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Volume 71, Issue 77, Friday, January 27, 2006

Opinion

'Chocolate city' needs trusty chief

Dante Eglin
Opinion Columnist

On a day meant to celebrate the legacy of the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin appeared eager to polish up his theater skills, evoking the sweet-toothed Willy Wonka during an MLK Day speech last week. Nagin spoke to the holiday crowd, urging residents to rebuild a "chocolate New Orleans."

"It's time for us to come together. It's time for us to rebuild New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans," 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." 

Mayor Nagin also took a page from the Pat Robertson handbook, invoking religious doctrine during his address, suggesting that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were a sign that "God is mad at America" and at black communities for the increasing levels of violence and political bickering. 

"Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country," Nagin said. "Surely he doesn't approve of us being in Iraq under false pretenses. But surely he is upset at black America also. We're not taking care of ourselves."

Political pollster Silas Lee asserted how Nagin's free-spirited outlook has proven to be simultaneously his most valuable asset and his greatest liability.

"He is not always cautious of the fact that he must be very measured in what he says, where he says it and what audience he is saying it to," Lee explained on CNN's American Morning last week.

Nagin made several rounds last Tuesday attempting to cool the controversy. "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 New Orleans CNN affiliate WDSU-TV. "New Orleans was a chocolate city before Katrina. It is going to be a chocolate city after. How is that divisive?"

A political novice who was elected in 2002 without prior experience in elected office, Nagin has already had prior falling-outs in regards to ill-thought comments. Nagin received heavy criticism for his claims that nearly10,000 people were probably killed in the city during the hysteria of the Katrina evacuations (or lack thereof), and that rapes and murders were taking place at the Louisiana Superdome, accounts that have been proven to be highly trumped and exaggerated. 

In a town hall meeting one month after Katrina, Nagin told citizens, "I can see in your eyes, you want to know, ‘How do I take advantage of this incredible opportunity? How do I make sure New Orleans is not overrun with Mexican workers?' referring to the large arrival of laborers who had arrived in New Orleans to help rebuild the city. 

Nagin actually alluded to his "chocolate city" reference nearly a week before in an interview with Public Radio International's Tavis Smiley originally broadcast Jan. 13.

The most essential element of being mayor of a city is swift, effective leadership. A strong mayor defines and represents the collective interests of the people, in an effort to ensure a cohesive community and earn the trust of the citizens. 

Ray Nagin may be a free-spirited individual, a charismatic figure or a maverick. His actions or, more specifically, his words, have not served to unite a recovering city, but rather initiated debate and criticism about the savvy and awareness of its leader.

After 9/11, Rudy Giuliani was praised for his involvement in gathering and uniting New Yorkers as a collective to regain their footing in the face of adversity. One can only imagine the outcry if Giuliani -- or any other mayor, for that matter -- proclaimed to audiences that their city would become "calzone country" once again, or a "taco town" once more.

Hurricane Katrina was a disaster of phenomenal proportions, one that was considerably underestimated by the majority of the population until it was too late. 

Factor in the lackluster and untimely response from state and federal governments to assist Nagin and his administration in evacuation and rebuilding efforts, and one certainly cannot deny the daunting tasks the mayor was forced to assume. However, when we cast our ballots, we expect our elected officials to be able to step up to the challenge, no matter how intimidating the task may be. 

Because of the delicate nature of the entire Katrina situation, Nagin has been allowed a large buffer zone in regards to his actions. But eventually, the people must call a spade a spade and concede that he has not proven himself to be the ideal candidate to spearhead what will be a massive and lengthy rebuilding effort in New Orleans. 

With a knowledgeable, proficient figure guiding the city, the rebuilding and restoration process will bring back the glory of the great city and, more importantly, help locate the 3,200 people still missing.

Eglin, an opinion columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached at dante_eglin@gmail.com.

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