[Editor's Note: Clancy DuBos is publisher of New Orleans' Gambit.]
We’re not supposed to rejoice at the suffering of others, but the federal indictment of former Mayor Ray Nagin last Friday was nonetheless a cause for a celebration of sorts. Not because Nagin may suffer for his alleged crimes — though he should suffer if he’s convicted — but because now there will be a reckoning.
Now, finally, that clueless, narcissistic poseur will be called to account for some of his many sins against New Orleans.
Oh, happy day.
According to the 21-count indictment, Nagin took more than $200,000 in bribes from at least four city contractors to whom he steered recovery contracts after Hurricane Katrina. All four of them — Rodney Williams, Frank Fradella, Mark St. Pierre and Aaron Bennett — have already been convicted on various federal charges, some of them linked directly to Nagin’s indictment. He also allegedly got free private jet travel and limos (collectively worth more than $20,000) from Businessman A in exchange for favorable tax treatment by City Hall.
Friday’s indictment includes six counts of bribery, nine counts of deprivation of honest services through wire fraud, four counts of filing false tax returns, one count of conspiracy and one count of money laundering. He faces decades behind bars if convicted on all counts.
The indictment does not charge Nagin’s two sons, Jeremy and Jarin, but it obliquely refers to them as Family Members 1 and 2 — who allegedly got $10,000 in cash from Williams. Nagin foolishly declined a plea deal that reportedly would have let his sons walk, but they’re not out of the woods yet. They could still stand trial alongside their father if there’s a superseding indictment.
As horrible as all that sounds for Nagin, he will not be punished for his greatest crimes. For example, he will never pay for flying his entire family to Jamaica, first class, on St. Pierre’s dime, just 82 days after Katrina so that he could chill while thousands of his constituents struggled to get back to their flood-ravaged homes. In fact, he never even apologized for that now-infamous act of indifference. Clearly, the guy had a profoundly misplaced sense of entitlement as mayor.
He’ll also never be held accountable for completely bungling our city’s post-Katrina recovery, for setting us back years because he was more concerned about himself than his city. For hiring the equally narcissistic and bombastic Ed Blakely. For destroying — or allowing the destruction of — public records that were requested of his administration. For the post-Katrina New Orleans Affordable Homeownership scandal. Or for the corrupt crime camera debacle that his now-convicted IT chief, Greg Meffert, foisted on us with his partner-in-crime St. Pierre. Ironically, St. Pierre and Meffert may testify against Nagin at trial. There’s some justice in that.
None of this is pleasant. So why do I rejoice?
I rejoice because maybe, just maybe, the justice that Nagin now faces may help dry the tears shed by the thousands he let down so completely, whose trust he betrayed so unconscionably, whose futures he sold out so reprehensibly, whose needs he ignored so cavalierly.
I rejoice because, at long last, the grifter who cowed in the face of great challenge, who thought only of himself while the city and the people he swore to serve faced their darkest hour, will now be held to account.
I rejoice for the reckoning that I pray will come. But mostly I rejoice in the hope that Nagin’s demise will bring a healing, a closure, to our beloved city and its deeply wounded people.
Oh, happy day.
A VERY SPECIAL HAT TIP: Huge props are due local blogger Jason Berry, whose American Zombie investigative blog was the first to expose Nagin, Meffert, St. Pierre and others for many of the allegations now contained in the federal indictment of Nagin. Bloggers are too often disparaged for their free-wheeling commentary and not often enough given their due for their groundbreaking investigative work. Berry deserves the thanks and praise of all honest New Orleanians. Without him this day might never have come.
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.