(This is an advance copy of my Politics column in the next issue of Gambit Weekly.)





I suppose if Idi Amin’s Uganda could hold a seat on the UN Commission on Human Rights (1977-79), then Mayor Ray Nagin easily qualifies for an award for “Recovery, Courage and Leadership” in post-Katrina New Orleans. Nagin has never been accused of cannibalism (as was Amin), but he does seem to harbor a despot’s narcissistic streak and thus a taste for undeserved if not wholly fabricated honors.


How else to explain the news last week that Nagin is slated to receive a brand-new “Award of Distinction for Recovery, Courage and Leadership” this weekend — as part of a soiree marking the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina?


That news came as quite a shock to local bloggers, who, once they stopped laughing (many believed it was a joke), exposed the whole idea for the sham that it obviously is. It seems that Bernardo Wade, a French Quarter photographer who has made a cottage industry of being Nagin’s “personal photographer,” got things rolling by asking some high-profile business and political types to serve on a committee to honor “Katrina survivors.”


Who would refuse to lend his or her name to such a cause?


Certainly not City Council President Jackie Clarkson or former Entergy New Orleans CEO Dan Packer, who were listed as “honorary co-chairs” of the event. The names of several dozen other luminaries likewise grace the invitation as the “host committee.”


Then came the old bait-and-switch.


When invitations went out for a party this Friday evening at the Ritz-Carlton’s rooftop penthouse of businessman and philanthropist Stewart Juneau, it noted that retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, whom many lionize for restoring order in New Orleans after Katrina, will present Nagin with the award. The invitation noted that “Katrina Survivors” also will be honored, but none were actually named — and Nagin’s “award” got top billing.


Among the many ironies in all this is the fact that most New Orleanians would gladly pin an award on Honoré’s chest. The whole thing reminds me of the familiar caricature of Third World generalissimos who invent military honors to bestow upon themselves just so they can parade about with a bunch of medals on their chests. Amin took that notion to absurd lengths, giving himself a string of inflated titles as well —Member of the Excellent Order of the Source of the Nile, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas, Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular, to name but a few.


Nagin will never be remembered for being the beast that Amin was, but he’s about as delusional if he thinks anybody beyond his small circle of sycophants actually deems him worthy of an award for “courage and leadership” after Katrina.


Contacted last week after the invitations became public, Clarkson distanced herself from the Nagin award. “I was expecting to be on a host committee to honor Katrina survivors,” she said. “I love Mr. Bernardo, and when he asked me to be on a committee to honor Katrina survivors, there was no mention of the mayor, and no mention of me being co-chair.


“I don’t think we ought to be honoring the mayor,” she continued. “I think if we’re honoring anybody, it ought to start with the survivors [of the storm], and then the first responders, then the neighborhood and faith-based leaders. Not the government. Not the government.”


Good for her.


Now, if we can just get through to Generalissimo Nagin…

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