Thursday, February 19, 2009

Depressing

A really disturbing question popped into my head recently and I've really been struggling to find a satisfactory answer.

Given the sober outlook for many of the poorer, lower lying areas of the city over the medium term (10-15 years) in regard to societal basics (economic opportunity, education, housing, health, safety) and fundamental life sustainability (flood protection, subsidence, rising seas), at what point to rational organizations working in the public interest determine that it is more in the interest of disadvantaged New Orleanians to work on subsidizing rescue relocation instead of rebuilding?

Everything I've tried to do in New Orleans from a political standpoint has been predicated on my unwavering belief that it was humanity's moral imperative to rebuild this city while wholly recreating the conservative state institutions and instruments that systemically perpetuate for generational poverty, structural racism, and their associated societal ills.

It was also predicated on my belief that this region is uniquely positioned to capitalize on macro trends that will undoubtedly create economic opportunity around different aspects of the sustainability movement.

But so much and so little has changed.

On the national level, the economic crisis has pushed the obligation to New Orleans further and further away from priority status. Additional infusions of federal capital to the Gulf seem increasingly unlikely given the ideological opposition to federal spending by 90% of our Congressional delegations. The realization of the right of return seems like a pipe dream given the confluence of these and other national and international factors.

On the local level, political discourse in general terms remains largely monopolized by supremacist robber barons and short-sighted machine widgets. The public has little faith in municipal institutions nor is there enough working trust between citizens of different backgrounds to appreciably alter those institutions in the short term. On this front, I have sensed some hard-fought incremental progress.

In other cities, or if this city hadn't experienced such devastating trauma, the incremental change that has occurred over the last 2-3 years would seem monumental.

But the time window New Orleans has in which to make fundamental, perhaps radical change is much much smaller than anywhere else's. We live in a state of political emergency. It may not be right that we should have to prove our right to exist given absolute federal culpability in the disaster that has brought us to this point but unfortunately that's the situation we find ourselves in, isn't it? Especially now after recovery resources have been squandered, stalled, or have otherwise failed to substantially put this city on the road toward short, medium, or long term recovery. Especially now after the national economy has created emergency situations throughout the sunbelt. Especially now as the region's political clout has waned.

I'm sorry that this post is so depressing, especially on such a beautiful sunny day just hours before the Krewe of Muses rolls down St. Charles Avenue. And certainly the morose outlook here is somewhat colored by my personal frustration as a young man searching for stable, fulfilling employment in this time of economic contraction. But I don't think I'm exactly going overboard here.

The fact is that the preconditions for a robust and equitable recovery still remain. But time is running short. Really, really short. Joseph Cao short.

There will be a new Mayor elected one year from now. It's the last best chance to save this city. We have until then to reach out, educate, and organize. The events of this week - the Mayor's politicking and Council's pandering - demonstrate very clearly the uphill climb that remains before honest conversation and evaluation of the city's health can occur in the public domain.

It's too early to pick a Mayoral candidate, but I'm looking for someone that can articulate an optimistic vision for how to maximize the region's advantages without sugarcoating the extremely dire forecast that New Orleans faces if we make no change or only small change.

There's something romantic and courageous about the sinking ship imagery and the unwavering commitment that people have to go down with it, so to speak. But I worry about the people that don't really get a choice in the matter. And I worry about my own transformation from energetic wide-eyed young man to perpetually exhausted and disillusioned curmudgeon.

30 comments:

Leigh C. said...

Well, it is all pretty depressing. These ain't exactly the most happy times all around. And the kind of stuff you're describing can whack you on the head at any time, even during Mardi Gras. These are the times when one must hold on to whatever it is that'll get you through. It isn't the same thing for everybody. Just don't let what pulls you through also drag you down - THAT'S the real trick.

Give yourself a break and have a happy Mardi Gras. Drop by my place for flapjacks on Mardi Gras day, if you need.

E said...

We've all earned Mardi Gras this year.

jeffrey said...

And I worry about my own transformation from energetic wide-eyed young man to perpetually exhausted and disillusioned curmudgeon.

Yeah I worry about that too. But guess what, Grasshopper, you can't have that job because I'm already doing it. And I'm doing it, not only because somebody's gotta, but also so people like you don't have to.

I think you've got as good a bead as anyone on this city and its various dysfunctions. As someone who grew up internalizing the dynamic, so to speak, I've learned to take (probably a bit too much) comfort in the absurd. But a lot of that went out the window in 2005. It's a lot less funny when your and your neighbors' entire right to exist is at stake, I guess.

Anyway the point is, you keep pushing and leave the disillusioned curmudgeoning to the pros.

And get out and have a good Mardi Gras in the meantime.

Puddinhead said...

Jeebus, college is a dangerous thing......

Anonymous said...

Did any one notice? This is now overwhelmingly a black city --60% of the vote on major elections. Black people are coming to take their city back on 2-6-10. So make an adjustument. The white community's clumsy and overt attempts to seize power in the aftermath of Katrina have ruined the chance of getting the "best mayor" regardless of race. Those are the wages of sin, and the wages of all of those who supported the "good government reforms" that blacks reasonably interpreteted as a power grab.

So let's choose the best black candidate, prove we are willing to work for him/her despite all the rest of the white folks piling on arnie or couhig, and that will put us in a place of influence far beyond the futile dreams of the white redeemers.

E said...

Anon,

Who do you like for Mayor?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about the mayoral candidate at this point. But the larger question is why place your faith in social justice in a single elected candidate?

Government is at the end of the social change process; it's a reflection of changes at the base. If you are commited to social justice, then you make a lifetime commitment to changing the way people think, behave, and interact as individuals and groups. Obama is not at accident: it took decades of grassroots education and action to convert white bigots into Obama voters. In all those decades it was hard to discern change.

If you live in the Deep South, I think you have to have a different concept of "progressivism." Real advances will probably take place is regions of the country that don't have the legacy of racism that obstruct progress--like the technology triangle or Austin--all pretty priveleged and boring. We were the last state to complete the I-10 system because we did not want federal dollars. White racism destroyed New Orleans because whites fled the city rather than have their children in schools with blacks.

So to do social justice and progressive work in New Orleans is to do anti-racist work. As the poet once said, "Sometimes not to go backwards is to progress." Before Katrina we were making great progress--we had thousands involved in inter-racial dialogues and the city had several white elected officials in a black majority city. Look at CBNO-MAC--they used to have a hundred people at every training. We had hundreds participate in a city-wide interracial dialogue around change.

The white power grab after Katrina set us back 30years in the trust department. This is not a utopian's paradise with respect to technology and new economic forms; but if you moved to Israel, what would be your focus? I would assume ending the Jewish-Palestinian conflict. That's the condition of progress. During the Oslo accords, Jews and Arabs were planning joint beach resorts in Gaza! There is no progress without reconciliation, and no reconciliation without justice.

So I don't place much faith in the mayor or any one savior--I just know that the black community is desparate to find allies in the white community--they want to beleive people understand their grievances and those are the people they will begin to listen to on a myriad of of other options.

Besides, who says changing government and economic structures is the moral imperative when we are faced with social injustices carried out by people, not institutions. The notion of Katrina as an "opportunity" which has attracted so many of our new self-appointed saviors is obscene when you think of the travesty of justice it was to blacks. We became a sandbox for social engineers who could care less about injustice. E, if you had moved here in 1962, you would have been about ending segregation, not making city government more efficient. And there is great moral satisfaction in righting a wrong. So I suggest you rethink what your social change process is and then decide how you can put your considerable intelligence and talents to the service of the downtrodden.

Mardi Gras is historically a suspension of traditional hiearchical social roles to provide the underclasses an oppotunity to blow off steam. That says a lot about New Orleans--what kind of society we have been. This is perhaps the most difficult city in America to change, but it also the easiest to fall in love with. That's a paradox I am willing to accept.

Now, I agree with the others. Take a few days and let carnival do its magic.

Clifton said...

I agree with this anonymous person and would like to buy him or her a beer.

This is my shortest comment on this blog ever.

Anonymous said...

This city would be so much further along if white people just knew thier place.

Clifton said...

I don't know if white people need to know their place. I think they just need to understand the history of this city and why they think like they do. They have legitimate reasons not to trust people. If you frame your agenda with those feelings in mind then you have a chance.
If things get personal and out of hand it strikes up emotions and they retreat back to the mind state that everyone is plotting against them.

ethan said...

A few questions and notes for Anon

Our current Mayor put together a coalition of racist, anti-Landrieu whites and uptown--white--free marketeers/disaster capitalists in order to get re-elected. The likes of Rob Couhig endorsed Nagin, remember?

So if there was a "white power grab" in New Orleans post-K--and I'm still not exactly sure what you mean by this--our African American mayor has certainly played a huge role in that.

Also: tell me, Anon, what policies has Nagin--or any of the African American City Council members for that matter--pursued that have benefited African Americans in New Orleans? Crime? A total disaster with an almost genocidal result on the streets: hundreds of African-Americans slain since Katrina. And let's not forget by the way that Nagin said that if you're not a young African American male in New Orleans you have nothing to worry about crime-wise. I'd call that a policy that deems African American men to be disposable. What do you think?

And what about the demolishing of the housing projects which Nagin has so zealously pursued? And, more generally, the lack of affordable housing which has kept thousands of middle class and working poor African-Americans from returning to New Orleans post-k?

Finally, it's so interesting that race is so constantly invoked in debates over transparency etc when the folks who show up to support Nagin in these hearings are nearly always beneficiaries of city contracts. If ordinary citizens of New Orleans--African American and otherwise--felt that Nagin's policies were benefitting them why wouldn't they show up at these hearings to offer their support? It's worth noting that opinion on Nagin isn't divided by race--in fact, it's not divided at all. Nagin is overwhelmingly disliked by citizens of all races in New Orleans; indeed, he has dismal approval ratings, probably in the low 30s.

Finally: you instruct E that "if you had moved here in 1962, you would have been about ending segregation, not making city government more efficient." Really? I think that advocating for changes in policy in a number of areas--from affordable housing to transparency--is exactly the sort of thing that the civil rights movement was and should be all about. Remember MLK striking with the Memphis sanitation workers in '68?

Clifton said...

Ethan,
You are right in theory but when the issues progressed from being personally unsatisfied with Nagin to the point where every minority business he gave a contract to was considered on the take and part of a conspiracy it made him a sympathetic figure.

Black people in this city were willing to show their displeasure with elected officials. William Jefferson and Cynthia Willard-Lewis loses was proof of that. If someone would have stepped in and offered new solutions and approaches to things the situation would have been better. Instead, we got into this cycle where every business doing work for the city was scrutinized. That made it personal and it closed down the avenues for real discussion.

I made the comment on this blog that the look of the sanitation story did not go over well. Trying to move this transparency issue to the forefront now was a bad idea and it did give the appearance of a power grab. There is no way the three black members of that council could have voted for that veto in this climate without committing political suicide.

ethan said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response Cliff. Re-reading my post I should have more strongly emphasized that
bringing about change in policy--housing, crime, etc--is far far more important than supporting hazy, hard-to-define notions of 'reconciliation.' To cite MLK again, his genius was that he brought about seismic POLICY changes,ie, the Civil Rights Act of '64. And I think America failed so greatly post-MLK because we did not implement better policy when it came to issues like economic equality, the criminal justice system etc. Hence we have a society marked by staggeringly high incarceration rates and huge levels of income inequality...

Clifton said...

E,
I wanted to tell you not to be depressed for long. Your intentions are good and solid. If not I wouldn't have made you an honorary Lower Nine soldier. I only did that for you and Brad Pitt. The foundation for this city's problems goes back so far and we don't put it in perspective enough. My dad and his friends are still pissed that Lincoln Beach closed and that Claiborne Avenue was destroyed to build the I-10. A few elections and some rules changes isn't going to heal all of that overnight. Just keep that in mind to help you keep some perspective about what you are dealing with. If everyone who legitimately wants to see real change keeps chipping away it can happen. Heck, look at me. I lost a grandparent, my dog, my jeep, all my possessions and my entire family got relocated because of the storm and I am still engaged.

I could hate everybody and turn into a vigilante sniper but I don't want my cousin having to press my kids' picture up against the glass at the visitor booths in prison so I take my energy and use it in your comments section (even though I have to put the word verification in ten times before the comments post)to add a different perspective. It's my way of contributing and not adding to the crime rate. I am still waiting for Brian Denzer at Citizen Crime Watch to recognize my anti sniper agenda.

Anonymous said...

Ethan:
Ray Nagin ran as the white man's candidate in 2002. The majority of blacks voted against him. He "jumped the white ship" after Katrina when he rejected his own BNOBC plan to demolish most of the black community. The "greenspacers" shifted their support to Ron Forman, the great white hope in a city they thought would be overwhelmingly white. In March of 2006 , Al Sharpton, Marc Morial, and Jesse Jackson threw their support behind Nagin on the condition that he would not let whites raize the black community. Nagin won the election in 2006 by winning over 90% of the black vote--a huge shift from his loss of the black vote in 2002.

It's a myth that anti-Landrieu whites "elected" Nagin--Ray has done nothing but reject their Business Council BGR/PAR plans ever since then.

Was Ray a good deal for blacks? Let the readers answer this: had the BNOBC/ Boise Bollinger/Joe Cannizaro folks had their way with candidate Ron Forman, would there be a 9th ward, Gentilly, Broadmoor, or New Orleans East today? The BNOBC plan (still on the city's site) called for demolition plans to be in place by May of 2006 and allocated billions llion for demolition and buyouts. Nagin's a terrible mayor, but the truth is that he saved the black community from oblivion.

How do we get rid of the Nagin's of the world? Let's stop making blacks think we are out to take over the city and we'll find them back at the table to rebuild the city the way it should have been planned: for everyone, rich or poor.

ethan said...

Anon--

I wasn't arguing that anti-Landrieu whites elected Nagin. They were simply part of his coalition. That's an undeniable fact, confirmed to me both by Nagin himself when I interviewed him for Details Magazine last fall as well as his pollster Silas Lee.

But I wholeheartedly agree that the whites in the city who declared that New Orleans would be a richer, whiter city post K absolutely paved the way for the Ray Nagins of the world. Indeed, during his re-election campaign Nagin was able to tap into the well of very legitimate anger among African Americans in this city about racist rhetoric from whites...

Ultimately, however, I think New Orleans is a lot less polarized than Ray Nagin or the NOLA.com commenters would like us to believe.

And I think we'd all do well to bring a laser-like focus to the issues that truly matter--affordable housing, crime, transparency in city contracts--and spurn distractions that simply get the city, particularly its most vulnerable citizens, nowhere.

Brian D said...

What's the anti-sniper agenda?

publiucious said...

Ray Nagin was the man who created the BNOB and placed all the people mentioned on its executive board. And the mistake they made is the same one Nagin made later--refusing to engage a larger public, refusing to see the benefits (for the city and themselves) of citizen empowerment. The idea that an efficacious government would not be good for blacks and whites alike is a crock. But such a government will only come into existence and be sustainable if citizens are engaged and active. Is this so hard to grasp? Or do you need to keep simplifying even fairly recent history?
-- Ray M

Clifton said...

It was a badly executed joke Brian..

Karen said...

I was thinking the other day that the idea that we are a polarized City is a nicely laid foundation and a way to create distractions.

I believe we are watching a classic power struggle and shift and I think there is plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the issue.

The point made by publiucious is an important one.

An important part of what shapes and creates a City is the way the citizens are involved in the City itself, including Government.

We are a City that has a great history of involvement in ritual and celebration but in the civic arena not as much. Now we do and both City Council and the Mayor have not figured out any substantive tools to deal with it.

Joe Cannizaro and his ignorance and stupidity created the rage, frustration and anger we see today. And Joe was a man made creature made by our MAyor himself.

And Joe lives in Metairie so what does that tell you?

Anonymous said...

Let's not put this all on Cannizaro. That's the new Times-Picayune revision of history, i.e. "it was just a few bad apples."

The truth is that majority of white people in New Orleans--liberals, hipsters etc. supported the greenspace plan or were silent on it, which is just as bad. Go back and read the Times-Picayune from early January of 2006 and you'll even see the support of predominantly white religious coalitions.

The only poll taken by the LRA in the spring of 2006 confirmed that 80% whites did not think it was important for the city to return to it previous racial composition--and 80% of blacks thought it was. Now that blacks are back and mad--and also now the electoral majority--whites want to pretend they are the voice of good goverment, when in truth, they were part of the movement to usurp black rights.

It's easy to blame this on a few white rich moguls because we don't have to engage them. But if the problem is all the neighborhood association groups that we work with--or all the "good government" and "anti-crime" folks who are single-mindedly obsessed with Nagin, then it means we are going to have to speak out against the very people we are allied with. It is the reluctance to engage racism with other whites that has led to the travesty of liberal whites working hand-in-hand with housing segregationists in St. Bernard.

We have a problem with racism in New Orleans and it is fundamentally a white problem. It's practitioners are convinced they don't have a racist bone in their body (google for "aversive racism" for a study of these "egalitarian racists") Those who try to make New Orleans racial polarization a "pox on both houses" are simply dodging their moral obligation to deal with their own people's racism first.

This is what our "community involvement" should be. First we need to put our own house in order--like publicly repudiating the Stacy Heads of the world--and then we will have a right to tell other people what is moral and right. Otherwise blacks have no reason to trust us.

Karen said...

Anonymous..maybe you can find the moral conviction to sign your comments and thus elevate the discourse.

Obviously the problem is greater than Joe Cannizaro the problem is also with people who choose to call people out for their "wrong" opinions yet won't sign their name to the condemnation.

E said...

I actually don't mind anonymous comments so long as they contribute to a discussion. Our anonymous friend here has had an extremely consistent position on the issues and I thing it is helpful to consider the challenges layered within those comments.

--

I will say that anon's answer to my question about mayoral preference was extremely articulate and totally awesome.

But it ignored the premise I put forth in the post that I made.

The shorter of that is that we don't have time in New Orleans for a massive generational effort toward racial reconciliation and inward-looking white reflection on the various moral hazards of privileged. In an ideal world, this city would have virtual assurance of a medium term existence. In that case, it would be feasible to invest in a grassroots organizing campaign outside the political spectrum.

But what I said, in such a depressing tone, was that this city doesn't really have the time to take it's time.

I believe that only a political campaign tied to progressive rebuilding policies and a field-centered operation is the only means with which we have to create any kind of positive change in this community in the short-term/medium-term. This, in my opinion, is what we must focus on, given reasonable dire projections for where we might find ourselves as a city in ten years.

On the national level, there just simply wasn't a robust enough left for Obama to have been elected President. It was his personality and his campaign philosophy that physically organized a winning coalition for change. I think that we need to try to replicate that kind of mainstream community organizing here in New Orleans if we have any hope of making this city a more equitable and just place. I think it's the only way we have to create space within the mainstream discourse of this city to have honest discussions about privilege and race like we have on some of these here blogs.

E said...

I apologize for all the typeos in that comment. Went too fast.

Musa said...

First, it’s important to note that the U.S. economy is going to get a lot worse (maybe even a prolonged depression) before things get better. In light of this, New Orleans has a better chance of surviving than other American cities (no one will “thrive” in this period). One thing that may harm our chance of survival is racism, prejudice and racial mistrust. Some of the commenters put too much emphasis on the Mayor and the “government”. Surely by now, we must see how government at every level has failed us, while individual people, friends, neighbors, and even “outsiders” have been key to whatever recovery has occurred to date (as well as efforts to keep the government from destroying our city). As Ashley said, Sinn Fein: ourselves alone.

I have as many White friends in N.O. as Black. I have, however, had to let a few of my White friends go after Katrina because of their insensitivity and down right racism around the issues of right to return, public/affordable housing and putting “green space” on top of Black people’s houses. I agree with Anon on the race issues as well as his/her other comments. Karen, while I understand your point about Anon’s unwillingness to sign, but that does not invalidate his/her positions.

After seeing the racial divide growing in 2006, I tried unsuccessfully to start a dialog with my White friends (as well as some other Whites I thought would be interested) around a book by Robert Jenson “The Heart of Whiteness”. NPR did an interview with Jenson in July 2006. His premise is that White racism will never cease until Whites come to grips with their hidden racism and prejudices. His book is aimed at liberals and other well meaning Whites. Check it out. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5539692

Musa

Anonymous said...

I love posting on Lundi Gras.

This is the only blog I read or post to. So if you don't like anonymous posts, maybe I'll stop. Let's take a vote?

Yes, I know, E encourages anonymous posts, yet once we get a discussion going someone invevitably equates anonymous posts with moral cowardice (always those who disagree with my ideas). That criticism does not bother me: I've lived here since Katrina and I know moral cowardice when I see it, so I'm ready to acknowledge it in myself.

But I will invoke the tradition of anonymous political writers--Samuel Johnson, Swift, and even Isaac Newton, whose occcupation made it difficult to express all their opinions without fear of recriminations. Either my ideas are valid or not--and attaching a name makes them no more less valid or morally correct--just as those opinions posted here with names are not necessarily correct or moral. I have to worry abour repercussions at my job and I enjoy the freedom of this discussion.

Having said that, back to E's question. If we rush things we make a bigger mess of things. Rebuilding means more than buildings, schools, and new systems. Rebuilding in the aftermath of a profound "breach of trust" requires that we rebuild relationships. That does take time and you can't rush it or very reasonable ideas like transparency become a symbol of intergroup distrust. That's the dilemma of a racially polarized society: every issue assumes the dimensions of a symbolic contest of power or an expression of trust.

It's a bit like trying to mend a bad marriage, where trust issues are paramount, by having the couple build a new house rather than acknowledge the issues that divide them.

Why do we think 300,000 people can do overnight what takes two people years to accomplish?

The whole BNOBC plan was based on the argument that time did not allow for a democratic process. The schools were taken over on the same argument. As Dr. Phil says, "How's that working for you now?"

The more white people who stand up and publicly acknowledge the injustices of the recovery--from greenspacing to firing 5,000 black teachers--the closer we come to building trust. You can count the number of white people on one hand who have taken that stand in a public way.

Why can't those who constantly appear at the council simply say, "You know, I understand why blacks think that this transparency issue is targetted only to a black mayor. The actions of some white people since Katrina have given them every reason to beleive that--the James Reiss pronouncments in the Wall Street Journal,the "dirty dozen" Dallas Meeting, the firing of 5,000 black teachers, the absentee evictions of 10,000 people, the greenspace plan. Now, what can I do to regain your trust so that some day we can, together, create more responsive government?

I will note that the Inspector General charter change came under Marc Morial's administration when power relationships were stable and the black majority did not feel threatened (hell, Marc funded the restoration of the Robert E. Lee statue--talk about symbols losing their power)

As I said before, there is no reconciliation without justice. I'm not talking about dialogue groups between blacks and whites--that would blow up. But dialogue groups among whites where people try to "take perspective" and understand why blacks feel they were collectively "mugged" after Katrina. The next stage would be to bring together both races in a frank dialogue in which everyone's concerns are given a sympathetic ear. But it would be a disaster to bring together blacks and whites and have whites refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the black viewpoint on injustices of the recovery.

Process is a goal in itself. Political organizing is the art of understanding that how you build is as important as what you build.

E, you are in a hurry, and that's good, but if you get in a hurry to rebuild the racial breach, not just the effects of the levee breach, you will get a lot further.

The only thing I dislike more than living in a city that does not work well is living is a city where people hate each other. That was not the New Orleans I moved to years ago, and I want it back.

KAren said...

My criticism about anonymous posts is that I think you could be a leading voice if you stepped up and divulged your name.

Not an attack on your POV.

Anonymous said...

You can take a wild guess at whether or not I lead when I am not debating in cyberspace.

So why not others? I have not said anything that you don't hear everyday on WBOK with Paul and John. They've spent the last two weeks working on this issue and without much help from the progressive white community.

Clifton said...

I know this a total community issue and we all need to work towards a solution to the problem but the one person in this equation I haven’t been able to figure out is Councilman Fielkow. I haven’t determined if he’s just a political novice or if he is being influenced by some unknown people. Maybe he’s not as sharp as I have given him credit for.

The reason I say that is anyone who really wants to be mayor had to know that some of the quiet within the black community in 2006 and 2007 had more to do with the fact that we were worried about our personal survival more than government issues. When you are trying to deal with insurance companies, contractors, and Road Home all at once you can’t pay attention to things in city government as closely because at that point there is no guarantee you are even going to be living here. I think what we are seeing now is people’s personal situation is more stable and they are starting to get more vocal about what’s going on. If he truly wants to be mayor in a city that is at least 60% black and has people moving back home everyday, he had three years to reach out, support, and speak for those citizens under the idea that we are all one New Orleans. Instead he let grandstanding on the council get out of control. He sat by while the integrity and purpose of the Inspector General’s office was compromised in the black community because too many people used Mr. Cerasoli’s name as a threat whenever they got angry instead of letting him do his job and report the facts. He also let the media and the council get away with implying that there was corruption in awarding contracts to two respected black businessmen in this city even after all reports said they were compliant with their contracts and even under billing the city. He didn’t show any leadership or understanding of the black community by bringing this transparency vote up now so soon after emotions is on high because of the sanitation debacle. He’s either not the right guy to be mayor or he’s got some bad advice. Either way it’s pretty confusing.

I’m no longer able to debate with my friends that he’s not an agent for the elite business community that wants control of the flow of all money coming through the city. I still don’t believe that he is but if they are right then I haven’t been this wrong about a person in a long time.

Anonymous said...

Clifton,
Very astute observations. Part of the theory of the "Shock Doctrine' is that collective trauma deflects people's attention from broad political issues; survival of family and self takes precedent. It normally takes a community about three years to overcome that shock and redirect their energy to broader issues of power. We are seeing that now.

The dilemma for every mayor in this city since Chep Morrison in the 1960s is whose side are you on: black or white? I did not invent that dynamic--you have 350 years of slavery and jim crow to blame on why people think in terms of race here. But in a city of limited resources, groups will always coalesce to give themselves advantage, especially if you are a poor group challenging a wealthy elite.

For example, Jackie Clarkson says the FEMA money should go go Algiers because it is already rebuilt and can maximize it; Cynthia Willard says it should go to flood damaged neighborhoods that need it to rebuild. You can't do both. We really are playing a zero-sum game here with respect to housing, education, healthcare etc. That's why using neighborhoods as the unit of organizing is inherently divisive--neighborhoods tend to be racially divided and are comprised of property owners who act like business owners--they don't want any changes that reduce the values of their investment (like section 8 housing, schools they don't use, etc) That's why the council is so fractured: most people expect their representative to advocate for neighborhood interests.

Every mayor has had to choose which community he/she ultimately will side with on key issues. Majoritarian democracies (51% and you win) are famous for encouraging ethnic-group block voting. In places like Nigeria they have tried to deal with this issue by, in the past, requiring majority candidates to win at least 20% of the minority vote in a state.

In the 1970s, Moon Landrieu chose the black community as did Dutch and Marc subsequently, much the reflection of the growing black majority. Sidney was a white backlash--a black candidate who ran with white support as their great white hope against the Morial machine. But he was ultimately forced to choose in his first term and defected to the black side for the second term. Nagin was a replay of Sidney in 2002--got all the uptown white support and lost the black vote. The hatred of the black community for him following Katrina made him defect from the white vote out of guilt and his refusal to follow the BNOBC/BGR moratorium on building permits in the black community in November of 2005 signalled that he had jumped the white ship.

Like Sidney, his erstwhile white funders forced Nagin into the waiting arms of the black community in a shotgun marriage. Since then, Nagin has never waivered on bringing back a black majority, but if he can make that a middle class one, he'll opt for that because it means fewer social costs and a more manageable city. And sure, he uses contracts to gain favors and build a patrongage machine--something the rich white canididates don't have to do. That will continue until we put conribution limits on Mayoral campaings to make it possible for po-boys to run.

Fielkow could have broken that white mold because he was at-large and did not have to advocate for a white district like Head does. Oliver Thomas was heading that way--even his famous delclaration pandering to the white vote when he said people should not come back unless they had a job (there goes the Junior League). But Fielkow clearly chose to cast himself as the leader of the "good goverment" folks (Business Council/BGR/PAR) whose "reforms" are viewed as thinly veiled attempts to whittle away a black electoral power. He could have said "let's put these reforms in place when the black community is back and has a say, not when whites are winning offices simply because blacks are displaced." But he didn't.

If the Rex folks adopt him like the did Ron Forman, it will be the kiss of death. He'll be stigmatized as controlled by the the Uptown "greenspace" crowd.

So who gets the blame if blacks think it is another power grab? It won't be the Reiss and Bollingers of the world, though they will be bankrolling the operation. They went out front in the Fall of 2005, breaking the secrecy of the shadow government, but never again.

Yes, a black Mayor in a black majority city will usually end up supporting what the majority wants if he/she wants to get re-elected. But, as in Newark, you can get a reformer who is loyal to his base and loyal to his principles and becomes a real force for reform.

Most people want efficiency and honesty in government, they just want reform that ensures equal access as well.