Friday, June 11, 2010
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Steps on the rubber, checks his sign, steps off the rubber, wipes his brow, adjusts his cap, steps back up on the rubber
I've really been struggling to truly scale back my news consumption. It is, I've realized, a project. And it is one I've been working on for two or three weeks now with some important but limited success. The impetus for my effort was my decision to go to grad school but it could have just have easily been related to burnout. Geopolitical affairs have seemed especially volatile for the last month and especially over the last two weeks. It is extraordinarily stressful to read the paper these days, especially for friends of the Gulf. The national discourse has seemed especially frantic and inconsistent.
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
A few weeks ago, I made the final decision to attend grad school this coming fall and quit, for the first time since I launched this blog in 2007, writing about New Orleans.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Does this thing still work?
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
I'm going to be blogging at The Lens, with increasing frequency as some of the kinks with the site redesign are ironed out. My hope is to establish a regular intellectualesque conversation that I hope long time and new readers will enjoy. I'll elaborate on that idea later on.
In the mean time, my first post is up now.
Go read the super important things I have to say.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
The campaign to elect the next mayor of New Orleans has attracted a wave of national attention. The AP, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times all wrote reports within the last week to brief readers about the mayor's race and the real possibility that New Orleans will elect a white mayor for the first time in over a generation.
Check them all out and see if you agree with the analysis:
Campbell Robertson of the New York Times, "Race Assumes Central Role in New Orleans Vote"
Richard Faussett of the Los Angeles Times, "In New Orleans, a white candidate leads the field"
Kevin McGill of the Associated Press, "Mostly black New Orleans could pick white Mayor"
State Senator Ed Murray's exit from the race and the collective gasp of many members of the city's African American political elite when he did, seems to have been the impetus for the wave of national dispatches.
The three stories are not appreciably different, but do emphasize different reasons for the loss of African American political unity.
McGill points to the decline of African American middle class neighborhoods as a result of the Katrina tragedy as "undercutting efforts by black candidates to raise money and build voter support."
Faussett describes "buyer's remorse" in the African American community and points to universal disapproval of Mayor Nagin in polls and ongoing federal investigations.
Robertson's piece similarly discusses "buyer's remorse" and - I love this line - the "low wattage" of most contenders prior to Landrieu's entry. Robertson's description of "the franchise" and the significance of political power for the African American community is also very interesting.
Black professionals refer to the office as “the franchise,” the counterweight to the economic power of New Orleans’s white elite. For the past three decades, the black private sector — the lawyers, businessmen and architects — has relied on the franchise: they may not always be able to become board members at the city’s white-owned firms, but black professionals turned to the city government for contracts and jobs.
I think these are damn fine write-ups all things considered. How about you all? Any nits to pick?
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Yesterday, I wrote about the potential for increased federal scrutiny over the manner in which D-CDBG funds are being monitored by the LRA and used in Orleans Parish.
Recently, Mayor Ray Nagin revived plans to purchase the Chevron Building even though City Council had voted against pursuing such an agreement last summer. The Nagin administration has argued that because only funding sources independent of the city budget would be used - the revolver fund or D-CDBG money - Council has no legal oversight authority. Presumably, that logic would extent to every project the Mayor might pursue using non-budget recovery dollars.
I've now learned that City Councilmembers Jackie Clarkson, Arnie Fielkow, Stacy Head, and Shelley Midura have cosponsored an ordinance that would require the Mayor to disclose plans to use money from the capital project fund or D-CDBG funds and to obtain Council approval for those plans.
Read the ordinance here.
The ordinance only applies to "City Hall Project Worksheet 7746," which represents the proposed purchase of the Chevron Building.
It does not tackle the larger questions about the mayor's power to use D-CDBG and revolver fund money in a discretionary fashion and would not preclude the mayor from applying recovery dollars to other projects such as the proposed LSU/VA hospital or the proposed renovation of Municipal Auditorium with little disclosure or oversight.
The measure will be up for a vote at City Council on Thursday, January 21st.
I was so excited when I heard the rumor that garbage contractor Sidney Torres, the Trashanova, had fallen for your next Senator from the Great State, pornography entrepreneur Stormy Daniels.
Unfortunately the rumor is false. That is too bad because it sounds like a lot of fun.
Can't you picture the type of hilarity that would ensue if Stormy, SDT, Kid Rock, and Lenny Kravitz jumped on a campaign bus tour through the North Louisiana Bible Belt as the Sinator's opening act?
A guy can dream.
I was able to speak to a source close to Daniels' campaign for Senate against David Vitter.
"I have heard from students at UNO that Sidney Torres was dating a UNO student named Stormy since at least the spring of 2009. I do not know the current status or validity of that relationship. I have been told that this alleged girlfriend of Mr. Torres's has blond hair and similar upper body attributes to Stormy Daniels. But they are two different people."
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
For more than a few weeks, American Zombie and I have been wondering aloud Mayor Ray Nagin administration's interpretation of laws governing money outside the parameters of the regular city budget, as well as City Council's oversight of that money.
Of particular concern is the "revolver fund" that the Louisiana Recovery Authority established to advance cash to parishes to pay for projects that will eventually get FEMA reimbursement. Nagin wants to use some of that money to buy the Chevron Building and convert it into a new city hall - even though the council has already rejected such a move.
A statement from Nagin spokeswoman Ceeon Quiett makes it clear the administration believes it has discretionary power over funding streams like the revolver fund and that the council has no legal oversight.
"The matter before the City Council was the appropriation of funding from one capitol [sic] account to another ..not an approval of the acquisition. Funding appropriation –Legislative Branch authority per the charter, Purchases –Executive Branch authority per the charter."
To clarify, Quiett is saying that the proposal to buy the Chevron building that was shot down by City Council over the summer involved the city budget. Because the most recent proposal only uses money from state and federal sources, such as the revolver fund, there is no formal oversight process through which the administration must seek City Planning Commission or City Council approval. Whether that is accurate is debatable, but it is the administration's position nonetheless.
Presumably, that position extends to the city's use of the Disaster Community Development Block Grant money, for which the LRA is the local administrator of federal funds from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department. The City Council had obligations when it comes to this money in that the LRA required a recovery plan with community buy-in, including Council approval, before the agency would release the HUD funds.
However, when it comes time to allocate real capital to a specific project, the modification of the original plans accepted by the LRA, or the reallocation of surplus money from a specific project, it would appear that the Mayor has vast powers.
Once the Council approves a framework for yearly DCDBG expenditures, only the LRA or HUD would be in position to block funding for a specific project submitted by Nagin on the grounds that it deviates from the original recovery plan, anticipated expenditures were vaguely documented or if HUD regulations are otherwise violated.
Since the Obama administration took office and Shaun Donovan was sworn in as the new secretary, HUD has been more proactive about cracking down on dysfunctional projects. HUD's receivership of the Housing Authority of New Orleans, for instance, has been totally reshuffled amid widespread allegations of graft and waste.
There is also evidence that HUD is taking a fresh look at its role in the hurricane recovery process both in New Orleans and elsewhere.
In November, AP reported that a HUD review had discovered over 11 million in unaccounted disaster money at the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA) that had fallen victim to poor record keeping or a failure to follow HUD regulations.
That same week AP also reported that HUD had rejected Texas' recovery plan for rebuilding areas badly battered by Hurricane Ike in 2008. The notification letter from HUD, which you can read here, suggests that Texas' plan was denied for failures to comply with federal citizen participation requirements.
Are these recent actions highlighting regulatory compliance issues in New Orleans and Texas indicative of a much more widespread concern on the part of HUD administrators that processes governing the efficient use of recovery money were poorly constructed, inattentively followed or even explicitly violated?
What effect will increased federal scrutiny have on controversial local projects, such as the Municipal Auditorium renovation and the purchase of the Chevron Building, for which the Nagin administration claims the City Council has no stipulated oversight authority?
To what extent does the council concede or dispute the administration's interpretation of their oversight authority over irregular DCDBG and revolver funds? How does that effect their ability to halt the mayor from spending money on major developments should they wish to do so?
While the upcoming elections have clearly taken center stage, the dispute between the outgoing administration and the City Council over the discretionary use of federal and state recovery dollars is the most important subplot for engaged citizens to closely monitor. It is this fundamental interpretation of City Charter and of HUD rules and regulations that looms over the individual development controversies that grab headlines - from Municipal Auditorium to Lower Mid-City and the proposed medical complex.
When news broke that the Chevron Building purchase was revived, City Council members expressed surprise and confusion. Yet since the New Year, there appears to have been no follow-up. It should be very interesting to watch what happens as specific projects begin to initiate expenditures.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Update: WDSU just caught up with Superindendent Riley and he appears to be meekly backing off. It makes his comments on the radio last week all the more slanderous.
Off-camera, Riley told WDSU that he doesn't believe the e-mail is a big deal, that he's never seen the message and he doesn't have proof that Head actually sent it.
Update II: Seriously, I cannot believe how pathetic this walk back is by Riley. Unbelievable. He should apologize to WBOK's listeners and to Councilwoman Head.
Warren Riley leveled some pretty serious and racially charged allegations in an interview with WBOK last week. I really wish WBOK archived its broadcasts. Thankfully, the T-P's Brendan McCarthy was tuned in.
The allegations about Head's e-mail came up when a radio station caller, who went by the name Malcolm, mentioned the alleged message.
The caller said: "I hear some of our council members are sending e-mails out -- one in particular, Ms. Head, sent an e-mail saying she hopes you fail and let's not approve your budget. But anyway, she's the failure in all of this anyway.
Riley responded: "You forgot the N-word that was in that e-mail, from what I understand."
"Well, yeah, you heard about it," the caller responded. "She said 'Let's make this Negro, not Negro, but she used that other one."
The caller then lambasted the media for ignoring the message. "The news (media) did not, nobody else put that out, nobody else interviewed, nobody made a big story about that. And if it was somebody of color that sat on the City Council who had that kind of behavior, would have been asked to step down."
Those who know Stacy Head personally have been quick to insist that this allegation is baseless and that such behavior would be unimaginable. But considering Stacy Head's history of off-color and, in a general sense, prejudiced language, Riley's allegation must at least be considered plausible.
Saying something that reflects ignorance, prejudice, or bias is different from saying something indisputably racist with malicious intent. Riley's accusations, if true, would be far more condemning of Head's character than her casually offensive observations in the Walmart checkout aisle.
If Head indeed used that epithet toward anyone, she would have to resign. She should not and cannot represent a population for which she has such an expressed, visceral hatred. The public pressure would be intense and well-deserved.
Luckily, we don't have to live in a world of 'what ifs.' Warren Riley claims Councilwoman Head used that particular slur in an e-mail. He should immediately produce the email. Regardless, news organizations should submit a public-records request to Head to obtain it.
Head's colleagues should hold immediate hearings to demand Riley produce the email, to censure Head if he can come through, or to call for Riley's ouster if he cannot.
If this email does not exist, Riley would be guilty of an extraordinarily insidious, divisive and manipulative slander. He knew that the forum he chose to air this allegation, WBOK, would not challenge him. He knew he was speaking to an audience predisposed - because of Head's past intransigence and WBOK's listener base - to believe a plausible, even if baseless, allegation of racism about the councilwoman.
And maybe he thought Head would prefer to ignore the story and minimize its media echo amid a tough reelection fight instead of throwing down the gauntlet to make him prove his charge.
Stacy Head should not and cannot simply ignore this story. Merely asserting that the allegations are totally baseless and false, as she did to the Times-Picayune, is not enough. Because of her salty language in the past, there is a special burden on her to substantively prove her innocence to the extent that she is able. When the e-mail controversy first began, Head took it upon herself to release a large set of emails to the public by publishing them for download on her website. Those emails have since been taken down. She owes it to herself and her supporters to more substantively address her views on race, language, and the allegations being leveled by Warren Riley, perhaps first by reopening her email outbox to additional public scrutiny.
As someone who has interacted with Stacy Head and parsed all of her emails released to date, I personally, have an extraordinarily hard time believing Riley's accusations.
This is different than a blind caller on talk radio throwing out an accusation. This is the Police Superintendent, one of the most important and powerful people in the city.
For someone of that stature to level this kind of accusation without prepared evidence is irresponsible, dangerous, and wrong.
It's not just manipulative.
Mr. Riley seems... a bit... delusional, and here's what I mean:
Riley said the recent release of a poll - showing that only 33 percent of citizens are satisfied with the NOPD - was timed to dissuade him from entering politics. The poll was unveiled by business leaders shortly before the political qualifying period. Riley also alleged The Times-Picayune chose that week to release several negative stories about him.
"There's a revolution going on, and we are missing it," he said.
Riley also criticized the slate of mayoral candidates and promoted his tenure as police chief.
"You know, I listen to the mayoral candidates," he said. "I run a bigger organization, and have had bigger budgets than any of these individuals. And I'm not knocking any of them. I'm just saying, I have had the ultimate challenge. The only person ... there are two people who have bigger challenges than I. And that's Mayor Nagin and President Obama."
Riley appears to be saying that he was all set to enter the mayor's race until that poll, which showed faith in the police force at an all-time low, was released.
Riley apparently put out feelers for a mayor's race over the summer before explicitly announcing in August that he would not seek that office, saying that he had "absolutely no interest."
So Riley is essentially saying that just weeks before the qualifying deadline, with no money raised, and with no campaign team assembled, he was considering swooping into the mayor's race. That is, until, a poll was strategically released to demonstrate his department's almost cartoonishly low approval ratings. Riley is intoning that he had a really great shot at raising money and gaining popular traction had it not been for that poll.
Think about how crazy that is.
Objectively speaking, Riley has presided over one of the most dysfunctional police forces in the country, to say nothing of his own conduct during his career on the force. The feds are looming over the NOPD for its unjustifiable pattern of police brutality, missing evidence, and who knows what else. Hasn't Riley been one of the most unpopular figures in local politics for over two years? Would people argue that the poll released in early December said something they didn't already really know?
If Riley had assembled his record of sloppy, ineffective catch-and-release, fire-when-ready police work during a Presidential administration that put any effort into exercising the powers of the Clinton administration's COPS bill, the NOPD might currently be in the control of a federal receiver right now because systemically discriminatory pattern and practice.
He's not just delusional and silly. He's not just calculating and manipulative.
Riley's plans, given that this conspiracy of unpopularity dissuaded him from seeking the Mayor's office?
"I'm looking at a public venture ... with a couple people here in the city that I think would be profound and lucrative," he said. "I also am looking at another position that I will absolutely not talk about. Regardless, I am going to do well no matter what. As I stated, my future is bright. If I don't work another day in my life I'll be OK. I'm not just a police chief."