Mayor Ray Nagin only thought he was getting rid of Kimberly Williamson Butler when he fired her in 2003 as his chief administrative officer. Her lawsuit against Nagin for wrongful termination followed, but was dismissed. Now she's back again -- rested and ready and running against him for mayor.
In these post-Katrina times, particularly in the realm of politics, the line between insanity and reality has become so blurred that no amount of goofiness surprises anymore. Lord knows Nagin has done his share to blur those lines -- think about his deer-in-the-headlights response during the storm, followed by his "chocolate city" and "God's punishing America for Iraq" remarks. But if any such lines remain, Butler has erased them altogether.
One doubts that Nagin feels threatened politically by Butler, but one also has to wonder what someone of her, um, unpredictability might say on the campaign trail. Then again, who could have predicted some of Nagin's own weirdness after Katrina?
There's also the possibility that Butler's presence in the race will only serve to remind voters of one of the biggest mistakes of Nagin's amateurish first term. After all, he pretty much created this political bride of Frankenstein when he named her CAO and stuck by her even after reports surfaced of her strange behavior. Then, when he botched her dismissal -- and blabbed to reporters about her medical problems -- he made her a martyr and all but assured her a political career. That career has now come full circle.
Now she'll be at all the debates, a testament to his bad judgment -- and she'll be doing all she can to tear his heart out. Hell hath no fury.
The good news, if you can call it that, is that as long as Butler is running no one can call Nagin the most irrational candidate in the race. Butler skipped town more than a week ago to dodge an arrest warrant issued by the judges she serves as clerk of Criminal District Court. The judges ordered her arrest after she refused to attend a hearing, and that was after she reneged on a promise to let her predecessor, appellate Judge Edwin Lombard, take over negotiations with FEMA to clean up the court's evidence room, which flooded during Katrina.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Before Katrina, Butler used official funds to remodel her office -- and tried to hide it from this newspaper. We sued her to force her to turn over public records, and she didn't even deign to show up in court. (Dissing judges must be a favorite tack of hers.) The case settled with her agreement to turn over the records and pay our attorney's fees. We finally got the records, but she has yet to pay the legal fees -- which she is required to do by law.
Now she's painting herself as a reformer.
"For 17 years I've been a revitalization specialist," Butler told reporters just before qualifying for mayor. "When I was pushed out of City Hall for trying to do the right thing, I chose to stay here. Then Katrina wiped out my home and I chose to come back."
Revitalization specialist? This, from the clerk who couldn't deliver voting machines on time for the Sept. 18, 2004, primary elections -- and then blamed everyone else for the debacle.
I can't decide whether Butler's break from reality is scarier than it is funny, or funnier than it is scary. It may depend on whether you think she actually has a chance to win.
Or whether your name is Ray Nagin.