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Nagin's failure demands new leadership to rebuild New Orleans

It looks like New Orleans is getting back to some semblance of order after the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Good form asks that blame for the things that went wrong not be apportioned until the situation absolutely has stabilized, but good sense demands that, with so many lives and the economic health of the state on the line, that the roadblocks to success be removed.

In a previous post I mused that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin politically may have gotten a break with his city falling into disaster, that he could evoke sympathy. That was before we knew how extensively Nagin had shirked his responsibility to the city and then tried to blame others for it.

Nagin’s failure to competently discharge his duty began long before the Katrina near-miss cracked levees in Orleans Parish. He appeared not to take seriously disaster preparation even though he has been in office over two years. In retrospect, his plan seemed to be this:

1. Tell everybody to evacuate
2. Whoever doesn’t, get city buses to pick them up and take them to shelters, the primary one being the Superdome
3. When it was over, rescue who needs to be rescued using all public safety forces while pleading for help

It was a plan horribly flawed from the start:

  • Why did Nagin give an evacuation order only hours before state police would go off the job and allow chaos that slowed the process, as well as not give other enough time or impetus to leave? Shouldn’t he have done so sooner, or at least coordinated efforts with the state police? Granted, people should take their own fates in their own hands, but surely Nagin knew even a brush by the storm would cause huge problems – after all, he was in planning sessions last year that emphasized this. It was obvious to the thousands already fleeing a day before his call at the very least a brush was coming. This late call also impeded buses being rounded up to take those remaining behind away and/or to shelters.
  • Why did Nagin not ensure that evacuation centers were prepared to handle such a crisis? Instead of pre-stocking them with ample emergency supplies, they had next to nothing. Their plan just seemed to be to stuff as many people as possible into the Superdome and other places with next to no resources and expect them to wait there days with nothing. As SMC’s regional manager, with responsibility for the Superdome, said, “We can make things very nice for 75,000 people for four hours. But we aren't set up to really accommodate 8,000 for four days.” (Then, of course, holes got made in the roof by the storm, which begins to suggest state culpability as well.)
  • Why did Nagin fail to create the conditions to allow for assistance to be rendered, for at least two days? He should have known, given the levels of crime and Carnival ethos in the city that the second police were told not to, in a word, police, that looting and violence would break out. Nagin’s excuse was the police were to be engaged in rescue operations and that he could understand if people wanted to take food, and seemed genuinely surprised other kinds of looting would take place. Meanwhile, the violence created impeded help from outside. (Of course, had Nagin ensured that the city had planned ahead, it would have had food in shelters, and firemen and medics could have pointed people to and assisted them in getting to these locations while police kept order.)

    For three days, Nagin ran around like a chicken with its head cut off, watching his plan fail, until he decided to move on to his Plan B – blame everybody else, especially Pres. George W. Bush. Which perhaps makes us understand why his policies did so little to have the city prepared for the crisis and to cope with it afterward – as is typical with the liberalism/populism that infuses the political culture of this state, especially in New Orleans, he abdicated responsibility and stuck his hand out waiting for somebody else to take charge and give him something.
  • The task of rebuilding New Orleans will be long and arduous, and the area and state cannot waste a moment in doing so. It requires wisdom and leadership that Nagin has shown us he does not possess. The grownups from the federal government seem to be in charge of the situation now, so if Nagin could mature for just one moment he can do what he must in order to maximize the city’s chances of recovery – resign as mayor.

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...


    Don't forget the people of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi!

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