The headline in Sunday morning’s paper announced: “IT’S NAGIN.” The incumbent mayor took 52% of the vote to 48% for Lt. Governor Landrieu. Polls closed Saturday at 8 pm and by 10 pm Landrieu had conceded. To my surprise, voting in this runoff was up 1% over the primary.
I suppose it reflects my personal feeling about this contest that I went to bed at 9 pm without bothering to check the results on TV, then got up at 2:30 am for an hour or more–I’m 66 and this is not uncommon, they tell me, unfortunately–without a thought to finding out who had won the election, but during which I worked on Psalm 1, colored a drawing I’ve done for the folks back home, and read my Robert Whitlow novel, before turning out the lights. No matter who won the mayor’s election, I decided, I would be disappointed. No one man is going to heal this city.
My own observation is that Mitch Landrieu has only himself to blame for losing this election. He could never make a real differentiation between himself and the mayor, and since the voters couldn’t either, they just could not find a good reason to try the “other guy.” The paper says New Orleans has a 60-year tradition of re-electing its incumbents to the mayor’s office. Rather than reflecting satisfaction with the guy in the office, it probably means people prefer the “devil you know to the one you don’t,” as the old saying puts it.
Nagin had a good quote at his victory party. “As Gandhi once said, ‘First, they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. And then you win.'” Christians through the centuries can identify with that.
Here are two paragraphs from this morning’s Times-Picayune.
“Arguably the most important election in New Orleans’ history, Saturday’s vote played out beneath the long shadow of Katrina, which unleashed floodwaters into about 80 percent of the city and scattered evacuees to nearly every state in the union. By election day, more than half of the 462,000 pre-Katrina residents remained in exile, including as many as 200,000 registered voters.”
“Given the vast diaspora, Saturday’s turnout could be considered brisk. Returns showed that 113,591 people cast a ballot for mayor, or about 38 percent of the city’s 298,512 eligible voters. Nearly 25,000 people–almost one-fourth of those who cast ballots–mailed or faxed in an absentee ballot or voted in person at one of the 10 balloting centers set up around the state for early voting. Turnout was 1 percent higher than in the primary.”
More and more, the most thoughtful take on the local situation is an op-ed column by staff writer Stephanie Grace. Her column this morning was headed, “Mr. Mayor, time to get to work.” She congratulated Nagin for winning when so many had written him off. “Still,” she said, “don’t take it as a sign that things at City Hall are fine. They’re not. If they were, you wouldn’t have attracted so many strong opponents.”
Grace says to the mayor, “You might be tempted to read your narrow victory as vindication for how you’ve handled your job over the nearly nine months since Katrina. I don’t. I read it, rather, as an expression of hope.”
What kind of hope? Stephanie Grace says voters hope that he will be more willing to level with his constituents now that he’s not running for the office, to tell them the hard truths instead of saying what the group he’s with expects to hear. Hope that being a lame duck mayor, starting today, will allow him to throw off the political considerations that bug him so much and to follow his gut instincts. Hope that he will find a way to work with other politicians and not be a lone ranger. And, she says, “hope that most of all, you will finish what you start, or talk about starting.”
Grace analyzes Nagin’s win as “widespread affection for you, quirks and all; of sympathy over all the heat you’ve taken since your city was hit with the worst disaster in American history; of trust that you want to do the right thing.”
Grace has several suggestions for Nagin. “How about not declaring deals are done until they actually are?” Let some of the defeated candidates who later endorsed him get involved with their energy and ideas. “And think about bringing in a fresh team to work at City Hall.”
She ends with this: “It may well be true that nobody could have done a better job handling the hurricane than you did. At this point, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the voters have taken a leap of faith, and given you a second chance to get a handle on the aftermath. You owe it to them to make the most of it.”
A leap of faith. Brings to mind what happened Friday night.
At the wedding rehearsal for Jennifer Screen and Renato Costa at the FBC of Kenner, a transformer blew outside and we were plunged into darkness. Using only a couple of flashlights, we went on with the rehearsal. Later, we teased the couple about how marriage is a leap of faith, a step into the dark.
A full house attended the nuptials Saturday at 2 pm. The wedding party was young and beautiful, and almost all were music majors, I found out, which fits considering the calling of the bride and groom. Remember this name–Sarah Jane McMahon, who sang “The Lord’s Prayer.” A longtime friend and Loyola classmate of Jennifer’s, Sarah Jane is an opera singer with a wonderful future. She recently sang with Placido Domingo and just did a Handel opera with the New York City Opera. She’s a fine Christian young lady with an incredible voice and movie-star looks, and we’re excited for her.
In weddings I try to strike the balance between personalizing comments without compromising the dignity of the occasion. I couldn’t resist telling the audience that “Jennifer has had such high standards–some would say she’s picky–that God used up the roster of eligible young men in North America and finally found one in Brazil who suited her.” Robin Tenhundfeld, member of the Immanuel Baptist Church in Hammond where Renato is minister of music, brought Jennifer and Renato together initially. Several mothers had cornered Robin at the reception, demanding she do the same for their daughters.
Sunday morning, I drove nearly 40 miles to lower St. Bernard Parish and preached in the relocated Delacroix-Hope Baptist Church where the inimitable James “Boogie” Melerine is pastor. I’d heard so much about this shed or garage where they meet, I had to see it for myself. You park across the highway at Beauregard Middle School and cross the street, come into Paul Lagarde’s backyard where the building housing his citrus business is located. He lost half his crop due to Katrina, but will still have a sizeable production of navel oranges come fall. The 70 folding chairs were neatly arranged under what has to be called a shed, an open-air, covered patio, with equipment everywhere and a large fan blowing air on everyone. They had a speaker system such as any church would have and a lovely lady playing the keyboard. Philip Russell, who has been leading worship, was preaching at Barataria Church in the community of Jean Lafitte this morning, so Don Campbell took over. I preached on Psalm 1. Afterward, they served lunch. The fellowship was delightful; the people wonderful.
I got home at 1:30 pm and headed out again an hour later. Bryan Scholl was being ordained to the ministry by the FBC of Westwego on the West Bank. We “counciled” him at 3 pm and ordained him at 4 pm. Pastor Jay Adkins gives Bryan the highest accolades for the youth ministry he has grown in this small church, and particularly for staying in town during the hurricane when so many other ministers–Jay included, I think–left town. At times in his own ordination service, Bryan played the keyboard, then directed the hymns. He is talented, versatile, and smart as a whip. I predict a great future for his ministry. He’s single too. I wonder if I should put him in touch with Robin Tenhundfeld.
Today is the first Sunday Edgewater Baptist Church has met inside since Katrina. Their fellowship hall has been restored to the point that they’d rather be there than in the tent outside. Chris Byrd was working there Friday when I ran by, great preparation for the foreign mission future looming ahead for him. Chris said church attendance is already at pre-Katrina level. They’re still cooking burgers and hotdogs and serving to the community Sundays and Wednesdays.
Deliverance Church on Hayne Boulevard, Jesse Magee, pastor, met today for–I believe–the first time. Freddie Arnold was there and reports an excellent turnout.
Little by little, one home at a time, church by church, the city is returning.
I’ll be speaking Tuesday morning at Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria at the 9:45 am general session when the state convention leadership has a daylong conference to train associational leadership from all over the state. If you’re in the area, come by. Either way, we’ll appreciate your prayers.
In one gathering where I was today, someone prayed for the Father’s anointing on Mayor Ray Nagin. We all seconded that. Returning from St. Bernard Parish after the morning service, I drove through the Ninth Ward–the destroyed Ninth Ward where so much still needs to be done–and then into the Franklin Avenue portion of New Orleans. So much devastation, so many homes still untouched, businesses still boarded up, litter untouched, cars and boats waiting for the tow trucks. The worst devastation to hit an American city ever. And Ray Nagin is the man of the hour. We have seen what he can do in his own wisdom and power and it is not particularly impressive. Let’s pray for God’s anointing.
Today on the national news, Mr. Nagin said, “It’s time to come together as one city.” I thought, “It’s up to you, sir. You divided us; you can unite us.”