Call it Ray Nagin's year of living angrily. It started in February, when WWL-TV reporter Lee Zurik got hold of Hizzoner's daily schedule from 2007, and it showed, well, a lot of down time. In particular, there were a lot of Fridays and Mondays with not a whole lot scheduled — adding fuel to already rampant speculation that Nagin spent weekends with his family in Dallas, where he has a second home.
Even before Zurik's story aired, Nagin lost it — mostly in response to station promos that featured this writer calling Nagin's schedule an embarrassment and proof that he is "disengaged" from the job. Truth is, Zurik's piece was balanced by positive comments from Dillard professor Gary Clark, who said the schedule reflected the mayor's hands-off management style.
But Nagin didn't wait to see the story air. He sounded off on WWL Morning News by threatening to have "a good one-on-one" with the station's news director. It went downhill from there. A few excerpts:
• "I am sick of this. I've been busting my butt to bring this city back. ... This is ridiculous. It's personal, it's vindictive, the election is over and if you supported someone else, get over it."
• "It's crossed the line. ... It's gotten personal now. I don't appreciate the fact that I'm being exposed and my family is being exposed. That was not part of this deal."
• "If someone approaches me wrong, I'm just gonna cold cock 'em. That's the bottom line. You can come with that foolishness if you want, but you're gonna see a side of Ray Nagin you've never seen."
• "I don't know if I can work any harder than I am right now."
After Zurik's story aired, Nagin cancelled his regular appearances on the highly rated Morning News and started appearing in friendlier settings on other stations. One of the more telling quips during his final WWL-TV appearance was the comment, "This is about Ray Nagin."
Yeah, it always is, isn't it?
Take, for example, his alleged welcome speech to promoters of V-Day, the 10th anniversary celebration of The Vagina Monologues, which was held in New Orleans. At a press conference announcing the event, Nagin couldn't resist the temptation to turn the spotlight on himself rather than the millions of women who were honored by the play, pronouncing himself "a vagina-friendly mayor."
Then, in May, it was back to the spleen. When he appeared on a national panel to discuss homelessness, which had reached epic proportions in downtown New Orleans — with a tent city encamped right below his office window — he proposed as a solution, "Find some bus tickets." Here's the best part: The conference was a gathering of public relations professionals.
In June we learned the mayor sometimes filled his schedule lunching with his wife Seletha — on the taxpayers' dime, thanks to a city-provided credit card. He, of course, defended the lunches as job-related.
Perhaps the most surreal moment of the year came in August, when Nagin was presented with the "Excellence in Recovery Host Committee's Award of Distinction for Recovery, Courage, and Leadership."
Turns out one of his sycophants decided to throw a party in his honor, but the only way to get real dignitaries to agree to serve on the "host committee" was to lie to them about the real purpose of the party. After promising to honor "Katrina survivors" at the event, the organizer sent out invitations asking folks to attend a party in Nagin's honor for his alleged recovery heroics — while the storm's "survivors" got short shrift. The party immediately became a laughingstock.
Later that same month, as Hurricane Gustav approached south Louisiana, Nagin called it "the mother of all storms" and warned looters that they would be sent directly to Angola State Penitentiary.
Finally, in November and December, Hizzoner lost it several times with the City Council over the council's refusal to pass his budget as submitted. He accused Councilwoman Stacy Head of making racist remarks, even as he admitted he had not yet seen a video of the council budget hearing in which his sanitation director, Veronica White, insulted Head and stormed out of the council chamber. No such remarks were uttered by Head. When the council amended his budget, he petulantly chided them at the eleventh hour — after making no appearances during any of the budget hearings. And when the council overrode his vetoes, he pronounced the override meaningless because he controls the checkbook.
His vetoes, by the way, undercut the DA's office, the Public Defender Program, sanitation in the French Quarter, after-school programs, NORD swimming programs and more.
Man, that's one angry mayor.