Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Mayor Lied and People Died

I generally do not watch “Meet the Press” on Sunday mornings, frankly because I am either asleep or watching football pre-game shows. Football is king in this household and Sunday is more then just a day of rest but that is another post for another time. Since I rarely watch the “Meet the Press” live, I subscribe to the podcast or audio of the show through iTunes. Therefore, as it was I listened to the podcast late in the evening on Sunday and became so outraged I had a hard time falling asleep.

The primary guest on the show with Tim Russert was the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin. You can find the transcript of the show here, but rest assured I will be quoting from it quite a bit to illustrate exactly how incompetent Mr. Nagin is. From reading the bio of Nagin on Wikipedia, it seems that he was once an upper level business manager for Cox Communications and a registered Republican. Given the whining and bitching that this man has done over the last 15 days I find it very hard to believe that this man ever was a Republican or believed in some of our core values like personal responsibility and self-reliance from government. I think he switched parties to get elected in a predominantly Democrat city, especially after reading that he was hesitant to back John Kerry in 2004. Who knows and at this point, who cares? Regardless of his party affiliation, he is a disgrace to elected officials everywhere and that is the message of this post.

This man is so far removed from the reality that the rest of us share that he comes off in the interview as a drowning man trying to stay afloat. Maybe he thinks that if he can be in the front and center during the rebuilding of New Orleans then his citizens will forgive him and re-elect him when they are able to hold elections again. This man is living in paranoia since the hurricane hit New Orleans and even claimed the CIA might “take him out” because he yelled at President Bush. In fact as the below quote shows, he is even willing to play the race card and then back off when challenged.

MR. RUSSERT: You had said earlier that you didn't think that race was a factor in the preparation and evacuation, and yet you had given an interview to the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, and let me read it for you and our viewers.

"Definitely class, and the more I think about it, definitely race played into this. If it's race, fine, let's call a spade a spade, a diamond a diamond. We can never let this happen again. Even if you hate black people and you are in a leadership position, this did not help anybody."

Who in the leadership position hates black people?

MAYOR NAGIN: Well, you know, I don't know who hates black people, but I will just tell you this, that I think the imagery that came out across the nation portrayed that this was primarily poor black people that were affected. And I don't know if that affected the response or not. But I got really upset when I heard about some of our residents walking to one of the parish lines and were turned back by attack dogs and armed guys with machine guns. Then the secretary of Homeland Security came and he asked me to meet him at Zephyr Field, which is near the Saints' training facility. And when I walked over there, I just started to pay attention to things and I saw porterlets that we didn't have. I saw ice. To this day, Tim, no one has dropped one piece of ice in the city of New Orleans to give some people relief. I saw lights that we were begging for for the Superdome and for the Convention Center that made that a horrific environment. I saw all of that sitting on the ground and not moving to New Orleans. So someone has to explain that.

MR. RUSSERT: And you think those decisions were based on race?

MAYOR NAGIN: You know, I don't know, but I'm hearing all sorts of weird things right now, like, you know, they're going to build--what is it called?--a huge trailer park somewhere in the woods of mid- Louisiana and they're going to bring all the people back that have been dispersed and they're going to create this tent city, if you will. And, you know, for the most part, that would be a huge mistake because here in Texas, where I am, I have viewed these shelters and our people are getting much better care--hospital care, housing care, support--than they would in some huge tent city or trailer park that they build in the middle of Louisiana.

Sounds to me like the mayor is pretending to be a little boy who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and now just wants to forget it happen. The fact is that Nagin failed his city in a time of crisis by not trying to use all resources available as well as not following his own plan for evacuating New Orleans. When he is point-blank asked what mistakes he made, after Russert referenced a Time magazine poll showing that most Americans blame state and local officials for the poor response, he ducks the question and tries to place the blame back on the federal government. Read the entire exchange below.

MR. RUSSERT: What's the biggest mistake you made?

MAYOR NAGIN: My biggest mistake is having a fundamental assumption that in the state of Louisiana, with an $18 billion budget, in the country of the United States that can move whole fleets of aircraft carriers across the globe in 24 hours, that my fundamental assumption was get as many people to safety as possible, and that the cavalry would be coming within two to three days, and they didn't come.

MR. RUSSERT: Many people point, Mr. Mayor, that on Friday before the hurricane, President Bush declared an impending disaster. And The Houston Chronicle wrote it this way. "[Mayor Nagin's] mandatory evacuation order was issued 20 hours before the storm struck the Louisiana coast, less than half the time researchers determined would be needed to get everyone out. City officials had 550 municipal buses and hundreds of additional school buses at their disposal but made no plans to use them to get people out of New Orleans before the storm, said Chester Wilmot, a civil engineering professor at Louisiana State University and an expert in transportation planning, who helped the city put together its evacuation plan." And we've all see this photograph of these submerged school buses. Why did you not declare, order, a mandatory evacuation on Friday, when the president declared an emergency, and have utilized those buses to get people out?

MAYOR NAGIN: You know, Tim, that's one of the things that will be debated. There has never been a catastrophe in the history of New Orleans like this. There has never been any Category 5 storm of this magnitude that has hit New Orleans directly. We did the things that we thought were best based upon the information that we had. Sure, here was lots of buses out there. But guess what? You can't find drivers that would stay behind with a Category 5 hurricane, you know, pending down on New Orleans. We barely got enough drivers to move people on Sunday, or Saturday and Sunday, to move them to the Superdome. We barely had enough drivers for that. So sure, we had the assets, but the drivers just weren't available.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Mr. Mayor, if you read the city of New Orleans' comprehensive emergency plan-- and I've read it and I'll show it to you and our viewers--it says very clearly, "Conduct of an actual evacuation will be the responsibility of the mayor of New Orleans. The city of New Orleans will utilize all available resources to quickly and safely evacuate threatened areas. Special arrangements will be made to evacuate persons unable to transport themselves or who require specific life-saving assistance. Additional personnel will be recruited to assist in evacuation procedure as needed. Approximately 100,000 citizens of New Orleans do not have means of personal transportation."

It was your responsibility. Where was the planning? Where was the preparation? Where was the execution?

I have a question for Mr. Nagin, what happen to you sense of duty to your fellow citizens? It is easy to play the blame game and say it was not my fault, everyone does it and I am sure I will accused of such by the leftists that read this post, I have already defined my response to Hurricane Katrina and it includes possibility leaving my family to help rebuild New Orleans however long it takes. Men and women who exhibit leadership are more concerned with results and to Hell with politics when lives are on the line. Regardless or the consequences or the politic fallout, Nagin should have used ever resource available to him. He had resources at his disposal that were never used but available thanks to the President declaring the entire gulf region a federal emergency almost 3 days before the storm made landfall. Look at this except below from the “Meet the Press” interview when the conversation turns once again to resources that could have been used to evacuate people.

MR. RUSSERT: Amtrak said they offered to remove people from the city of New Orleans on Saturday night and that the city of New Orleans declined.

MAYOR NAGIN: I don't know where that's coming from. Amtrak never contacted me to make that offer. As a matter of fact, we checked the Amtrak lines for availability, and every available train was booked, as far as the report that I got, through September. So I'd like to see that report.

MR. RUSSERT: They said they were moving equipment out of New Orleans in order to protect it and offered to take evacuees with them.

MAYOR NAGIN: I have never gotten that call, Tim, and I would love to have had that call. But it never happened.

A skeptic might say that Russert set him up but in my opinion, Tim Russert is above that level of journalism. I might not agree with his politics most of the time but in my book, Tim Russert is a class act. Ray Nagin is another story all together. He was elected on a pledge to rid New Orleans of corruption and governmental abuses but in the end, he has become his own governmental abuse as he failed his citizens when they needed strong leadership most.

Cross-posted at The Wide Awakes.

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