The lead story in today’s New York Times reads: “Mayor Suspends Flow of People to New Orleans, Reversal After Pressure.” In short, the story tells us about how Nagin invited the citizens of New Orleans back into the deathtrap he made a significant contribution to creating, then reversed his view after the hated racist authorities in the federal government informed him of the likely consequences of his actions.
Let’s take this sequentially. First, as this unheralded article makes clear, Nagin failed his constituents in myriad ways that led to their deaths.
Then, as you may remember, he blamed everyone else for it.
Then, as today's lead story indicates, he invited the same constituents back to New Orleans. Then,
“under pressure,” he disinvited them en masse, citing the following revelations that somehow hadn’t previously occurred to him:
NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 19 - Under pressure from President Bush and with a new storm threatening the Gulf of Mexico, Mayor C. Ray Nagin suspended on Monday his controversial plan to allow people to return to this vulnerable city. Instead Mr. Nagin called for a"mandatory" evacuation of many of the residents who have returned or never left."This is a different type of event," the mayor said of the storm, Rita."Our levee systems are still in a very weak condition. Our pumping stations are not at full capacity, and any type of storm that heads this way and hits us will put the east bank of Orleans Parish in very significant harm's way. So I'm encouraging everyone to leave."
The mayor reversed himself hours after Mr. Bush had questioned whether it was safe for residents to return. The president reiterated warnings by Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard, leader of the federal recovery effort, that the levee system was weakened, that the 911 emergency telephone system was not working, that the hospitals remained closed and that pollutants were in the air and water.
A "different kind of event"?A different friggin' kind of event??? It's exactly the same kind of event with a different name! It's called...a hurricane! I mean, what does it take to get the message through? To add insult to injury (and for once, that phrase is literally true): “The terms of the evacuation were not fully clear.” Kinda like...the last time a"different kind of event" roared through the area?
Having made a second round of life-threatening mistakes involving hurricanes, flooding, and evacuations, you might think that Mayor Nagin was willing to eat a slice or two of humble pie. No--not on…your life. Hearken to the wise words of the man who was responsible for the safety of the citizens of New Orleans when the last hurricane hit:
"I understand the federal government was a little, uh, excited about the plan," he said."They didn't feel as though conditions were quite right. But my thought has always been that if we have this many resources in the city working cooperatively, then we could correct just about any situation that was out there."
Yeah--“conditions not quite right”: i.e., weak levees with an imminently approaching second hurricane, no 911 system, closed hospitals, no working public transportation or other services, pollutants in the air and water, and a city effectively occupied by federal troops that would themselves have to be evacuated given the second hurricane."Not quite right."
The excuse that Nagin had given the first time around was that state and local officials had been “overwhelmed” by Katrina. That, of course, is what motivated his many semi-coherent rants against the federal government: that he and his colleagues were rendered helpless by the sheer power of Hurricane Katrina. Now, the same previously-helpless person brags that he can handle “just about any situation that was out there” under significantly worse conditions than obtained before Katrina. There is--I'm sorry to say--a point at which “populist bluster” becomes “propensity to delusion,” and “propensity to delusion” has to be classified as dereliction of duty. This is it.
You may think I’m exaggerating Nagin’s authority, scope, power and responsibility in saying all this. Well, then, let’s describe that in his words:
Mayor Nagin has said the federal presence proves how safe the city is after widespread looting and violence in the first days after Hurricane Katrina. But he has also resisted federal intervention at times. Noting that Admiral Allen had urged residents not to return, the mayor said:"The admiral's a good man. I respect him. But when he starts talking to the citizens of New Orleans, that's kind of out of his lane. There's only one mayor of New Orleans and I'm it."
Ah, yes:"The buck stops here." True in a way. But not in the right way.
P.S., Sept. 24: I'm curious what the"only mayor of New Orleans" has to say about what would have happened if people had taken his advice to repopulate New Orleans and the feds hadn't gotten"excited" about the idea. For an initial sense of it, start with this article.