ray is not worthy even of the electrons needed to display on my monitor

Before getting into the particulars of why I think that Nagin is quite possibly as corrupt as any of his predecessors, let me explain why I believe that it's important to watch the mayor like a hawk. Billions of dollars in federal money will be flowing through the city, you can bet that federal officials will be watching that money very carefully--if only to be able to blame any waste and corruption on the local guys. Since we now know , that the terms of the city's very generous loan package, weren't quite so generous after all, it's a safe assumption that the city will need to go back to congress for more help in a few years. If you think that taking a Chinese monkey attitude toward any questionable contract decisions that Nagin makes will keep the Tom Tancredo types from noticing, you make Pollyanna look like Diogenes.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't care that much if a candidate ran a shifty, even dishonest campaign, but remember Nagin was re-elected as "mayor integrity." In addition to telling a bald-faced lie about the amount of money that he raised in Chicago, he even benefited from illegal third party spending from a supporter who has business dealings with the city.

That alone would be enough to make me question Nagin's reputation for integrity, but there's more, much more, one might even say, a damn sight more. If you're ever going to take the time to read, follow the links, and think about a single post that I write, please make it this one. Then ask yourself who you gonna believe, everybody or your own lying common sense. If that's a little too strong, I certainly think that it's fair to say that, since the entire nation is watching, the mayor needs to, at the very least, pay more attention to the appearance of impropriety.

BTW before returning to more timely matters, I will indulge in one post about the fact that mayor's freedom from the concerns of being re-elected is a mixed blessing at best, and one about the media's election and immediate post-election coverage. Despite the endorsements, the local media (I hate to sound like a Bob Somerby imitator here) couldn't see past its agreed on script. It was (from the T/P's candidate profiles):

Ray Nagin: Maverick can now run on his record
Mitch Landrieu: Political son is insider's insider

What's more attractive, a maverick or an insider? At any rate, some of the city's conservative analysts abandoned all pretense of objectivity*, while Jarvis DeBerry should be ashamed of himself for this blatantly dishonest bit of analysis. He actually used GNOR campaigning on Nagin's behalf as an example of how cleverly the horribly outgunned Nagin conducted his campaign. I suppose that it's possible that DeBerry wasn't being deliberately dishonest, it's pretty easy to fool yourself when you think that you're being clever.

*Steve Sabludowsky wondered whether Forman supporters would sheepishly (his word choice) vote for Landrieu because of Forman's endorsement, while his colleague Jeff Crouere repeatedly reminded BayouBias readers that Bush's appearance with Nagin was meant as an endorsement.

Watch Out, You Might Get What You're After

Hate to come on like the world-weary voice of experience, but I was a waiter when New Orleans hosted the 1988 Republican convention. It sucked-- badly enough to remember eighteen years later. It had nothing to do with being the Republican convention. What made it worse was that everyone had heard about how lousy business had been for Atlanta restaurants during the Democratic convention a few weeks earlier, so my restaurant decided to open early and close late on the theory that it could get people before or after the convention activities. No such luck. Just ended up being much longer empty nights.

Lunches weren't much better, all the delegates and reporters had catered functions to attend. Most of the bartenders that I talked to reported the same thing, although a few received some business from the convention, that was ofset by the fact that their normal service industry customers weren't going out after work. The only businesses that did well were catering companies and place with large banquet facilities--mainly the larger hotels. In other words, some banquet waiters did well, nobody else did.

As for August always being a slow month anyway, that's true, but in my experience greatly exaggerated. You do have some tourists come to New Orleans during the Summer, although usually not the better customers, and you still have some locals. The convention kills both. Too hard for locals from other parts of the city to get downtown, some of the locals that live downtown even rent out their homes for the week. The French Quarter was pretty much a ghost town the entire week.

Sure the host city makes money off the hotel taxes, but it also has extra expenses. I think, that in most cases, it's at best a wash. I've long thought that economists and others who make projections of the financial impact of conventions and other events were somewhat clueless. There's simply too great a number of factors--spending habits of attendees, catered events in the hotel or at the convention site-- to acccurately predict how much spending any event will actually generate, and what the actual turnover, velocity or multiplier effect of that spending will be.

Talk to people who've actually worked in the tourism industry--not booster types whose jobs and mindsets lead them to overstate the benefits of any event-- in host cities and I'm sure that you'll find that for most of them it turned out to be a net negative. Full hotels are great, but if the money doesn't go far from the Sheraton or the Hilton, very few locals benefit. However, since I have no intention of ever returning to that business, I won't personally get angry about the suggestions of some well-meaning local bloggers.

Friday, May 26, 2006

I'd Hate to See a Return to the Politics of the Past

If Landrieu had been elected who knows what old power brokers we might have read about in Today's Picayune:
Finally, Nagin's second-term push calls for a four-member Reorganization and Staffing Committee to undertake a comprehensive review of his appointed staff....
(Compromised of)
and Jim Singleton, a former city councilman and the longtime leader of the Central City-based BOLD political organization.

I wonder how long it will take the editors and op-ed writers at The Times Picayoyo to remember that Nagin tried once before to create a similar position for Singleton:
It's not clear how much of the resistance reflects a routine yearning for more details of the administration's plans and how much is a gathering storm over Nagin's stated aim to appoint Singleton to a $110,482-per-year job as executive assistant in charge of operations and reorganization.

It's not clear from today's article how much, if any, pay and actual authority come with the new positions.

Of course, we know from Nagin's first term that there couldn't have been any kind of quid pro quo involved:
He finished fourth in the February mayoral primary and then became the first major "also-ran" to endorse Nagin in the March run-off. After the election, Singleton became a fixture in Nagin's transition team

Personally, I'd like to see the T/P stop yo-yoing back-and-forth, and start being objective before the important campaign begins (my opinion in the comments, don't want to imply any endorsement of my views):
It's still important, IMO, because I think we're going to see what amounts to a second campaign over the mayor's emergency powers and control over the city's share of the reconstruction money.

I don't mean to be hard on you, but if even his critics help maintain that image, it helps him keep the power to make some irrevocable decisions. I wouldn't want any mayor--Landrieu, Forman (even if he were every thing his fans thought) and certainly not mayor "I don't know what happened to the paperwork on the landfill."

Sorry to keep harping on it, but the sooner we get rid of well-meaning, shoot from the hip image, the sooner we have an intelligent discussion of the issues.

Judging from today's op-ed section, I'd expect the T/P to stay in praise and defend Nagin mode for at least a little longer

Thursday, May 25, 2006

No Egg On My Face

The money that Glen Haydel agreed to repay the RTA was money that he admitted to stealing. It wasn't the buyout money that the city agreed to pay him. Haydel was already under federal investigation when Nagin terminated the contract. I still believe that Nagin essentially plucked some low hanging fruit (i.e. taxicab bureau probe didn't go very far) to establish an overblown image as a reformer. Actually, that impression was fairly widespread for awhile, don't know how the reformer image took root so strongly.

Was I the only person, who thought of Nagin's oh-so-clever, "who's taking care of fishy" joke today? For such a likeable guy, he sure has a petty mean streak. T/P still hasn't corrected its assertion that Nagin spent half as much as Landrieu. Now that the election is over, I really hope that its reporters start doing their jobs, and begin to pay more attention to his claims about city finances than his claims about city finances. I'd still like to know why they chose to compare Nagin's spending to that of all his opponents combined.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

About the GOP Involvement

Does anybody know whether video tapes or written transcripts of the local election coverage is available somehow? I'm specifically talking about ABC 26's election night coverage. At the very least, does anybody else recall Jeff Crouere's statement that The White House told the Greater New Orleans Republicans that Nagin was their man?

Considering that conservatives seem to be trying to have it both ways, claiming the DNC tried to undercut Nagin (because he was the honest, reform candidate), but also trying to make racial appeals based on Nagin's re-election, it would be nice to have some strong evidence of national GOP involvement.

To begin, if you're not familiar with the oyster-adrastos theory, then click and follow the links. Unfortunately, when I've emailed out-of-state acquaintances about it, they haven't seemed particularly interested. Face it whether it was La. Republicans or New Orleans Democrats who did more to re-elect Nagin, it's still a state and local issue--unless Republicans are trying to make hay out of it.

I speculated before that the White House was involved. In the first week of the runoff, Bush gave Nagin a photo-op and his housing secretary made comments that certainly could have been calculated to help Nagin in the election.

The fact that Nagin has (since his September Meet The Press appearance) consistently put more of the blame for what went wrong during the crisis and for the slow pace of recovery on the state than on Washington, is just one possible reason for the White House to even care.

Still, it was just speculation with nothing to back it, unless there's any record of Crouere saying that the White House told The Greater New Orleans Republicans that Nagin was their man. Clearly the GNOR attempted a political hit on Mitch Landrieu and Crouere says, in effect, that the White House either ordered or approved the "hit."

I suppose that's still just speculation, TV analysts often get their facts wrong. However, Crouere probably knows what he's talking about where the GNOR is concerned. That's five years old, but his BayouBias colleague Mike Bayham is listed among the current leadership.

So if anyone knows how to get a transcript or tape of ABC26's post-election analysis...

I Have a Confession to Make

I voted for Kristen Palmer. I had no real reason to. Sure, she looked attractive on TV, but TV's full of attractive women. I know that's no reason to chose a candidate in one of the races in the most important election in the city's history. I might be an amateur political analyst, but I do give some thought to politics.

Well I try to, but I forgot all about that when I met Kristen Palmer in person. The sly knowing smile and come hither look that she gave me when she asked for my vote in that breathy, husky voice made me think that her legs must be good for a lot more than putting that wiggle in her walk.

Okay, I'm just joking. I wonder if one our city's professional political analysts was:

I describe his loose-limbed walk; the sly, relaxed tone in his voice; the gleam in his eye and the wicked grin when he announces that he's about to throw away the script

Monday, May 22, 2006

It's A Myth

In addition to the myth of the honest mayor who's politically naive, there's another myth (namely that Landrieu vastly outspent Nagin) about the campaign that the press has helped perpetuate after Nagin used half-truths and (apparently) illegal secrecy to create an illusion:

Does not include any contributions from Chicago fundraiser on May 8 because Nagin did not file that report within 48 hours as required by law.

Maybe it wasn't illegal after all, according to a later update to the above:

Finance list note challenged: A footnote to a list in Saturday editions listing contributors to New Orleans mayoral candidates stated that the data didn't include contributions received by Mayor Ray Nagin during a May 8 fund-raiser in Chicago despite a state law requiring candidates to report contributions to the state ethics officials within 48 hours of receipt. On Saturday, Nagin's campaign treasurer, David White, noting that the law requires reporting contributions when they are "in hand," added, "There is no way we could report on contributions we have not received." White didn't return earlier calls about the fund-raising event, which according to Chicago Sun-Times reports netted $500,000. (5/14/2006)

In addition to the fact that he used a legal technicality to create a false impression, Nagin stated in a debate (between 5/08 & 5/14) that the fundraiser didn't raise that much money. Even though the election's over it still matters, as I'll explain.

I can't find a print or internet source for how much each candidate spent, but I heard (or thought I heard) on the Friday night news that Landrieu outspent Nagin $3.5M to $2.5M. I assumed that I heard incorrectly because, even though a million's a lot, but it's not vastly out spending or outspending several times over like Nagin kept saying and the media kept not just repeating, but emphasizing.

The numbers seem to add up. From today's Picayune:

In the three months leading up to the primary, Landrieu and Forman were able to raise more than $2.2 million apiece. Combined, they pulled in more than three times the $1.3 million that Nagin raked in during the three-plus years preceding the primary.

Nagin's fund-raising picked up in the runoff, but Landrieu easily outdistanced him. As of May 12, Nagin had reported bringing in $542,000 since the primary, compared with $3.3 million for Landrieu.

That adds up to more than $1.8M before the Chicago fundraiser. The first paragraph was typical of the reporting on the issue during the campaign, if anything it was understated.

Oddly, the Picayune was happy to report on the "tremendous" amount that Landrieu spent:

Saying he had been grossly outspent and outgunned in the political arena by his challenger, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, the mayor likened his plight to that of a modern-day David.

"I know what it's like to go up against Goliath," he told the congregation gathered inside St. Peter Claver Catholic Church on St. Philip Street, "with five smooth stones."

Nagin returned to that theme later when he addressed a phalanx of news cameras. Asked what the bruising campaign experience had taught him, he said: "I learned that the David and Goliath story was real. And a well-placed slingshot is very effective."

Given up for dead months ago by critics who savaged his stewardship of the city's spotty post-Katrina recovery, Nagin defeated Landrieu, the son of a former mayor who spent a staggering $3.5 million on his bid to oust the incumbent, by a comfortable margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. Nagin spent about half as much as Landrieu.

There are several reasons, that I'll get to, for including the entire quote. Amazing that the T/P assigns two reporters to a story, yet neither one is capable of doing simple math, or at least checking facts.

Even that million dollar difference is misleading. There were several mitigating factors. The advantages of incumbency were evident in the frequent airing of the commercial (in the last week of the campaign*) announcing the fact the city was prepared for a hurricane. Whether intended that way or not, the organized transportation to bring evacuees to the polls amounted to a third party get out the vote effort on Nagin's behalf. And Nagin certainly seemed to have much greater third party spending on his behalf. Not all of it was legal.

One reason (a minor one) that it still matters is that I expect Landrieu to be portrayed as a pathetic loser because he couldn't win even though he outspent his opponent "several times over." It's not just about Landrieu, the state GOP would love to make the entire Democratic leadership look ridiculous.

More importantly, one has to wonder why Nagin continues to make such misleading statements, just to make himself look good at his opponents expense, after the election is over. In addition to the fact that he just can't help being a p****, there is a practical benefit. The more formidable he makes himself appear, the less likely any potential opponents (on or off the council) will be to challenge his continued right to emergency powers--to grant landfill permits and award city contracts, without the normal bidding process or city council approval.

Also, it's time that the local media starts taking a serious look at some of the mayor's statements-- not just how they'll play elsewhere, but whether they're actually true. If we're going to "unite behind the mayor," somebody needs to examine his statements. I'm not very confidant that our media will start very soon. I had planned to post on the media's coverage of the election, but I see that Adrastos already has. Not sure how much there was deliberate bias (if only to compensate for the endorsements) and how much Nagin benefited from the fact that modern political reporting favors the candidate more willing to mislead, or from the media's refusal to abandon its preconceived notions. The media needs to see past that honest Ray Nagin image.

Finally, it's been almost nine months since Katrina, need to unite behind or mayor or not, it's past time to start asking how long the mayor should have emergency powers. If he can't be bothered to state the facts in an honest, straightforward manner, I would say not very long--certainly no longer than mid-October, the effective end of hurricane season. Considering the fact that the mayor seems to the open, democratic leadership style of a Morial, with the effectiveness of a Barthelemy and the integrity of an Edwards, I would strip him of those powers as soon as possible.

*It might be interesting to see how much air time the city purchases (or uses out of its free PSA time) for the hurricane, now that the election is over.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

About That Victory Speech

If, like me, you ever wondered how Nagin can be such a skillful politician when it comes to campaining and such a lousy politician when it comes to governing or coalition building, you probably got your answer last night. As Steve Sabludowsky (no Blanco fan) said:

Nor did Mayor Nagin do a great job in being magnanimous in his campaign speech. He did thank two heavy hitters, Jesus Christ and President Bush but he poked at Governor Blanco suggesting that she provided very little help to the City and made the unfortunate remark that some people went over to the “red light district” which is certainly not befitting honest differences in agreement among the New Orleans population who have been in a state of shock since last August and were looking for a different type of leader

Nagin's really not all that complicated, he just can't help being a prick.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Just Think About it

Yeah, I know, you've never heard anyone even to begin to suggest what I brought up in my last post. Even his detractors acknowledge that he's honest, etc. At least that's the reaction that I get in conversation when I suggest that Nagin was either a fraud when elected, or he's been corrupted.

I'll admit it, I've got a tough sell trying to convince people that the Nagin administration is a corrupt one. After all, in addition to Nagin's well-known reputation for honesty, there's also his well-publicized efforts to clean up city hall and reform the RTA.

Problem is the efforts never bore much fruit. He never went very far up the food chain at either the taxi cab bureau or the inspections bureau-- seemed to many that he plucked some low hanging fruit or made an example of a few sacrificial lambs.

But he reformed the RTA, right? Not quite, he paid the former mayor's uncle $650,000 and hoped that the federal government would actually finish the job. To be fair, it seemed like the smart thing to do at the time.

On the other hand, even before Katrina, the city awarded some rather questionable contracts, such as awarding a somewhat questionable parking contract:

The city chose to treat the contract award as a professional service, meaning the job did not have to go to the lowest bidder. WorldWide Parking, one of the losing bidders, has challenged that decision in court, where the case is still pending.

and purchasing "bomb-proof" garbage cans (seriously) from a firm that business dealings with the mayor's CAO.

Since Katrina, the mayor has been excessively secretive about both the city's and his campaign's finances. Individuals have every right to be secretive about their personal matters, but excessive secrecy about public finances should always be a red flag. Beyond that, to read the few articles about city finances that have appeared about city finances and then hear that "everybody" "knows" that the mayor is honest, is to be reminded of an old Richard Pryor joke--who you gonna believe, "everybody" or your own lying common sense?

Former Nagin CAO Charles Rice (of the bomb proof garbage cans) might have left city hall, but he still seems to have involvement in the city's finances:

Weeks after Charles Rice left his post as chief administrative officer of the city of New Orleans in June, the city sanitation department sought to hire a contractor for storm debris removal.

The day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Mayor Ray Nagin signed a contract potentially worth tens of millions of dollars with Omni Pinnacle of Slidell.

Omni's offer wasn't the cheapest of the six offers the city received. But the city didn't have to pick the low bidder, an experienced firm, because the job was considered a professional service rather than a finite task.

City sanitation director Veronica White, who oversaw the selection process, was hired into her city post by Rice. Rice, meanwhile, has turned up on Omni's payroll in his new position as a lawyer. Omni has also been represented in contract talks with the city and the Army Corps of Engineers by Rice's brother, Terrence Rice, according to a corps official

There's still more about Rice:

Another business owner who has also wound up with a lucrative subcontract from ECC, according to the firm, is Michael Sullivan, owner of TSG Solutions. Charles Rice has described Sullivan as a friend and occasional dinner companion. Sullivan won two subcontracts from city agencies during Rice's tenure as chief administrative officer, with deals netting TSG at least $1.3 million, according to city records.

To be fair, Rice's name didn't show up in connection with all the city contracts awarded:

Shaw's major subcontractors include some companies well-known around City Hall. Among them: the engineering firms Three Fold Consultants, N-Y Associates and Citywide Testing and Inspection, the last one owned by Roy Glapion Jr., son of a late city councilman. All three firms have been active players in local politics, and Citywide and N-Y in particular have often been tapped for public contracts, public records show. All three companies have donated to Nagin's campaigns, with Three Fold giving a total of $6,000 and Citywide and N-Y Associates $10,000 apiece, state campaign finance records show.

The above mentioned TSG can also be found in a list of Nagin campaign donors, so for that matter can AMID landfill. They can be found along with CH2MHILL, Third Shiloh and MCCI.

Interesting quote from the last link:

Edwards, who was originally appointed to the water board by former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy -- and who was retained by Barthelemy's successor, Marc Morial -- has long been known for his activism in the board's contracting practices. Nagin has never appointed Edwards, but has allowed him to continue serving even though his term expired in late 2003.

Finally, though political alliances alone can't prove anything, Nagin has the backing of his full share of politicians of dubious reputation and their apologists. According to Jeff Crouere, George Bush backed him, Clio Fields backed him, William Jefferson backed him, and Dwight McKenna's newspaper endorsed him.

On the last point, The New Orleans Tribune bitterly denounced Nagin when he appeared to be trying to rid city government of patronage*, saying, in effect, how dare he, it's out turn. Of course, the above is all circumstantial. I suppose that everybody I talk to is correct and I'm just crazy to think that Nagin is every bit as corrupt as any of his predecessors.

If I am right, and interesting thought occurs to me. Nagin would be the biggest patsy of all time if he thought the he had made a deal with the Bush White-- he blames everything on Blanco and Bush supports him in return. Then the White House helps Nagin get re-elected, knowing that the Justice Department was planning an investigation. That's probably a little much, but I wouldn't put anything past them. As I said, on TV tonight, Jeff Crouere reported that the Bush administration let the N.O. Republican Party know that Nagin was their candidate.

Finally, I should say that, rather than contradicting the Oyster-Adrastos theory, my theory complements it perfectly.

*I have no idea whether the honest reformer image was based on a lie from the beginning, or whether Nagin made compromises.

Additional note: The Justice Department investigation idea was more a mindfart than anything else. It would be hard to imagine that the Bush administration would have much interest in investigating reconstruction contracts.

My Two Confident Predictions

First prediction: the election won't be nearly as close as anyone in the media or almost any bloggers seem to think it will be. I won't go as far as Jeffrey, but I'd put the spread at five to six points.

I see one (but only one) of the following occurring: an unexpectedly high or low black or white turnout or a surprisingly high or low, black or white turnout. Or a crossover voter (or lack thereof) surprise.

I think crossover will be more important than turnout, but I have no idea whether Nagin will be more likely to attract a significant amount of the white vote that went to Couhig or Forman, or whether Landrieu will be able to significantly improve on the estimated twenty per cent of the black vote that he attracted in the first primary.

I don't know which, but I'm confident that one of the turnout/cross over issues will break for one candidate strongly enough to make it a five or six point difference. If I had to bet, I'd have to the over on the over/under. Especially if it's 5%.

If I had to bet, I'd bet on it breaking for Nagin. I don't believe that most people (black or white) are too prejudiced to vote across racial lines, but I do believe that most people are prejudiced enough to need convincing. I don't think that Landrieu's done the necessary convincing. He might have trouble holding on to the 20% of the black vote that he got in the primary. But I'm more confident of the spread than the outcome. I could be totally wrong, Landrieu could get 30% or more of the black vote to Nagin's less than 10% of the white vote.

Taking race out of the election, no matter what the polls say, Landrieu's the challenger, he needed to convince people to vote against the incumbent.

Second confident prediction: at first the TV analysts will express shock at how one-sided the vote will end up being. But, as night follows day, within fifteen minutes of the initial expressions of surprise, the mea culpas will be along the lines of: "yes, we wrong. But we really were very smart. Every thing turned out exactly as expected, but who could have predicted Nagin/Lndrieu's surprisingly strong/weak showing among black/white voters?"

Third confident prediction: (regardless of ) the city's short term future (1-3yrs) looks better than its medium term future (4-6 yrs.) Here's why.

Very Quick Post

If you missed it, read the article in the Picayune about the city's wonderful $150M loan package. Pay attention to the details and the think about the mayor's election week announcement of a loan package with "very favorable terms" that could finally lay to rest all talk of banruptcy.

Perhaps then you'll understand why I get so fucking pissed off when I hear otherwise intelligent analysts like Stephanie Grace repeat bullshit myths like the following crap:

Or maybe, like Nagin, they're just not as politically minded,

Fact is the impression of Nagin as honest and well-meaning, but in over his head is just plain wrong. He's a thoroughly dishonest, self-centered prick who's put being re-elected ahead of governing for months now.

And yes, I did just use more profanity than I have in six or seven months of blogging, but I will back up that last assertion. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do so last week.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Immediately Relevant Bush/Nagin Parallel

From the N.O. Tribune endorsement:

First of all, we don’t think it is a good idea to change mayors in these times of crisis.

Sound familar? The main pitch of Nagin supporters is basically: "he may have made mistakes, but he's learned from them but we know that he's honest, and you can't trust his opponent..."

Last time we heard that, it turned out that the incumbent wasn't all that honest and he hadn't learned much. Is it ever a good idea to vote for an incumbent who makes his opponent the issue more than he does his own record?

Won't be able to finish a post tonight explaining comments that I made at YRHT and Library Chronicles. I'll give the gist of it. Key point to the endorsement:

Then there were those who looked at us suspiciously when we stepped to the defense of Mayor Marc Morial, again and again, beating back malicious attacks of the White-owned media almost from the day he took office. And we can’t forget the bogus charges of “patronage” and “corruption” levied by The Times Picayune, Gambit and the White business community. Students of history that we are, we recognized this onslaught for what it was—a replay of the same century-old, post-Reconstruction ploy that disenfranchised Blacks in the 1890’s and kept our people from holding public office for the next 80 years. We were as determined then as we are now to prevent history from repeating itself.

Since its 1985 founding by Dwight McKenna, the Tribune has always labeled any investigation into black officials or contractors racially motivated--even Nagin's apparent effort to clean-up City Hall. Nagin has had some strange contract dealings since Katrina, but that all began long before.

Reality Check

From Sunday's T/P (on the subject of Entergy New Orleans being absorbed by Entergy La.):

Packer said a merger would require at least two levels of approval. First, local residents would have to vote to transfer regulatory authority of Entergy New Orleans from the City Council to the Louisiana Public Service Commission. Entergy spent heavily to promote such a referendum in the 1980s, and it passed, but local officials forced another vote that ultimately allowed the council to retain control.

If local residents approved the switch, the merger then would have to be approved by the Public Service Commission, a tricky proposition for commissioners in other parts of the state who could be asked to pass along substantial rate increases to their constituents.

In tonight's debate, it sounded like both candidates thought that it only took an agreement between the city and Entergy. Landrieu should have gone way beyond agreeing with Nagin about the desirability of that option; he should have been all over the fact that it would take a mayor who can work with Baton Rouge, not a mayor who treats the rest of the state with disdain and disses the mayor of B.R.

Nagin's "everything is the state's fault and Mitch is the number two guy in the state routine" is actually a very good reason to vote for Landrieu. No matter how much money the federal government spends on reconstruction, most of it will end up going through Baton Rouge. We know that Nagin can't work with the governor. Even if Jindal is elected in 2007, he still doesn't seem to have anything resembling a legislative team and he's already alienated the rest of the state. If the city, doesn't play its hand well, the changes that the LRA makes to reflect the population shift to B.R. will end up being specifically designed to make that shift permanent. The mayor's own supporters admit that he's poor with details. Since he can't work with his own city council, I don't expect him to get along much better with the state legislature. Do we really want him watching out for, and representing, the city's interests when the state finally allocates reconstruction money?

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.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A True Story, a Possible Analogy and a Personal Theory

My mother told me that she went to a luncheon recently with twelve retired school teachers, admittedly most of them live in Jefferson Parish. One of them has always been opposed to Landrieu because "the Landrieu's" ( how about typing it as THELANDRIEUS! ?) are just too liberal. But a couple who've always liked Landrieu. are starting to have doubts because of some of the support that he's getting, not just the money, but Morial. I heard it second-hand, she may have said Morial's organization.

Possible analogy: if there's one simple thing Kerry should have done differently, it's answer the "voted for the $62B, before he voted against it" charge. There was a simple answer, that involved a mild counterattack, and Kerry never gave it. Limit to the analogy: Landrieu's simple answer would involve a stronger counterattack.

Personal theory: true undecideds are more likely to be swayed by which candidate's supporters make the better case than they are by anything else. In a conversation in a barroom, office, extended family gathering, even arguing with your conservative friend while you wait in line for a movie, you're not likely to change the mind of a decided voter. But you may well be in a position to sway undecided voters or convince soft supporters abstain from voting. Hardly original, I know. But I would suggest that, since Kerry was too lame to furnish his supporters with a key talking point, it should have been more heavily emphasized on the liberal web. Probably far fetched to think that it would have made a major difference, but I'm only aware of a few bloggers that made the point more than once. I was dismayed at how many Kerry supporters were as lame as their candidate at answering the main Republican scoffing point last election.

With that in mind, I'd urge any blogger who has a strong preference in the election to pick a couple of key talking points and emphasize them over the next couple of days. So, first, nothing wrong with a candidate accepting endorsements from almost anyone. For a white candidate promising unity to turn the endorsement of a prominent black organization, wouldn't even be noble. Bigger point, Fields and Jefferson endorse Nagin.

Main talking point, Nagin questions Landrieu's financing yet refuses to disclose all of his own. He takes money from companies that do business with the city, businesses that would seem to be seeking contracts from the city, and businesses that can't even be found in the N.O. phone book or on the internet MCCI is far from being alone in that regard. I'll try to expand on Sunday's post, but in addition to the Ohio school supply co., the landfill, sewage, disposal and scrap iron business (funny, the delay in getting all that stuff taken care of), you'll also some local names with large real estate holdings. That could be legitimate interest in the city's welfare, or it could be something else. I recognized at least three that I'd be happy to email anyone, don't want to be accused of innuendos, because their interest might be out of concern.

Simple boiled down talking point: Nagin takes money and endorsements from people who do business with the city (some of whom have received some interesting city contracts) and he refuses (in violation of campaign law) to disclose the source of the funding for his recent barrage of attack ads that question Landrieu's integrity.

Personally, I think that if Nagin is re-elected, everyone will soon wonder how he got elected and re-elected as an honest reformer. Certainly by the end of his term.

Interesting point: The two families on Nagin's families commercial, the ones that say we're real New Orleanians that don't just get together for commercials, never actually seem to get together in the commercial. That's quite the unifying message.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Election/Media Notes

On a personal note, just began a new job with very little personal computer time and I still have six weeks of peg-intron affecting my overall energy level, so I'm not sure how posting will go for the next several weeks, or afterwards for that matter.

Though I thoroughly endorse The Oyster-Adrastos theory, I suspect that the national GOP is aiding and abetting the state party. The front page of today's Picayune certainly provides a motive. Katrina fatigue or no Katrina fatigue, the issue still comes up. Witnessing the rapid change in the mayor's attitude between the Garland Robinette interview and his Sept. 11 Meet the Press appearance, I suspected that the mayor believed he reached an understanding with the administration. I've since seen nothing to allay those suspicions. If I'm even partially correct the mayor is:

a) The most naive cynic in politics
b) A Sado-masochist
c) Utterly oblivious to what most Republicans are saying
d) Totally bought and paid for

I recently heard C.Ray say that he can play finesse ball or he can throw elbows--after he had already thrown the first hard elbow. Mitch needs to realize that C Ray's elbows and the refs aren't calling him on it. Mitch needs to elbow back. Over a week after the Chicago fundraiser, C. Ray won't say how much it raised. He's being more secretive about his campaign finances than city finances, yet he's somehow financed a barrage of attack ads questioning where Mitch's money comes from. He's got this clown, whom he could have replaced at the S&WB, illegally spending money on Nagin's campaign (without mayor trust me's knowledge, of course). And there's the sewerage contract to a new firm, formed by a prominent supporter. Mitch needs to start elbowing back. I can understand why Mitch doesn't want to mention the ministers, but he had a golden opportunity tonight when the fundraiser came up. Mitch should have merely asked C. Ray to reconcile that new round of attack ads with the continued secrecy about his own campaign finances.

In a similar vein, glad to see Landrieu hitting back a little with this Nagin Timeline, but on the part I've looked into pretty thoroughly, city pay, he greatly understates the case. As Lolis Eric Elie wrote (on Martin Luther King Day):

Nagin deserves praise for the pay raises he budgeted for city workers in his first two years in office. But those raises are a distant memory. Not long after the hurricane, when it was clear the city had little money and few prospects for an infusion of capital, Nagin fired most city workers.

What about his top staff members, the ones he awarded substantial pay raises in better times? They kept their jobs and weren't even asked to accept symbolic pay cuts.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Check the Archives

You won't find Stephanie Grace or Jarvis DeBerry (or the T/P editorial board) defending the mayor or the city during the time period that the images of flooded buses began to pervade the national consciousness. From the time of Bush's Jackson Square Speech (Sept. 15) until Marty Bahamonde's testimony before congress (Oct. 22) you find almost nothing (other than a response to Larry Craig's "culture of corruption" comments) defending the city from unfair and inaccurate criticisms.

So why do DeBerry and Grace suddenly feel so much need to defend the mayor from the charges raised in David Brinkley's new book? If they had defended the mayor, and by extension the city, when the national image of flooded buses and bumbling leadership was forming, it would at least be consistent-- DeBerry's column on the buses came much later. It seems doubly inconsistent for Grace to be writing about how Brinkley's book could help Nagin (especially so close to the election), after all she did recently write:

Maybe then there would be something to talk about other than campaign strategy. Maybe then we'd be able to compare the two candidates' strategies for saving the city.

So why does she spend her third to last column before the election, discussing how the book might affect the election? To be fair, Grace and DeBerry probably feel that it's their duty to set the record straight about the exaggerations and distortions in Brinkley's unfair criticisms. Funny, that didn't seem to be part of their job description for a minimum of five weeks in September and October.

It's always questionable enough for journalists to engage in mind reading, but in Nagin's case the mind reading seems to be combined with a tired old script that appeals to both the mayor's supporters and his critics, but that no longer stands up to close scrutiny:

the Nagin of that week was the mayor we all know: Impulsive, short on follow-through, free-wheeling with numbers, averse to bureaucracy and tedious negotiations, maddeningly tone-deaf when it comes to public relations -- but ultimately well-meaning.

As an aside, I feel compelled to ask what kind of CEO is "free-wheeling with numbers" and poor at negotiations. Oh yeah, I answered that in my last post. More importantly, I don't claim to be able to read the mayor's mind. It's entirely possible that well meaning incompetence has led to some of the recent contract decisions at city hall, or there may well be something else involved. I, for one, don't claim to know.

I certainly believe that, at the beginning, well meaning incompetence was behind the mayor's part in the FEMA trailer placement crisis, but I also believe (but don't claim to know) that it was cynical political calculation that led him to try to extend the impasse. And yes, I'm also sick of NIMBY, but I'll attempt once more (in a future post that I'll type real slow so that even the self-righteous* can understand) why NIMBY was the worst plague on both their houses situation that I've ever seen in politics at any level--worse even than the use of force resolution.

*To be fair, I might be a little quick to judge when I blame the failure to see that NIMBY was a partial rerun entirely on self-righteousness,as the following:

my wife and I bid farewell to the Uptown Isle of Denial that was our neighborhood
When we got back to town post-storm in October

from Joe Longo's op-ed piece in Friday's Picayune reminds me. There were even fewer people around than I thought to see the first episode and, of those, a relative few shared my perspective.

Today's Picayune

If you missed them, be sure to read today's articles on the proposed Entergy bailout and the timeline of the city's flooding. Seems like there might be a slight connection between the two, but I'll get to that.

Not much to add to what other bloggers have already said about the first article, I'm inclined to agree with Seymour D. at Third Battle that the timeline makes you why it took until late Monday/early Tuesday for news of the flooding to reach the national media--I know that communications had broken down, but floodwaters would have been within walking distance of the French Quarter and CBD long before noon. I don't want to engage in any wild speculation before I go back and reread old accounts.

More importantly, the article doesn't actually state that the levee breaches caused the flooding, it just strongly implies it. The ACoE could, and almost certainly will, argue that breaches and flooding were inevitable, it just happenned earlier than the models would have predicted. That argument's getting thinner and thinner.

The article on the proposed entergy bailout is a lengthy one, a reader might well have missed the following:

Jim Owen, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, said Entergy shareholders shouldn't be asked to cover rebuilding costs because utilities have always been able to pass along the costs of restoring service to customers after a big storm.

Owen said it's part of the compact that local governments created when they granted monopoly status to utilities in exchange for heavy regulation of their operations, including sharp limits on profitability.

"It's just a cost of doing business," Owen said. "People might not want to invest in utilities if they have to shoulder the burden of rebuilding from hurricanes and ice storms and tornadoes."

I won't map out the connection between the two articles, interesting that the article didn't mention that the damage to Entergy New Orleans wasn't entirely force majeur.

Though the aricle was lengthy, it was not without comic relief:

But Packer said Entergy Corp. already is bearing its share of the burden. In December, he noted, the parent company agreed to provide as much as $200 million in low-interest loans to the local utility while it remains in bankruptcy. So far, the company has borrowed $90 million and paid back about $20 million, Packer said.

"They are taking a haircut on that, because they are not using their capital to the best interests of their owners," Packer said. "We are getting that $200 million at 4.5 percent interest, and that is way below anything they could earn if they invested that money somewhere else."

Presumably, he said that with a straight face. Despite the impressive sounding numbers, the parent company is out not $200M, not $90M, but $70M. Oops, it's actually out the interest on $70M. No, that's not quite right, its the difference between 4.5% interest (on $70M) and what it might possibly earn in interest. Quite a haircut. There is some loss in earnings potential involved, the earnings yield for S&P 500 companies averages 6.1%, but don't be fooled.

Can we all agree that the business model for large corporations with near monopolies in a highly regulated industry, is nothing like the traditional business model for small businesses? Can we also agree that the job description for the head of the local subsidiary of such a corporation has very little to do with making payroll.

Note: I was interrupted before posting yesterday, sorry for any confusion caused by the reference to today's Picayune. I also could not vote for any candidate who agrees with the use of CDBG money to compensate Entergy N.O. for lost revenue, every utility in the state would demand equal treatment, and there'd be no CDBG left for anything else.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Well, You Know, I'm Just Saying*

Man, it seems like, if the mayor is going to make insinuations about Landrieu taking contributions from people and business interests, esp. out of town business interests, that want something in return, he might want to be a little more circumspect about campaign finance disclosure himself:

*Does not include any contributions from Chicago fundraiser on May 8 because Nagin did not file that report within 48 hours as required by law.

And, well, you know man, I hate to make insinuations about either the mayor or a man of the cloth, but the mayor might want to explain how a large sewage inspection contract went to recently incorporated firm, listed among the mayor's campaign donors and formed by one of the mayor's more vocal supporters among the city's clergy:

A multimillion-dollar subcontract involving the inspection of the city's damaged sewer system was awarded in October to a company organized by a politically active minister who incorporated the firm months after the work began.

In the mayor's defense:

Nagin said he had "no knowledge" of the subcontracts landed by Coleman, and said he hadn't intervened on the minister's behalf.

"The bishop (Coleman) hangs around City Hall quite a bit and was there before I became elected," Nagin said in an e-mail. "I have never lobbied on behalf of him" or his companies, he said

I wouldn't expect the mayor to know the details of every city contract under normal circumstances, but there's no need for an audit because the mayor himself is a turnaround expert with a CPA, but I'm just saying, you know, man.

Actually, man, it seems like the mayor takes a fair amount of money from businesses (including out of state businesses) that either do business with the city, or may seek to do business with the city. Hard to tell very much from a list of individual campaign donors, but I was shocked to see CH2MHILL, that CH2MHILL, among the mayor's donors. Considering the city's abandoned car and general garbage disposal situation and the mayor's insinuations about taking donations from individuals who might want to profit from the city, it seems like the mayor gets a lot of Benjamins from companies in the disposal, scrap metal or landfill business. I'm just saying, but it is mother's day and that will need to wait.

Update or Correction: Watching the Sunday night debate, Nagin seems to have stopped saying, "I'm just saying" and "it seems like." I only heard, "I'm basically saying," once tonight. I think he falls back on those two phrases when he needs to defend past statements. The press hasn't really made him defend his statements since "Chocolate City," and Landrieu doesn't seem to want to take off the kid gloves. I have a sinking feeling that Landrieu's campaigning like the Democrat in a race against a closet Republican.

Looking to be a busy week, not sure when I'll be able to follow up. Should add quickly that Nagin's campaign contributors include an Ohio based education supply/consulting company (link removed see correction). Could be that they're impressed by Nagin's leadership, or it could be that they're that they're impressed by the talk of city takeover of the public schools. I, for one, can't say that this implies anything was promised; mayor "trust me" raised the issue of what such contributors expect.

*Not trying to plagiarize another another bloggers material, Adrastos commented on some of mayor's verbal tics or affectations in a recent post. I just wanted to add a couple, or I'm just saying, it seems like he overdoes the false ingenuousness bit with those two.

Correction: Nagin's list of campaign donors included a Conexus, LLC. At the time that I posted it this, I assumed it was the Ohio based company. It now seems far more likely that it was the recently incorporated wireless broadband company with the same name.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Any Connection?

I have no idea whether there's any connection to the Mayor's statement about sales tax collections, what I found deals with license renewal fees, but this is interesting:

City Of New Orleans
Mayors Office of Communications
1300 Perdido Street, Suite 2E04
New Orleans, Louisiana 70112

C. Ray Nagin
January 24, 2006

City to Renew Business Licenses by March

(New Orleans, LA) The City of New Orleans announced today that the 2006 Occupational License Renewals have been mailed to business owners and March 15, 2006 has been established as the deadline for renewal fees to be received by the Department of Finance.
"We're ready to get our businesses up and running so that our economy can thrive, and to do that we must be sure that they are in order so that they can operate to their fullest capacity. This not only brings money back into our City but also helps bring local businesses operating away back home," said Mayor Nagin.

Business owners are requested to visit the City's website, www.cityofno.com, to renew their Occupational Licenses online. Businesses are also encouraged to make monthly sales tax payments online. Tax returns and payments are due on the 20th of each month following the taxable period. Businesses unable to file electronically must make copies of a previously used blank return form to reuse each month and must include a valid e-mail address at the top of each form.

Online services are available for use from 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. at City Hall, Room 1W15, Bureau of Revenue.

Business owners that may have to mail the license renewal forms or sales tax returns should allow sufficient time for mail to reach City Hall as payments received after the deadlines will be assessed late fees.

Checks should be made payable to:
The City of New Orleans
Department of Finance
Post Office Box 61804
New Orleans, LA 70161-1804

For more information, please contact the Mayor's Press Office at (504) 658-4940.

As I said, that's renewal fees, but there must have been some deferment on last year's sales tax receipts. Although, Len's comment about big ticket items could explain some the unexpectedly high sales tax receipts.

Unrelated item: Midura and Batt on channel 6 at 10:30 tonight. I mean WDSU, so 7 on cable, not the government or public access channel or whatever 6 is.

Daily* Reminder

Same old mind-set threatens new New Orleans

Who has Mayor Ray Nagin been listening to? Who is helping him shape his vision of what a rebuilt New Orleans should be?

If I could answer those questions, I could make a fairly accurate prediction about what vision will emerge.

We do know this: Nagin is a very conservative man. Which is not to say that his instincts are more closely in synch with the Democratic or Republican party. Rather, it is to say that in his three-plus years in office, little about the way he has conducted city business has been surprising.

In his major bond issue, he asked to fund the same sorts of projects his predecessors had funded. He chants the same "economic development" mantra that every other mainstream politician in America chants.

Almost without exception he has favored demolition over rehabilitation, developers over communities and management over labor. His conservatism also has been reflected in the men and women he has appointed to the various offices and boards under his control.

'Warts and all'

One example is damningly illustrative of the point.

When it came time to appoint someone to chair the Regional Transit Authority, the agency in charge of transporting our poorest citizens to school, work and home, Nagin chose, James Reiss, a man so rich and out of synch with the city that he imported a security force from Israel to protect his neighborhood during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Thanks to an unflattering article in the Sept. 8 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Reiss has become a symbol of everything that's been wrong with the Nagin administration's approach to dealing with poor New Orleanians.

Yet in that same article, Reiss said he was on his way to Dallas to meet with the mayor and others to plot the future of our city.
The danger of Nagin's conservatism was brought home to me during a recent interview with Bob Yaro, who runs the New York-based Regional Plan Association.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Yaro worked on the rebuilding effort. He also taught a course at the University of Pennsylvania on how cities rebuild after catastrophes.

"One of the things we learned was that in almost every case, cities tend to rebuild what they had before, warts and all," Yaro said. "If things weren't working beforehand, they still rebuild them the way they were before."

Citizens are key

In his information session at the state Capitol last week, Nagin promised to discuss the design of a new New Orleans in a series of meetings in the various cities where our people have gathered in the aftermath of Katrina. But unless the voices and ideas of our dispersed citizens guide the rebuilding, these discussions will be little more than a hollow gesture.

If Nagin clings to his conservatism, and rounds up the usual suspects to shape his vision, we can be assured of this: Our rebuilt city will be nothing more than a pale, flawed reflection of many of the problems that have put us in this current mess.

Lolis Eric Elie September 30, 2005


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Post Debate Thoughts

Why doesn't anyboby question Nagin on some of his statements? There's the old example of his statement that he doesn't consider contract proposals drawn up on napkins. Nobody even asked if he was saying that the proposal was drawn up on a napkin. The two latest are that he only wasted ten hours ordering the evacuation and that March sales tax receipts are up to 85% of what they were last year.

I'm not really that concerned about the first, but WTF? We were in the bull's eye all day Saturday, would it have taken until midnight to order the evacuation? It has nothing to do with how I'll vote, but I'd like an explanation for that statement.

The statement about sales tax receipts bears closer examination. It demands closer examination. It cries out for closer examination. Has anyone even asked for documentation? I suspect that either an accounting error or some deliberate change in accounting procedure is involved. That does make one wonder about Nagin's insistence that there's no need for a city audit.

I forgot, Nagin's honest and he's CPA and a turn-around expert himself. Unfortunately, I don't think that Landrieu scored the points that he could have because he seems to still be waiting for other candidates to atack Nagin or to be directly attacked himself so that he can counterpunch. I thought that Landrieu could have scored more points off of Nagin's statement to the effect that he doesn't really need to get along with the mayor Baton Rouge, but maybe he was correct to handle it with a light touch. It certainly seems to me that it would be very easy to point out that Nagin has two basic campaign themes: "Trust me" and "It's not my fault." I guess that's another similarity between Nagin and Bush.

Admittedly, adrastos and oyster (again) come up with better reasons than I do for the GOP (or parts of its leadership) to back Nagin. Obviously, it would be of more interest to the state GOP than the national party, but I don't expect to see any more state Republicans endorsing Nagin. Considering how rapidly the rumor mill works in N.O. (especially among the relatively small number of voters that a Jindal or Vitter endorsement would target) why would Jindal or Vitter bother to endorse Nagin? Wouldn't it make more sense to put out the rumor that they planned to endorse Nagin this week, followed by the "inside scoop" that they really wanted because they were really concerned about what a disaster Landrieu would be be as mayor, but they just couldn't endorse Nagin, etc., next week.

No matter how reliable the sources of rumors that Jindal or Vitter plans to endorse Nagin, I don't see the per centage in it, especially for Jindal, but even for Nagin. The rumor mill works fast enough--when I lived in the French Quarter, I'd hear the same rumors or "inside scoop" at my corner bar that I'd hear from my retired school teacher mother who in turn heard them from my brother who heard them at his mostly Republican corporate (by new Orleans standards) law firm. It's easily possible to get out the desired message without the open endorsement. Throw in the fact that "Mayor Nagin was practically endorsed by the Bush White House" (Jeff Crouere's term), and I don't see it making any sense for either Jindal or Vitter to endorse Nagin. It could even backfire against Nagin.

The big question is how Nagin can make the push for a large black turnout without enraging conservative white voters. I would have thought that Jesse Jackson's presence on the podium with Nagin would have handed that vote to Landrieu. If Nagin makes that kind of push (or if Jackson shows up on his own) expect it to come very late next week, on the theory that the more affluent displaced voters would be more likely to have driven in to cast an early vote or mailed in a ballot than to come in on the last day. If they've really got it planned out, remember that Republicans historically tend to vote earlier. At least that's the cliche; I don't know if it could be timed that closely.

One final question, is it even remotely possible that Couhig's late push came at Landrieu's expense. Since Couhig surged late, you'd expect his vote to be lower among absentee voters. That turned out to be the case:

ABSENTEE BALLOTS (assumed majority diaspora vote)
Total Votes: 21,351
Nagin 8,155 (38.2%)
Landrieu 7,576 (35.5%)
Forman 3,527 (16.5%)
Couhig 852 (4.0%)

But the odd thing is that if you take about six per cent of Landrieu's vote and give it to Couhig, the absentee vote almost perfectly mirrors the total vote. Almost certainly a coincidence, but it would indicate that Forman's support was never very strong to begin with. Credit for the data goes to Seymour D. Fair at Third Battle who also provides a link to more detailed election results. I have to take the blame for the tangent about giving votes from Landrieu to Couhig.

Cut the Moral Superiority

I'm beginning to think that conservatives are right that the liberal tendency to blame things on racism is as simplistic as the conservative tendency to deny that racism still exists (my apologies for the David the Likeable style intro). Not everyone who hates Landrieu, or even "the Landrieus," is a racist.

A little background (dead horse flogging?) first, the "Chocolate City" speech might have caused some people to question Nagin's leadership, but his position was shaky long before then. He was still unpopular with blacks (and whites were largely undecided, at best) until the FEMA trailer placement issue. Then, Nagin somehow emerged as the champion of the displaced over the selfish, racist NIMBY's, led by Clarkson and Batt; at least that was the feeling I got from the couple* of emails that I received. I didn't absolve Clarkson and Batt of responsibility and I could certainly understand the feelings of the displaced, but frankly (IMO), the judgement of some returnees was clouded by their smug feelings of moral superiority. It's not racist, for example, to ask what's wrong with the site of the abandoned grocery at Claiborne and Carrollton before agreeing to give up the park across the street. Instead of deigning to answer such questions, Nagin smugly said NIMBY. Yet, people rallied around him. An issue that should have demonstrated his unfitness for office, instead bolstered his position. Frissons of moral superiority may feel good, but you shouldn't let them cloud your judgement.

I believe that there's a similar pattern evident in some of the comments in a discussion at Your Right Hand Thief. It's impossible to discuss New Orleans' decline, and Landrieu's role in it, without discussing race, but that doesn't mean that every Landrieu detractor is a racist.

To begin with an apparently forgotten point, nobody born after 1952 can possibly have lived in pre-Landrieu New Orleans, as an adult. O.K., even if they're not racists themselves, the Landrieu detractors (the "The Landrieus" detractors) might have been influenced by the racially-based anti-Landrieu feelings of their families. Still, it's a point worth remembering.

Second obvious point, the population of New Orleans reached its peak (according to decennial census figures) in 1960 and has declined in every census since. Landrieu was elected in 1970. The population of New Orleans experienced the same post-1960 decline as almost every major American city. There are two major exceptions to this trend: sun belt cities that have been able to expand their boundaries (Atlanta's population declined from 1970-1990 before rebounding somewhat from 1990-2000, for example) and some northern and west coast cities where the decline began in the 1950's-- undoubtedly because of superior roads and ability to commute by rail. New York is an entirely different case, with a basically unchanged population, except for a decline from 1970-1980, followed by a slight rebound in 80's and a larger rebound in the 90's to slightly greater population its 1970 peak.

What the Landrieu detractors are forgetting, in addition to the fact the decline began long before Landrieu became mayor, is that New Orleand was part of nationwide trend. In their defense, crime didn't increase and other urban problems become more apparent until the 70's. But again, that's part of a nationwide pattern--the middle class leaves, the city becomes poorer and crime and blight increase.

Something should be apparent from the above; racial fears weren't the initial cause of America's suburbanization, though they may have later become a primary cause. It occurred in cities without sizable minority populations; transportation was the primary factor in determing when it occurred. As to why it occurred, housing costs and the fact that GI bill favored new home construction provided the initial impetus. Of course, nationwide, people fled the problems that followed, but the term "white flight" is not a totally accurate one.

If you're thinking that New Orleans is different, the suburbanization all followed desegragation, you'd of course be largely correct. But it also followed the opening of the GNO bridge in 1958 and the expansion of the Causeway in 1969 (originally opened 1956). Still, you'd have to be living in utter denial to deny that race wasn't a major factor, but up until Katrina, housing was much more affordable outside of New Orleans. Put yourself in the position of a young, middle-come couple planning to raise a family as recently as 2004. Would you rather face the daily commute to the north shore, or would you rather gamble on your ability to get your children into one of the city's magnet schools? Factor in the cost of housing, and it wouldn't be such an easy choice.

Why the long-winded discourse? Partly because I sense come close mindedness on both sides; mainly because the overworked racism charge should be used more sparingly--for both intellectual and political reasons. Nationwide, Republicans successfully bash Democrats for labeling suburbanites racists. True, they do a good job of exaggerating, but if you use the term "white flight" too freely, you probably do other things to contribute to the perception.

Locally, what's the good of calling a Landrieu basher a racist? Why not just point out that the decline began long before Landrieu became mayor, was part of a nationwide trend and that Landrieu was mayor during the decade that was hardest on cities nationwide? You could even point out that the state and the city have always had a reputation for corruption and that, statewide, business as usual continued under Foster's Republican administration.

Of course, you could call all Landrieu bashers racists. Who knows, some of them just might have an epiphany, confront their inner racists and decide that it's O.K. to vote for one of "The Landrieus" after all. They might even decide that between now and election day.

*Literally, a couple. Hell, I'm lucky to get ten hits a day.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Try Out of Contexting This

Actually they probably will, if any one even notices. From Sirotablog ( via Atrios):

"Once the color barrier has been broken, minority contractors seeking government work may need to overcome the Bush barrier. That's the message U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson seemed to send during an April 28 talk in Dallas. Jackson, a former president and CEO of the Dallas Housing Authority, was among the featured speakers at a forum sponsored by the Real Estate Executive Council, a national minority real estate consortium. After discussing the huge strides the agency has made in doing business with minority-owned companies, Jackson closed with a cautionary tale, relaying a conversation he had with a prospective advertising contractor. 'He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years,' Jackson said of the prospective contractor. 'He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something ... he said, 'I have a problem with your president.' 'I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I don't like President Bush.' I thought to myself, 'Brother, you have a disconnect -- the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn't be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don't tell the secretary. He didn't get the contract,' Jackson continued. 'Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president?'"

BTW the story was originally reported in the left wing Dallas Business Journal.

If you missed the December issue of Harper's, Lapham's notebook is available here:

So obvious was the nature of the work in progress everywhere on the Gulf Coast, so many corporate bagmen taking it away in eighteen-wheel trucks, that some of the Republican pit bosses in Washington worried about the keeping up of respectable appearances

After a few months of pretending to play by the rules (or after threatening to to take its ball and go home), the administration now feels like it can resume the gravy train. Of course, there have been signs of that for a while now.

Note: H/T to Blagueur, where I went to look for a link to a little noticed story in New Orleans City Business. That post will have to wait, but the story should make your blood boil. Dallas Business Journal, New Orleans City Business, at least part of the press still cares about corruption and fraud.

Joke of the Day

Anti-Landrieu (apparently, they're more respectable than Nagin signs) appearing in my neighborhood:

If Landrieu Wins, We Lose

Think About It:

*Higher Taxes

*Politics as Usual

*National Disgrace

If Landrieu wins, we'll be a national disgrace? Are they f***ing kidding me?

The first two probably require a lengthier rebuttal than I have time for right now, but Stephanie Grace has a good column on the second. On the first, I believe that the city can only increase taxes by referendum. More importantly, if you encounter a blowhard who repeats the Landrieu voted for a billion dollars in increased income taxes canard, just ask him where thinks most of the state GOP leadership stood on the Stelly plan.

Next post will be something other than an anti-Nagin screed, I guarantee it.

Might Want to Watch TV

Douglas Brinkley will be on 6 On Your Side tonight at 10:30:

Tulane historian Doug Brinkley defends his explosive new book and exclusive interviews with Gov. Kathleen Blanco that are critical of Mayor Ray Nagin in the days after Katrina. We’ll ask him if his book was politically motivated and if he’s trying to influence the upcoming election. Plus, wait until you hear what the mayor is saying about the controversy

Can't really call it "must see" TV, that last sentence sounds like the kind of teaser that promises more than it delivers, at least in my experience.

Monday, May 08, 2006

What is the Learning Curve for an Incumbent Mayor?

Stephanie Grace op-ed column from the September 22 Times Picayune:

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.

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
(my emphasis)

Front page story from yesterday's Times Picayune:

The mayor of Baton Rouge -- a likely refuge for tens of thousands of evacuees from New Orleans if a storm hits this season -- was more than a little irked. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin last week unveiled an elaborate hurricane plan without so much as a call to his counterpart upriver. The River Center, Baton Rouge's equivalent of the Superdome, would not be available for sheltering New Orleanians, Mayor Kip Holden announced.

To be fair, the differences between Nagin and Holden may not be as large as it at first appeared :

"Baton Rouge is still a sheltering city," Grunewald said. "All Mayor Holden is saying is that the River Center will not be used. The River Center was never on the list as a shelter." Grunewald said the convention space along the Mississippi River in downtown Baton Rouge ended up being used because a number of shelters at school buildings had to be shut down to allow Baton Rouge students -- and those from New Orleans -- to return to school. In all, Baton Rouge opened 147 shelters after Katrina and Rita

But, if you're even considering voting for Nagin, please read Stephanie Grace's September 22, column, and ask yourself how much the mayor has actually learned in the last eight months.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

What's Fox 8's Angle

Update: As of 8:30 Monday night, the Morton/De La Salle conflict is the sixth ranked local news story on Fox 8's site. I know that bloggers tend to be too quick to accuse the media of bias or worse) but that one media outlet would attach such importance to a story that no other outlet even noticed, strikes me as somewhat odd.

While channel surfing last night, I noticed a story on Fox 8's 9:30 news about Bishop Paul Morton. I assumed that it was about his endorsement of Landrieu, I stopped to watch. Instead, Morton was threatening a protest of, or calling attention to, racial discrimination at De La Salle High School. I won't go into the details (as of Saturday night, story still available at the station's website), but after a lengthy story (certain to,er, color any viewer's perception of Morton) complete with footage of Morton holding what appeared to be a press conference, interviews with De La Salle's two principals (apparently DLS has two) and footage of the De La Salle rulebook (the issue was acceptable hair styles), John Snell went on to say that in a related matter, Bishop Morton also endorsed Mitch Landrieu today and then read a bit of Morton's statement. That was it, no footage of the endorsement press conference at all.

I did wonder that Morton had two press conferences in one day, but since I missed the beginning of the story, I didn't hear when Morton actually raised the issue (the story on the station's web site doesn't say). No mention of the De La Salle story on channel 6 at 10, but it did mention the endorsement, complete with a clip of Morton's anti-Nagin statements. Channel 15 didn't mention either story later in the 10:00 pm rerun.*

Searching the internet, I can't find any mention of the Morton/De La Salle story anywhere but Fox 8's site, which has it prominently displayed-- with no noticeable mention of the endorsement. In contrast, no apparent mention of either story still up (I doubt that the De La Salle story was ever up) on on WWl or WDSU's sites, ABC 26 and the Picayune still have the endorsement story visibly (though not prominently) displayed as of Sat. PM. Obviously, Fox 8 wouldn't fabricate a story that obvious, but I would be curious about whether the De La Salle story stayed on the shelf for a couple of days before it seemed important (again, I have no idea when Morton spoke out against De La Salle). At the very least, the importance that the various local media outlets assign to the two stories is interesting.

Link about the company that owns Fox 8.

*For anyone unfamilar with New Orleans TV, channel 15 on cable continuously reruns the last edition of WWL-TV's local newscast--in other words, the last local news is available around the clock. WWL is the local CBS affiliate, formerly owned by Loyola University, now owned by Belo communications.

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