Ray Nagin, the error-prone mayor
Which politician emerged from the mess of Katrina as the biggest bonehead involved? No, it's not Michael Brown, George W. Bush, or even the bumbling Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco.
The clear winner is New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who made every conceivable mistake during the crisis. With plenty of warning, he delayed the evacuation order, had no drivers ready to operate the school buses that stood idle, failed to stock the Superdome with food and water, and let the looters rampage without any interference from police. The excuse given for the failure to get buses moving was that the mayor wasn't able to round up enough drivers. One report said most drivers were women and afraid to make the trip. But a competent mayor would have ordered the drivers to report and provided an armed on-board protector for each bus.
Nagin didn't bother. He did, however, record a message on DVD last July announcing, with other civic leaders, that New Orleans couldn't afford to evacuate the 134,000-odd mostly poor and black people known to lack transportation out of the city in case of a hurricane. When the hurricane struck, the DVD, with its hopeless message, "You're on your own," still hadn't been released.
Nagin also managed to inflame the rage over Katrina, particularly racial rage, by estimating 10,000 hurricane deaths in the city, a figure that now appears to be 10 times too high. Since then, he left the city to visit his evacuated family in Dallas, issued a good deal of blame-shifting rhetoric, and came down forand then againstinviting New Orleans residents to return quickly to the city. A near-perfect record for incompetence.
So today the New York Times has a news profile of the mayor. How does it treat Nagin? You guessed ithe's a hero. The lead of the story is "Hurricane Katrina has given the nation a new political celebrity, the mayor of beleaguered New Orleans." (Nation to city: Can we please give this alleged celebrity back?) The headline is worse, a classic in intentional inaccuracy: "A Storm Survivor, Political Reputation Intact." If Nagin's reputation is intact, so are Bush's, Brown's, and Blanco's. Many of Nagin's antics during Katrina are mentioned briefly, well down in the story.
But the article, posing as a news report, is a heavy-handed editorial and a foolish one at that. "Mr. Nagin has emerged as something of a folk hero." The Times is still having credibility problems and seems determined not to do much about them.