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Hizzoner's Pandering

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Politicians have complained for years that newspapers quote them out of context. Now that a videotape has surfaced showing the entirety of Mayor Ray Nagin's speech two weeks ago to an industry group of black newspaper executives, he cannot hide behind the familiar whine that he was misquoted. Apparently unaware that he was being taped, Nagin told the group that the slow pace of recovery in New Orleans is part of a plan to change the racial makeup and political leadership in this city and others. "They are studying this model, this model of a natural disaster dispersing a community and changing the electoral process in that community," Nagin said, adding coded references to "the golden boy" and "our people" and "other folks" and "y'all know what I'm talking about."

Nagin's remarks touched off another round of "there he goes again" criticisms and evoked the firestorm that followed his infamous "chocolate city" remarks on Martin Luther King Day in 2006. He seems to relish that kind of controversy, blithely unaware of how much it damages his city -- and people of all races who live here.

The mayor initially said he was quoted out of context. However, the videotape makes it plain to any rational viewer that he was pandering to an all-black audience. WDSU even interviewed an African-American UNO professor of urban studies, Dr. Andre Perry, who watched the tape and said that Nagin's remarks were "clearly racial." Nagin's claim that he "meant nothing racial" is absurd on its face and shows him capable of profound intellectual dishonesty.

Once again, New Orleans must pay a hefty price because Ray Nagin pandered to an audience for his own self-aggrandizement. Lest anyone forget, it was his failure to craft and implement an effective evacuation plan that left thousands of poor, black New Orleanians at the mercy of Katrina and a slow federal response. If Nagin truly wants to be the mayor of "one New Orleans," as he claims, then he needs to start preaching just one message -- using exactly the same words and overtones -- to all audiences. Election Recommendations

Voters in Orleans and Jefferson parishes go to the polls for special elections this Saturday (March 31). In New Orleans, voters will choose a new Civil District Court judge and a state representative in House District 94. The legislative race will determine a successor to veteran state Rep. Emile "Peppi" Bruneau, who decided to retire early after 31 years in the House. Bruneau's abrupt resignation triggered a March 10 primary. His son, Jeb Bruneau, now faces Nick Lorusso in the runoff this Saturday. In Jefferson Parish, voters will be asked to renew three existing property tax millages for public schools, drainage and parks and recreation.

Gambit Weekly takes no position in judicial elections because of our longstanding belief that judges should be appointed, not elected.

In House District 94, we affirm our endorsement of Nick Lorusso. The district includes all of Lakeview and City Park, most of the lakefront neighborhoods and parts of Gentilly and Mid-City. A 39-year-old attorney and Army veteran, Lorusso is a lifelong resident of District 94 and a member of the Judge Advocate General's Corps of the U.S. Army. Lorusso served in the JAG Corps as a military prosecutor and special assistant U.S. Attorney, and he has been called to active duty three times since graduating from law school. He currently holds the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves. We believe his military background has prepared him well to lead in these challenging times.

As a civilian, Lorusso has been active in his community as a coach of youth athletic teams, as a fund-raiser for the National World War II Museum and as a member of various civic associations. A Republican, he has the endorsement of the Alliance for Good Government and a thorough knowledge of the issues that are so important to this district.

We have great respect for retiring Rep. Bruneau and his son. But, as we noted in the primary, we are deeply troubled by the circumstances surrounding the timing of this election -- and particularly by the fact that Rep. Bruneau is effectively deserting his post at a very critical time in our city's history. He waited until Jan. 19 to resign, setting up a "quickie" special election that seemed orchestrated to give his son every possible advantage. We believe that has cast a cloud over both father and son, and we therefore urge our readers in District 94 to elect Nick Lorusso state representative this Saturday.

In Jefferson, we recommend citizens vote for the renewal of the three millages. The public school system seeks renewal of a parishwide 4-mill tax for 10 years to fund technology, buildings and capital improvements. The parish Department of Parks and Recreation derives 92 percent of its annual budget from a 10-mill tax that pays for dozens of playgrounds, picnic shelters, ball fields, tracks, trails and other amenities. The 6-mill drainage tax generates 44 percent of the parish drainage budget, which includes maintenance and operation of 50 pumping stations, hundreds of miles of canals, grass cutting and ongoing capital improvements. A vote for renewal will not raise existing property taxes, but it will continue needed services and help maintain Jefferson's quality of life.

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