Clarence Ray Nagin, Jr. (born June 11, 1956) is the mayor of New Orleans. He was first elected on March 2, 2002, to succeed his fellow Democrat, Marc Morial. Nagin gained international attention in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the New Orleans area.
Before his election in 2002, Nagin had never held public office; he was a vice president and general manager at Cox Communications, a cable company and subsidiary of Cox Enterprises. Several news sources, including BBC News and numerous blogs and editorials have stated that Nagin was a registered Republican for most of his adult life, switching to the Democratic Party shortly before seeking office This can be seen through Nagin's campaign contributions to George Bush in 2000. In a January 13, 2006 interview on the Tavis Smiley show, Nagin himself denied these rumors, stating that he "never was a Republican" and that he has been a "life-long Democrat", and several of the news sources reporting that he was a Republican have since issued retractions. He did give contributions periodically to candidates of both parties, including Representative Billy Tauzin in 1999 and 2000, as well as Democratic Senators John Breaux and J. Bennett Johnston, Jr. earlier in the decade.
Then in the first round of the crowded mayoral election in February 2002, Nagin received first place with 29 percent of the vote, against opponents such as Police Chief Richard Pennington, State Senator Paulette Irons, City Councilman Troy Carter and others. In the runoff with Pennington in March 2002, Nagin won with 59 percent of the vote. His campaign was largely self-financed. Nagin received 85% of the white vote and 40% of the black vote.
Nagin often clashed with the New Orleans City Council, and as a result failed to get council support for proposed legislation he favored. He was criticized for often publicly announcing new programs or proposed policies without having them vetted by other city leaders.
As Hurricane Ivan threatened the Gulf of Mexico in September 2004, Nagin urged New Orleanians to be ready for the storm, preferably to evacuate with some "Benjamins" ($100 bills) handy, and urged any who planned to stay to not only stock up on food and water but also to make sure they had "an axe in the attic," a reference to the many people trapped in their attics by rising floodwaters when Hurricane Betsy hit the city in 1965. Nagin issued a call for a voluntary evacuation of the city at 6 p.m. on September 13. Some 600,000 New Orleanians left. Thousands were stuck in highway traffic for 12 or even 24 hours. The hurricane missed the city.
Nagin controversially endorsed conservative Republican Bobby Jindal over conservative Blue Dog Democratic Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Blanco in the 2003 runoff for governor. He only reluctantly endorsed the Democratic candidate, U.S. Senator John Kerry, in the 2004 presidential race.
On August 26, 2005, the National Hurricane Center predicted for the first time that Hurricane Katrina would become a Category 4 storm, and thus exceed the design limits of the New Orleans levees. That same day, Governor Blanco declared a state of emergency.
On August 26 Mayor Nagin advised New Orleanians to keep a close eye on the storm and prepare for evacuation. He made various statements encouraging people to leave without officially calling for an evacuation throughout Saturday the 27th before issuing a call for voluntary evacuation that evening. He stressed the potential danger posed by Katrina by saying "This is not a test. This is the real deal." He was hesitant to order a mandatory evacuation because of concerns about the city's liability for closing hotels and other businesses. Nagin continued to announce that the city attorney was reviewing the information regarding this issue and once he had reviewed the city attorney's opinion he would make a decision whether to give the order to evacuate the city.
On Sunday morning August 28, Katrina became a Category 4 hurricane, and, with fewer than 24 hours left before the storm's landfall, Nagin declared a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans, the first in the city's history, and the first for a U.S. city of this size since the American Civil War. From dawn Sunday morning onward New Orleans radio and television repeatedly broadcast Nagin's pleas for everybody to leave town as quickly and safely as possible. He declared the Superdome as a shelter of last resort for those who couldn't leave. Nagin and Blanco urged the citizens who sought shelter at the Superdome to bring enough food and water for at least 3 days. The two leaders also urged the people to treat their stay in the dome as a camping trip. State governor-controlled National Guard troops were stationed inside the Superdome to screen evacuees for weapons and feed the citizens gathered there yet the situation within the Superdome became very difficult for evacuees.
Katrina shifted eastward approximately from its expected landfall point, which was to be a direct hit on the city of New Orleans, only a couple of hours prior to making landfall, reducing the anticipated wind damage to the city. Several levees and flood walls were breached a few hours after landfall, and within 24 hours up to 80% of the city was flooded. An estimated 90,000 were still in the city when the hurricane made landfall on August 29, causing severe damage to most of New Orleans. See: Effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. Some have criticized Nagin's lack of leadership and believe it resulted in increased hardship for many of New Orleans' poorer citizens.
As part of what was apparently a larger effort to assign responsibility for the inadequate response, Michael Chertoff, secretary of Homeland Security, explained on September 4 that "the way that emergency operations act under the law is, the responsibility and the power, the authority, to order an evacuation rests with state and local officials. The federal government comes in and supports those officials.
On September 4, President Bush responded to Nagin's criticism by focusing on the failings of state and local authorities, stating that the disaster's magnitude "created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities. The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans. And that is unacceptable.
Other local politicians criticized the way the federal government handled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Parish Presidents Junior Rodriguez from St. Bernard, Benny Rousselle from Plaquemines and Aaron Broussard from Jefferson are among the most notable ones.
Elections for Mayor and City Council members had been scheduled for February 2006, but these were postponed due to the devastation after Katrina and the many New Orleanians still living out of the city.
In an interview with Public Radio International's Tavis Smiley originally broadcast on January 13, 2006, Nagin said that he has never been a Republican and is a "life-long Democrat." Also in that interview, Nagin used the phrase "chocolate city" in reference to New Orleans' future demographics, a term that would become troublesome for him just a few days later. The idea for a "Chocolate City" reportedly originated with the popular 1970s-era musical band Parliament. A book by historian Douglas Brinkley titled The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast assails Nagin for his response to Hurricane Katrina. The book relies on people closely involved in the disaster relief effort to provide insight into Nagin's behavior the days and weeks following the catastrophic event. For example, Kathleen Blanco is quoted describing Nagin as "a total void" and "falling apart". For his part, Nagin has questioned the timing of the book's release, coming less than 2 weeks prior to the Mayor's runoff election, and has called the book "a political hit."
Nagin repeated the "Chocolate City" metaphor and proclaimed that New Orleans will be "chocolate again." This was seized upon and parodied by some commentators, cartoons, and merchandising. Various designs of T-shirts with satirical depictions of Nagin as Willy Wonka were sold in the city and on the Internet.
Other parts of the speech were reportedly more disturbing to some New Orleanians than the "chocolate" reference. Nagin had also said, "I don't care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are." Some people took "Uptown" as a coded reference to wealthy whites, such as those who live in the old mansions on Saint Charles Avenue or around Audubon Park. However, Uptown New Orleans is one of the most ethnically and economically diverse sections of the Metro area. Many of Nagin's original supporters live Uptown.
As Uptown contains the largest section of unflooded high ground in the city's East Bank, at the time of the speech Uptown had the city's largest concentration of locals back in their homes, businesses back open, and displaced New Orleanians from other more severely damaged parts of town living there. Locals protested the Mayor's comment about not caring about an important section of his city.
Nagin also stated that New Orleans "will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be. As most New Orleanians knew the city had been majority African American for decades before Katrina, certain people found the implication of Nagin claiming to know God's will more troubling than the suggested return of pre-Katrina demographics.
In the same speech, Nagin further stirred controversy by claiming that "God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country....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." Nagin then went on to relate an imagined conversation with the deceased Rev. Martin Luther King regarding both the response to Katrina and the modern problems of black America which he believes offended God.
The speech generated an intense reaction, most of it negative. A Times-Picayune commentator suggested that Nagin had just ruined his own chances at re-election.
Nagin later apologized for his remarks, and offered a different explanation of his "chocolate city" metaphor, saying "How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk and it becomes a delicious drink. That's the chocolate I'm talking about. Nagin said that his remarks were meant to be a call for African Americans to once again return to New Orleans despite the supposed belief that many of the people Uptown did not want them back.
The Mayor apologized for the suggestion that people Uptown (a mixed neighborhood) were racist, noting the importance of that section of town in the city's recovery. He particularly stated regret for the statements about God. "I don't know what happened there," he said. "I don't know how that got jumbled up. That whole God thing, I don't know how that got mixed up in there." Nagin concluded "I need to be more aware and sensitive of what I'm saying [...] Anyone I've offended, I hope you forgive me.
Many activist groups bussed in African-American voters, who were still living outside of New Orleans six months after the storm, to participate in the election. Political analysts believed that this may have been responsible for Nagin's eventual win and was met with heavy protest by citizens who had actually returned to the city in attempts to rebuild. In the election of 22 April, Nagin was the front runner with 38% of the vote. Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu came in second with 29%. Nagin and Landrieu faced each other in a run off election on May 20th, 2006. Final results showed that Nagin defeated Landrieu 52 (about 59 thousand votes) to 48 (about 55 thousand) percent. Nagin also won with a dramatic shift in the racial breakdown of his voter base; in this election he received the support of about 80% of black voters and 20% of white voters, a reversal of his support base in the 2002 election.
"That’s all right. You guys in New York can’t get a hole in the ground fixed and it’s five years later. So let’s be fair."
"I meant no disrespect for anyone. I have seen death, I’ve seen the destruction, and I was just using it as a comparison to show how difficult it is for people to rebuild after a major disaster."
When asked by Tim Russert if he wished that he'd chosen other words, Nagin replied,
"I wish I would have basically said that it was an undeveloped site, which it is."
The next day, Governor Kathleen Blanco "distanced herself from...Nagin's disparaging comment" by issuing a statement thanking the people of New York for assistance after Katrina:
"Please know that our great State recognizes New York's special position as one of the World's greatest cities and we admire its people. We love visiting New York and we know you love coming to New Orleans, so please plan to come again soon and we will welcome you with our unique brand of hospitality."
In December 2006, Nagin appointed Ed Blakely to oversee New Orleans’s post-Katrina recovery plan. Blakely was initially met with widespread praise for exhibiting a decisiveness and candour many saw as lacking in Nagin. More recently, Blakely has also attracted controversy of his own for comments he made about the political, economic, and racial climate of New Orleans.
In May Councilwoman Stacy Head gave Nagin's economic development efforts, headed by Donna Addkison, a grade of "F minus" and Donald Vallee, the head of a local landlords association, labeled the administration's housing officials "the most dysfunctional group of people I have seen at City Hall". Speaking to Addkison, while at the meeting, Vallee declared "You have done a horrible job of managing this department." Addkison resigned her post effective August 10, 2007.
In October 2007, Nagin endorsed New Orleans businessman John Georges in his unsuccessful bid for governor. Georges lost in the primaries to Congressman Bobby Jindal, who Nagin endorsed in his first bid for governor; Georges' only parish-win came in Orleans.