New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, thankfully in the last year of his second term, delivered his final “state of the city” report on Wednesday, May 20. His main thrust was to gloss over his time in office, dressing up the failures, spinning the goofs, and issuing more promises.
No one is better at promise-making than our mayor. Time and again, he has called news conferences to unveil a grand scheme for this section of the city or that development, only to have it all disappear like morning fog in the noontime heat. The media finally learned to quit running these announcements as though the millennium had arrived.
“Nagin asserted that under his leadership, city government has begun to regain solid financial footing and is poised to usher in an era of an unprecedented building boom.” (My hunch is he’s right, and that era will begin just as soon as a new administration walks in next year.)
“The naked truth,” he said, “is that we are positioned for full recovery.” (He reminds me of something Jerry Merriman once said about a campus ministry leader at Mississippi State when Jerry led the Baptist student ministry there. When I inquired about the president of the group, Jerry said, ‘We had to terminate him. He never did anything. Everytime we spoke, he was always getting ready to act. ‘We’re going to do this in a big way,’ he always said. But he never did anything, and I finally got enough of it.”)
When the mayor “claimed to be moving forward with streetcar extensions along Convention Center Boulevard and Loyola Avenue near the Union Passenger Terminal,” a spokesperson for the transit office commented that “those projects remain in the conceptual stage.” (No matter. It fits the mayor’s pattern of presenting concepts and ideas as fait accompli.)
Referring to various legal investigations going on concerning people in his administration, Nagin said he had done nothing wrong. I expect that he’s right. He’s done nothing wrong and little right.
When one of my neighbors in River Ridge got married recently, he had no idea he would spend his wedding night in jail. Friday evening, May 15, John had just entered the Crystal Plantation reception hall with his bride. A cop on duty approached his nephew Samuel and told him his pants were too low. There is actually a parish (state?) law about this, something involving obscenity, no doubt. The teenager protested, although he admitted his belt was loose. His cousins all agreed that his pants were fine.
But his cousins were not the cop. The policeman insisted.
That’s when the groom and his father got involved. A pushing and shoving and cursing match followed, and all three were hauled off to jail.
A family member groaned, “They spent $1500 on dance lessons and didn’t even get to dance!”
It might help to remind all of us law-abiding citizens at this point, “You may disagree with him but he’s still the cop. There are ways to disagree with a policeman–I hear; I don’t personally know any of them–and ways to disagree that can get you thrown in the calaboose in a New York minute.”
A minor furore making news in our city concerns City Councilmember Stacy Head. She’s in her first term, having beat incumbent Renee Gill Pratt (who has just been indicted by the feds for involvement in a racketeering scheme involving the family of former Congressman William Jefferson). A ton of e-mails involving council members has just been made public, and it turns out Ms. Head can hold her own with any sailor in town, profanity-wise. A cartoon shows a little girl pointing at her brother and calling, “Mom! Billy used Stacy Head language again!”
I’m not sure what it says about our city, but the fact that Head is plain-spoken and takes no prisoners is endearing her to some citizens who vow to work for her re-election.
Recently, Times-Picayune columnist Stephanie Grace, whom we’ve come to appreciate more and more, ran a column on the role of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the failure of President Bush to respond swiftly to the devastation of New Orleans after Katrina. She quotes an article in GQ magazine by Bush biographer Robert Draper.
In the hours after it became known that New Orleans was drowning, more than a dozen Bush staffers, including former Cabinet members and senior military commanders, wanted to send in the military to assist our endangered residents. Bush wanted to do so, too. The holdout was Secretary Rumsfeld, the authority over the military.
Before Bush conducted his celebrated flyover in Air Force One, two days after Katrina a White House advance team took a helicopter ride over the city. Noticing the helicopter had search and rescue capability, someone asked the pilot, “We’re not taking you away from grabbing people off of rooftops, are we?”
He assured they weren’t, because the rest of his fleet was still grounded at Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton Beach, Florida. “I’m just here because you’re here,” the pilot said. In fact, he continued, “My whole unit’s sitting back at Hurlburt, wondering why we’re not being used.”
The ‘why’ was that Rumsfeld was blocking their deployment. He had philosophical reasons for not sending active duty troops into a hurricane zone or to evacuation centers elsewhere. The reasons involved “unity of command” issues, whatever that means.
Stephanie Grace reports that a battle raged through the West Wing concerning this issue. Finally, Bush exploded all over Rumsfeld and overruled him. “Don,” he said, “do it.” A reluctant Rumsfeld sent in the troops.
When the final story of the Bush presidency is written, it will be seen that all the dysfunction of that administration was not to be laid at the door of the man himself. A great deal of the problem was that his staff failed him.
Whether you are the pastor of a church or president of a country, the choice of your staff–and their continuing integrity and accountability–is of utmost importance.
The Roanoke Times for Monday, May 25–Memorial Day, you recall–did an article on the buglers in military burials. I’ve done these funerals and we’ve all been thrilled at the military escort, with their spit and polish, their precision marching, their 21-gun salute, the bugler playing ‘Taps,’ and the presentation of the flag to the family.
It turns out that most of those buglers aren’t actually playing. The horn is outfitted with a speaker which plays a recorded version of the famous bugle call. The musician-wannabe holds the instrument to his lips and acts like he’s blowing it, and the tune comes out.
When someone broke the electronic bugle used by the Roanoke Valley chapter of the DAV, they had to scramble to find a bugler who could actually play the tune. A local minister volunteered and saved the day.
Once again, a preacher to the rescue. Something about that sounds right.