[This is an early peek at my column for this week, which otherwise wont be on the Web until Monday afternoon.]
Okay, now we know. Now we know exactly why New Orleans recovery is taking so long. Its because our mayor has been disengaged from the get-go. Not just six months or a year after The Storm, but from Day One.
No big surprise there, but its still maddening to be reminded of it as blatantly as we were last week, when Nagin fessed up that, while it was kind of a blur, he did recall jetting off to Jamaica on Nov. 18, 2005, with his wife and children all on the dime of a guy with a fat city contract for crime cameras that seldom worked and ran millions over budget.
Three-and-a-half years post-Katrina, were all weary of Nagins paralyzing incompetence and self-absorbed indifference. Many no longer bother to complain. They just want to move on. Thats understandable. In less than a year, well have a new mayor. Hope springs eternal.
But Ive got a few post-K rants left in me, and this one cant be contained.
Granted, after three-and-a-half years of Nagins pathological narcissism, his complete and utter detachment from anything remotely resembling reality coupled with his reckless, feckless, mindless destructiveness on a scale heretofore unimagined in American politics most of us are numb to his administrations pandemic inertia and his own contemptible lack of responsibility, vision and leadership not to mention his arrogant remorselessness. I mean, you can lose it only so many times before your family and friends lock you up for your own good, right? At some point, for the sake of our own sanity, many of us became inured to Nagins insanity.
Then I see him saying that his trip to Jamaica a mere 81 days after Katrina is a blur. On one level, that comment echoes his ongoing I dont remember shtick with regard to his freeloading vacation binges. On another level, its the perfect metaphor for his entire second term as mayor. Jetting off to Hawaii, Chicago, Jamaica all courtesy of Mark St. Pierre, who, thanks to his former business partner-turned-city technology boss Greg Meffert, landed lucrative city contracts while Meffert charged the Nagin trips and much more to a credit card from one of St. Pierres companies well, I can see where a guy might lose his focus.
As for the rest of us, we remember all to clearly what it was like 81 days after Katrina:
Most New Orleanians were struggling to find a way back home, many not knowing if or when they would ever get to return.
Thousands were slipping into post-traumatic stress worrying about or mourning loved ones and neighbors lost.
Hundreds of institutions and thousands of businesses were working round the clock to dry out, clean up and reopen, anxiously awaiting some sign of leadership from City Hall.
Scores of corpses lay rotting in attics, automobiles, flooded-out homes and weed-choked fields, waiting to be discovered.
And, in our darkest hour, countless volunteers from across America poured out their hearts, opened their wallets and gave up their vacations in a spontaneous display of our nations greatness.
While all that was happening in New Orleans, our deadbeat, deer-in-the-headlights mayor was lounging on Jamaicas sands, sipping some fruity drink with an umbrella in it and blithely ignoring our plight.
Eighty-one days after Katrina, while New Orleans wept, life was a beach for Ray Nagin.
It all may be a blur to Hizzoner now, but things are coming sharply into focus for the rest of us: Theres not a jail cell dank enough for this guy.