Ray Nagin’s Remarks

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has apologized for remarks he made yesterday in which he appeared A) to be channeling the Lord a la Pat Robertson, and B) doing so in the service of racial segregation.

Not the best combination.

Fortunately, the mayor came to his senses. In fact, it sounds like what the mayor says he meant to say was, if not exactly completely noncontroversial (what does Iraq have to do with hurricanes?), far more appropriate:

The mayor said his speech was really meant to convey that blacks were a vital part of New Orleans’ history and culture and should be encouraged to return. “I want everyone to be welcome in New Orleans – black, white, Asian, everybody,” he said.

Nagin said the other main point he had hoped to make Monday was that when blacks do return, they must work to stamp out the crime and political infighting that have held them back.

Earlier today, Project 21 had this to say about the Mayor’s controversial comments:

Black Cleric Derides New Orleans Mayor’s “God is Mad at America” Assertion as “Plantation Politics”

A clergyman affiliated with the black leadership network Project 21 is questioning the sincerity of New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin in light of comments Nagin made during a city observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.

During the January 16 event, Mayor Nagin said: “Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane, and it’s destroyed and put stress on our country.”

“Mayor Nagin is a politician who rightly came under fire for numerous missteps surrounding Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Now he is practicing plantation politics in an attempt to keep his job,” said Project 21 member Council Nedd. Nedd is a bishop of the Anglican Church Worldwide.

Mimicking Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who charged during a September 2, 2005 press conference that God “cannot be pleased” with the Bush Administration with regard to hurricane aid efforts, Mayor Nagin sought to politicized God by adding, “Surely He doesn’t approve of us being in Iraq under false pretenses.”

Nagin found blame with the black community as well, saying, “But surely he is upset at black America also. We’re not taking care of ourselves.”

Nedd commented: “As a priest and a bishop, I am very interested in hearing when people get a word from the Lord. So when Mayor Nagin said God is mad at America, it intrigued me because, in the book of Genesis, God says he will never again destroy the earth by flood.”

Nedd further questioned Mayor Nagin’s message that God also wants a “chocolate New Orleans,” referring to the city’s predominantly-black makeup prior to Katrina. Demographic predictions suggest the rebuilt city will be smaller and more racially diverse.

“I’m sure that I do not have to tell Mayor Nagin this, but the true beauty of New Orleans is that it has always existed as a blend of people and cultures,” said Nedd. “I will even go as far as to say that it was probably the first city in America approximating a true melting pot. Why mess with this success?”…

Political consultant Ed Renwick of Loyola University’s Institute of Politics was quoted in numerous newspapers about the mayor’s somewhat freewheeling speaking style:

He also tends to speak to the literal audience he’s with at the time instead of the whole world he reaches through the TV, radio and print media.

Mayor Nagin would not be the first politician to have this problem. (Trent Lott comes to mind.) The solution is to develop a core set of defensible ideas and stick to them, regardless of which group one is speaking to. Mayor Nagin and others should remember that a person who wants to please crowds is a politician, but a person who tries to lead them — in a positive direction — has taken the first step to being a statesman.

P.S. I say more about a different aspect of this story on NewsBusters.org.

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