Faith, hope and stung: The failed promise of Ray Nagin
On Feb. 12, 2014, former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was found guilty of 20 counts of federal corruption charges for illegal dealings with city vendors — specifically, for accepting bribes in return for favorable treatment — and for filing false income-tax returns. Nagin, who had served two terms as mayor, was the first in the city’s 300-year history to be convicted of public corruption. He was found guilty of 20 of 21 counts and could have faced up to 20 years in prison.
Nagin was sentenced to 10 years in prison, which he is serving in the Federal Correction Institution in Texarkana, Texas. He entered the prison in September 2014 and is scheduled for release in 2024. He maintains his innocence.
- Nagin’s first name, which he never uses, is Clarence.
- He had never held public office before being elected New Orleans’ mayor in 2002. At the time he announced his candidacy, he was controller of Cox New Orleans, which holds the local cable-television franchise, and was seen by many voters as an outsider candidate who would bring common-sense business practices to the often overly bureaucratic City Hall.
- At the start of the first of his two terms in office, Nagin looked poised to deliver on many of his campaign promises, including — ironically — a crackdown on corruption in the city’s auto-inspection and taxi-licensing agencies.
- Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans during his first term, and Nagin frequently lashed out at people at all levels of government for failing to respond quickly enough to the city’s plight. In his self-published memoir, “Katrina’s Secrets: Storms After the Storm,” he depicted himself as the only elected official with a grasp of what was happening.
- Because the memoir was self-published, it didn’t receive the editorial going-over to which a publisher might have subjected it. Perhaps that explains the presence of this sentence, in which Nagin describes the wrecked Superdome roof after Katrina slammed it: “It looked like a mound of rice floating in a bowl of gumbo that was a sea of rancid water and debris.”
- In the first post-Katrina observance of the national holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Nagin made headlines for a speech in which he predicted that New Orleans would become a “chocolate city” — a city with a black majority. “It’s the way God wants it to be,” he said. While that sentiment was well-received by many New Orleanians of color, it also alienated many white voters.
- According to the latest census figures, for 2010, African-Americans make up 60 percent of the city’s population, and white, non-Hispanic New Orleanians account for 30 percent.
- After leaving City Hall, Nagin — a New Orleans native — left the city for good, moving with his family to Frisco, Texas, a suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth.
- During his time in office, Ray Nagin was a sound-bite machine — so much so that he even inspired an actual NOLA.com sound-bite machine. Mouse over the quotes below to hear some of Nagin’s more memorable lines:
Nagin turned out to be a colossal disappointment to voters. His first campaign, and the promise he exuded, excited people, who treated him like a rock star. At the 2002 Rex ball, the grandees of the predominantly white organization and their wives queued up for face time with the African-American candidate, whom many saw him as a savior who would deliver the city from a politically corrupt past. After Katrina, Nagin became the voice for his fellow New Orleanians when he railed against the lack of federal assistance. Then the investigation of his own corruption began. The result confirmed people’s suspicions about politicians’ venality and gave people yet another reason to be cynical about local government. At the same time, his 2014 conviction, in its own odd way, offered a ray of hope that maybe Nagin had ushered in a new day in local politics, after all, and one in which corrupt politicians wouldn’t be tolerated by the city — starting with him.