Former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin was found guilty Feb. 12 on 20 of 21 federal counts of corruption. And while there is much buzz surrounding the announcement of the verdict, this is no time for elation, to be sure.
The New Orleans Tribune has written about the federal investigation and prosecution of Nagin a few times and has always tried to maintain a fair and balanced viewpoint. Still, we had our opinions. It was unfortunate that Nagin, a former executive with Cox New Orleans who was swept into office with overwhelming support from the White-elite power structure, fell out of favor with his support base. It was ironic that this all occurred about the same time that he spoke openly about ensuring that Black New Orleanians dispersed by Hurricane Katrina would return to this city.
Was it naivety, we wondered, that led Nagin to believe that the shadowy figures that worked behind the scenes to create and launch his political career would not abandon him—even attempt to wound him—if they felt he strayed too far from their script?
Did he not realize that the new paradigm created by Hurricane Katrina rendered him dispensable?
Or was it that he knew as much? Perhaps his “chocolate city” utterance came about because he was fully aware he had become dispensable to those who needed him four short years before because the city’s demographics would shift, giving hope to those who had long abandoned the possibility that New Orleans would ever again have a White mayor.
Despite our musings, our only aspiration was that justice be served. Now, a jury has spoken. A sentence is expected to be handed down in a few months; and we are certain that Nagin and his legal team will avail themselves to all of the legal options before them when all is said and done. Is there some unease with this verdict? Perhaps, but our system of justice has worked its course. Even if we are troubled by the outcome, we believe in the process.
Still, we are disconcerted by the media chatter that centers on what this all means for those individual prosecutors responsible for this case as well as the newly appointed U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Phrases like “feathers in their caps” and “a good way to start” have been bandied about.
Sitting with The New Orleans Tribune shortly before his confirmation, new U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite said that justice, not racking of convictions, was the role of the prosecutor’s office. And now we say prove it!
If justice has been served in the case of Ray Nagin, we simply put forward that there ought to be plenty more in the pot just waiting to be dished out and for crimes far more egregious than accepting gifts of lawn care service, trips and cell phone bill payments.
To be sure, this conviction of Nagin is nothing for federal prosecutors to gloat about—not while the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana still has yet to effectively clean its own house. While the scandal involving former prosecutors Jan Maselli Mann and Sal Perricone under former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten resulted in all three either resigning or retiring from office, a criminal investigation into Mann’s and Perricone’s on-line pseudonymous rants on cases and investigations being pursued by the office have yet to occur. The truth about just what Letten knew and when he knew it has never really come to light. And are there any others still employed by the office who committed the same acts as Mann and Perricone? This conviction of Ray Nagin is nothing for federal prosecutors to rejoice in while it decides not to even try to mete out justice to those rogue cops responsible for the death and ensuing cover-up in the Henry Glover case. It is nothing for federal prosecutors to revel in even as they have allowed a few reprobate attorneys among their own ranks to completely
dismantle the verdicts in the Danzinger Bridge killings. More than anything, the conviction of Ray Nagin is nothing for New Orleanians, in general, and Black New Orleanians, specifically, to celebrate. This is no bruise for the city and its people. What happened on the Danzinger Bridge—now that was a bruise. This—this is one case, one man who will suffer the consequences of his actions, which is more than can be said for others.
For New Orleanians, especially Black New Orleanians, waiting for something to be happy about, allow us to suggest the following:
• Celebrate when a full-service hospital returns to New Orleans East, and when the Lower Ninth Ward no longer looks like a scantily-populated wasteland.
• Get happy when our schools and our children are no longer pawns in an education reform experiment that has been designed to make money for profiteers while our children suffer.
• Get downright jubilant when economic opportunity flows evenly throughout this city, when African-American businesses don’t have to plead for 35 percent, and when African-American workers can find jobs in existing and emerging industries that pay wages that actually allow them to take care of their families.
• Party in the streets like it is Fat Tuesday when New Orleans is no longer the murder capital of the country and when it ceases to be the city with the largest prison population in the state with the largest prison population in the country with the largest prison population.
Finally, forewarning for any folks (yes, especially Black folks) still poised to celebrate, consider this: Just 12 short years ago—when they thought New Orleans would never have another White mayor—C. Ray Nagin was their hand-picked Negro.
If they will come after him, just think what they might do to you.