Topic: Society

Mayor Ray Nagin
(January 2006)

Ray Nagin, New Orleans' flamboyant if not especially competent mayor, has been a prime candidate for the Scoreboard liars list for quite a while. After all, it was he who contributed mightily to media hysteria over the conditions in Post-Katrina New Orleans by proclaiming widespread death, rape, crime and violence far exceeding actual conditions, which were bad enough. The Scoreboard decided to give him a break: Katrina made just about everyone look bad, and Nagin's city was under water. But now, after opening his mouth and inserting both feet during a Martin Luther King Day speech, Nagin's attempt at an explanation was so dishonest, so foolish, and so insulting to anyone who reads or hears it that he cannot escape.

Ray Nagin is not just a liar; he is an incompetent one.

Nagin began his speech promisingly by doing a dead-on Pat Robertson impression: he attributed the savagery of Katrina to the wrath of God. Those in the overwhelmingly black audience cheered by the possibility that his next impression would be of Al Pacino, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or maybe Kirk Douglas were surprised when the versatile mayor chose Louis Farrakhan instead.

"I don't care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day," Nagin said. "This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans."

OK. Ray Nagin wants to keep white people out of his city. It's not a very democratic or multicultural sentiment, to be sure, but it probably is one shared by many residents of New Orleans; especially the ones who believed the scurrilous accusations pressed by Nagin and other city officials during the hurricane aftermath that the Bush administration didn't care about African-Americans. No, Nagin doesn't really further the objective of racial harmony with such comments, but hey, the mayor needs to beef up his support among black voters, and Ray Nagin plays the race card like Randy "Duke" Cunningham sucks up bribes.

Well, there is one major difference: former Congressman Cunningham had the courage to admit that he took bribes. After a predictable media firestorm arose following his clearly racist remarks [ " Clearly racist" Definition: Any comment involving race that if uttered by a white Democratic politician would force said politician to retire from public life, and if uttered by a white Republican politician would require said politician to enter the Federal witness protection program.], Nagin went on CNN and made the following explanation:

"How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That is the chocolate I am talking about," he told CNN.

A more obvious lie would be difficult to imagine. Is there anyone, friend or detractor, critic or ally, who could believe so absurd and desperate a claim? Almost immediately, Nagin himself abandoned this line of defense and apologized, saying that his comments had been inappropriate. For this he gets no ethics points at all. Capitulating to the inevitable and taking your public relations lumps for a willfully offensive statement takes no character or courage when one has no other choice. What else could Nagin do when he finally realized that his "I was talking about Nestlé's Quick!" excuse wasn't going to fly? Try a different unbelievable lie? Like, "All right, I wasn't really talking about chocolate milk; by 'chocolate city" I actually was referring to my top secret talks with Hershey, Pennsylvania officials, who are considering moving their chocolate plant right here to New Orleans!" Or perhaps, "I'm sorry, but I can't divulge what "chocolate city" really means because it is part of a complex, top secret security code related to a highly sensitive anti-terrorist initiative."

It's too late, Mayor. We know what "chocolate city" means; it means that New Orleans has a leader who is quite willing to exploit racial divisiveness for his own political ends. We also know what your first "explanation" means. It means that you have neither the courage to take responsibility for your own words, nor the integrity not to try to lie your way out of trouble.

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