Mayor Nagin in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with his chief of staff Brenda Hatfield and former City Councilwoman Cynthia Willard Lewis.

It was nearly four years ago when the arch conservative, highly incendiary, race card playing radio talk show hack Rush Limbaugh maniacally boasted of his desire to see President Barack Obama fail. Limbaugh reasoned that for him and his agenda to win—the President, the first Black man to rise to this lofty office, had to fail.

I remember feeling ill to the depths of my being at Limbaugh’s twisted, uncharitable soul laid bare. The very same emotions washed over me last Friday when I tuned in to WWL TV’s news rebroadcast and caught Gambit publisher Clancy Dubos staring into the camera; seizing the moment—one he obviously relished and had apparently long awaited—his facial and vocal expressions told it all. Unmasked, Dubos unabashedly declared that he ”rejoiced” at former Mayor Ray Nagin’s indictment.

Mayor Ray Nagin’s story is tragic indeed, and he is guilty alright—guilty of falling for the okey doke, guilty of drinking the Kool Aid dispensed by those master manipulators who meant him no good. Nagin can be labeled guilty of being seduced by those who would skillfully use him against one of his own, guilty of believing that he was, in fact, different. 

Whatever happened to innocence until proven guilty? And where is the same righteous indignation directed at the cesspool that the US Attorney’s office has become with all of the corruption and misconduct that has recently been exposed there?

Confronted with and confounded by the raw disdain and hatred for a Black mayor exposed, I shuddered.

I don’t know what motivates Dubos, but one thing I do know is our fellow publisher is a wordsmith par excellence, and his use of the word rejoice in the instance of Nagin was not made without thought or care. He knew full well the impact the word would have on those listening.

We can only surmise that his bold proclamation was meant to whip up emotions, to pander to the basest instincts of the people, or perhaps to solidify his credibility with the business elite. It has even occurred to us that his toxic barbs were meant to divide a community, that his wild words were hurled out into the universe with the purpose of separating “us” from “them”.

But for me, it became worse. I watched and listened, stunned as Dubos continued—attempting to connect dots where there were none, spouting nonsense about Nagin’s downfall bringing healing and closure to our “beloved” community and long suffering citizens. Dubos says Nagin’s greatest transgression was a trip he took for a few days to Jamaica with family nearly three months after Katrina. This was the worst thing he did?

What a stretch.

Personally, I reserve my condemnation for those high-ranking, well-paid city officials in the current mayoral administration who received obscene overtime pay during Hurricane Isaac despite the fact that many of them already earn six-figure salaries. If anything was a slap in the face of a suffering citizenry, this was it.

Could these references to the mayor seeking rest and respite during a much-deserved, as far as I am concerned, hiatus nearly three months after he had emerged from the stresses and horror of Katrina have been put out there to whip up public sentiment against the mayor and perhaps influence a future jury pool? This belated concern for our long suffering citizens strikes me as hypocritical since we haven’t seen any editorials in the pages of Gambit advocating on the behalf of those most affected by the storm—Black people and poor people.

Our city and all its citizens suffered from forces of nature unleashed. But it was Black and poor people who suffered disproportionately; it was those who had been locked into low-wage tourism jobs with no means of escape and were left on their own when disaster struck who really suffered. Despite what Dubos’ WWL editorial would have us believe, much of this neglect of the citizenry had nothing to do with Nagin. In fact, although he will never get credit for them, many of the construction projects coming to fruition now started under his administration. So for Dubos to flip the script with the intent of tainting public sentiment and further dividing is unconscionable.

It’s interesting to note that African Americans I have talked to since Nagin was indicted do not share the euphoria expressed in the WWL editorial. As a matter of fact, Black folks are sad. And as much as people hold former Mayor Marc Morial in high esteem and approve of his tenure on Perdido Street and as much as they took issue with Nagin’s transgressions against Morial, they see the human frailties at play here and the irony and high drama in what has transpired. They understand on a deep and visceral level what has happened.

And they are sorrowful.

Remember When

It wasn’t that many years ago that Clancy Dubos and the business elite had all but indicted Mayor Marc Morial in the pages of the White-owned media and dining room tables across uptown New Orleans. It was not that long ago that these very same people hounded former District Attorney Eddie Jordan from office because he dared to hire people of his own choosing. It was not that long ago that they did everything in their power in a futile attempt to derail Marc Morial and cut down others in his family along the way. Who can forget the battering in of Jacques Morial’s door during an early morning raid by the feds?

And it wasn’t that long ago that Nagin was the darling of the power brokers at the highest level in our city. They plucked him from a job at Cox Communications, packaged him as a businessman and sold him as the savior for our city. They anointed him, deciding that he was the one who could best serve their interests, at least until they were able to “return” to power. Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, that time came sooner than they had anticipated.
Lest we forget, in the mayoral election of 2002, 80 percent of the White vote went to Ray Nagin.

The situation that we are witnessing today is a sad one on many levels. To us at The Tribune, the Nagin saga has all the elements of tragedy—an African-American tragedy, at that. There is the protagonist who rises from humble origins to a position of power. There is hubris and even the tragic flaw that sets the hero on the doomed and irreversible course. There is the reversal of fortune, a fall from grace and finally enlightment—when the tragic figures recognizes, often too late, not only that he went wrong but exactly when and where he went wrong.

Mayor Ray Nagin’s story is tragic indeed, and he is guilty alright—guilty of falling for the okey doke, guilty of drinking the Kool Aid dispensed by those master manipulators who meant him no good. Nagin can be labeled guilty of being seduced by those who would skillfully use him against one of his own, guilty of believing that he was, in fact, different.
I don’t pretend to know what will happen in this case. I imagine that if there is a trial, more details of the government’s case will be revealed. I hope Mayor Nagin will wage a vigorous defense. I am certain the wheels of justice will turn; and in the end—if it gets this far—a jury will decide his fate. I pray for Nagin and his family, for their well-being. I pray for this city. But I do not . . . I will not . . . I cannot rejoice.

No Time To Gloat

So odd I find it that Dubos would actually use the term rejoice that I was driven to do a bit of research on the concept of celebrating someone else’s troubles. “Schadenfreude.” That is the German word that means “pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.” English words loosely related to it are “scathe” and “scorn”. But its closest English equivalent in meaning is probably “gloating,” to revel in one’s own triumph in a vindictive way or to delight in the misfortune of your enemies.

There is no time for gloating in New Orleans. Not now. We have no victories to claim, and we have been our own worst enemy because of our refusal to do more for those that need it most so that our entire city and all of its denizens could be stronger for it.

As I look at New Orleans, I see very little over which we can rightly rejoice. I can hardly think of one thing happening in our city now that is worthy of a grin, let alone outright joy and delight. New Orleans is drowning under the flood of violent crime—still the murder capital of the country. Our public education system has been hijacked by privateers and does not serve our most vulnerable children—a fact that threatens to hinder us for generations to come. More than 25 percent—one-fourth of the population—lives below the poverty level here. We have the second highest rate of homelessness in the nation even as brand new, redeveloped government-subsidized housing units appear to sit nearly empty.

And I lament because mentioning all these ills that curse the city on these pages seems little more than a waste of newsprint. If Clancy Dubos and others of like-mind dared to care one smidgen about what really weakens New Orleans, what really undermines our city, he . . . they . . . would have no time to rejoice over the tribulations of others.

The New Orleans Tribune

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