Just in time for Twelfth Night, Mayor Ray Nagin and Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard have brought us their own brand of political carnival, the Krewe of Arrogance, and they're parading daily. But, instead of tossing trinkets to the crowds, Nagin is dispensing fat patronage to his cronies and Broussard is squeezing dough from his underlings.
Welcome to the dark side of Mardi Gras.
Nagin's arrogance has been palpable for some time, but he seems to have picked up the pace in the face of his own political mortality. The term-limited mayor has less than 120 days left in office — if the feds don't take him out first — and he appears finally to be in a hurry to get something done before he leaves. Unfortunately for the long-suffering masses, Nagin's newfound energy and focus seem directed solely at benefiting his pals rather than the citizenry.
The latest example of Nagin's misplaced vigor is Hizzoner's determination to turn over the shuttered Municipal Auditorium, a city-owned jewel that badly needs renovation and restoration in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to several of his top supporters. The supporters include developer Stewart Juneau, jazz maestro (and Library Board chair) Irvin Mayfield, and Nagin's "personal photographer" Bernardo Wade, who, with Juneau, snookered a passel of local luminaries into lending their names to a trumped-up awards ceremony for Nagin in the summer of 2008 — the one proclaiming Nagin a hero of Katrina. It just goes to show that if you stroke a powerful man's ego, you never know what you can get in return.
In the case of Juneau, Mayfield and Wade, Nagin initially proposed giving them exclusive dominion over the auditorium for 50 years in a contract potentially worth millions to each man — after a dubious "request for proposals" by the city netted just one reply: from Juneau, Mayfield and Wade. Juneau at least has some chops as a developer; he remade the old Maison Blanche Building into the Ritz-Carlton hotel, which is among the city's finest. And Mayfield's experience as a musician and club owner arguably qualify him to turn portions of the auditorium into a cultural center of sorts. But what, exactly, does Wade bring to the dance?
Last week, Nagin proposed revamping vast portions of the proposed contract with his palsy triumvirate. The revisions (as well as the tainted original plan) drew stinging criticism from the Office of Inspector General, who called the revised plan "a contract for nothing." The OIG was especially critical of Wade's share, which could reach $3 million for "consulting."
That's a lot of party pics, dude.
Meanwhile, Broussard has been staging a reverse Mardi Gras of sorts over in Jefferson. Instead of tossing goodies to the crowds, he has reprised Huey Long's fabled Deduct Box — fetching $100 each from dozens of top unclassified administrators every Christmas and treating himself to some yuletide cheer with the booty. This year, he was showered with $4,775 in gift certificates for travel, meals and clothing. Isn't that nice?
For his part, Broussard avers that it's all in the spirit of Kris Kringle, but nobody believes that for a minute. When his right-hand man (parish CAO Tim Whitmer, who's in the feds' crosshairs for his insurance fee-splitting shenanigans) makes a list and checks it twice to see who's ponying up and who isn't, that kinda kicks Kris Kringle right in his bells — and exposes Broussard and Whitmer as grinches rather than Christmas elves.
If all this weren't so painfully ham-fisted, it might be funny.
I bet U.S. Attorney Jim Letten isn't laughing.