Columns » Chris Rose

Mayor Ray Nagin, Part I

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I am loath to admit defeat before I even get started, but I'm going to be candid at the outset and inform you that I will not be able to complete this column. At least, not today. Not in one sitting.

  If you want, expect or require closure in your literary pursuits, a nice tidy conclusion with no loose ends or unanswered questions, then you can just go ahead and skip to Clancy's column because there is nothing — nothing — tidy about the story I am about to tell.

  I want to tell a story about the mayor. The man I call C. Race Nagin.

  In truth, I have been trying to tell a story about the mayor for weeks, for months, actually — long before I returned from my temporary retirement from journalism over this past winter. In fact — and this is the truth — I returned from my self-imposed sabbatical because I was/am compelled to talk about the mayor, to get into print some final thoughts here at the sad, divisive and disturbing climax to the Ray Nagin era.

  And here's where I hit the fluster/flummoxed state, and the problem with closure: Every time I start to write about the mayor, he moves the meter. What I mean by that is: Every time I start to write something about him on a Monday and then wrap it up on Tuesday and turn it in to my editors on Wednesday — by that time — he will say something or do something or not do something and, either way, he changes the dynamic once again of his incredibly bizarre and destructive relationship with this city and its residents.

  Ray Nagin is like that really smooth operator we all knew in junior high, the chameleon type who's not quite one or the other; not quite one of the jocks but not one of the nerds either. He passes with equal ease through the stoner, preppy and artsy cliques, hard to pin down precisely who or what he is, a constant shape-shifter.

  He gets good grades but nobody ever sees him study, and despite the fact that everyone seems to bear a hint of resentment or envy (or both) toward him, he still gets plum assignments from the teachers, gets picked for all the teams, gets elected to student government, gets the lead role in the spring play and gets the girl. In short, he gets everything he wants without any apparent effort or particular skill set, and he always looks good getting it. And he never — never — gets his hands or clothes dirty in the process.

  Yeah. That guy.

  Here's the other thing about that guy or — more specifically — our guy, the mayor. He fits perfectly that quip the late Texas governor Ann Richards once said about George Bush — the elder — back when he was running for president in the 1980s: "That poor man: He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple."

  Ray Nagin is so used to getting over on people that he, well, he — and there's no use trying to pretty this part up with euphemism — he thinks you're stupid.

  Ray Nagin sought a second term as mayor because the conventional wisdom (wish?) in the politiratti and the press was: a) He shouldn't run and b) He couldn't win. So he ran. And won. And since then he has never even attempted to give the appearance that he gives a damn. He has never tried to hide his disinterest of, disdain for and distance from the actual process of governing.

  In that regard, you've got to give him that much: He was transparent. His loathing for the electorate was never far from view.

  The politics of governing? That's another matter completely, and Nagin proved himself a master of the game with an uncanny notion for turning everything upside down. He ran for re-election on a platform of unity, while singlehandedly creating the biggest racial divide this city has seen since the civil rights era.

  He made the public release of the private emails of three City Council members an explosive, urgent, divisive and hostile political issue. Meanwhile, he successfully engineered the complete erasure of his own electronic communications and files, a measure that was illegal, unethical and extremely wise.

  He has held fast to the notion that a Shadow Government has worked to undermine his administration from the beginning. It is a constant and bleating refrain. He claims the Inspector General's office has been co-opted by his enemies. He claims "There has been a concerted effort to minimize my accomplishments" by, well ... by whom?

  He hasn't told us yet. He won't say. And when challenged on the matter, he stands down. Because he can. Because he's gotten away with it all this time. Because he has never given even a hint of respect to the notion of the burden of proof. Because he thinks you, me and everyone else — is stupid. And, in re-electing him to a second term, we might have proved him correct.

  And I am out of space.

  I told you I wouldn't be able to finish this story in one sitting. Because the story keeps changing. Because, between now and the next issue of this newspaper, he will say or do or not do something that keeps us scratching our heads, wondering just what the hell is going on inside of that shiny head of his.

  It's a mystery for the ages. A thriller. A self-romance. A whodunit. Or, in this case, maybe a whodidntdoit.

  Either way, this is the end of Chapter One. Stay tuned next week.

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