Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nagin On the Run From Past Levee Statement

Kudos to Jeffrey for noticing that Mayor C. Ray Nagin penned something today for the Times-Picayune. Jeffrey highlighted the precise passage I've been waiting all day to discuss:

Our levees withstood Gustav with Category 3 storm surges and Category 2 winds. Clearly, this is not sufficient. Our community deserves a flood protection system that allows us to feel secure in the face of storms, rather than dealing with frequent evacuations.

Given that the rest of this piece was a thinly-veiled response to his numerous detractors that don't agree that the evacuation and reentry was "tremendously successful," I saw this line as designed to clean up after a specific prior instance of verbal diarrhea on the part of Mayor Nagin. Recall what our Mayor said at a national press conference just one week ago on September 8th:

"Gustav proved . . . that our community and the levee-protection system probably can handle a Category 3 storm, " though he acknowledged that it had weakened to a Category 2 before making landfall.

"That fact in itself gives us great comfort that in another storm of similar strength we probably would be OK, " he said.


"We expect this test that we passed with the levees to increase the amount of construction activity in and around the city, " Nagin said.

Fascinating pivot.

Mayor Nagin seems to see his job as being one of creating the perception of recovery.

-The evacuation was "tremendously successful," instead of 'a small step in the right of direction.'
-Our levees "give us great comfort" during Gustav, instead of 'barely made it.'
-These "truths" will spur business activity in and around the city, instead of 'we have built next to nothing since Katrina and many of the developments we touted have stalled.'

Clearly the Mayor's line about the "comfort" provided by the levees ruffled feathers through a broad swath of New Orleans. Everyone, be they professional uptown landlords or amateur downtown renters, understands how fragile our levee system is. As the executive leader of the city of New Orleans, it is a critical part of the Mayor's job to make the case that the federal government should build us the levee system we deserve.

While I am happy to see that someone schooled Mayor Nagin as to how he can totally contradict himself in order to obscure an embarrassing misstatement, there's a big freakin' difference in impact between a single sentence on the back page of a mid-week local newspaper and a nationally-covered Gustav press conference.


Anonymous said...

I think you're really stretching this one. Read the quotes again.

Nagin didn't say the levees "[gave]us great comfort" during Gustav. He said they the fact they withstood a cat 2/3 storm and should give us "great comfort" that they could survive a future similar storm. The system can protect against a cat 2/3.

In the later piece he said a system that only protects up to a cat 2/3 is not acceptable. I can't really argue with that one.

A stopped clock is right twice a day...

Civitch said...

An article in this week's Time magazine quotes the Corps as saying "the New Orleans levee system has never been stronger."

The writer wryly follows up: "That's like claiming Richard Simmons has never been more intimidating"

E said...

Celcus, the press event on Sept. 8 was designed to highlight his administration's successes during Gustav. Within that context, he spoke optimistically about the levees in a way that sparked immediate criticism, even within the T-P recap, which cited John Barry.

Nobody argues with his assertions that Category 2/3 levees are not acceptable. But what I'm pointing out is that when he had the national forum (the post-Gustav press conference), he elected not to press for Cat 5 protection. Instead, he fluffed the levees in an attempt to bolster the city's 'viability,' which we know to be flagging because of his pathetic leadership.

In the locally-published editorial that will not receive any national press attention, the Mayor reversed tone, strongly demanding better levee protection from the Army Corps.

I think that's significant.

Tim said...

Nagin is just being the perfect politician here, crafting his message for the particular audience as you note.

He has to both encourage citizens and businesses to return to the city and invest, and, he has to keep hounding the state and federal government to spend more money to improve the levees. It's safe, it's not safe, it's safe, it's not safe...