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Nagin Re-elected but City Faces Serious Problems
By: C C Campbell-Rock and Hazel Trice Edney
Originally posted 5/23/2006

NEW ORLEANS (NNPA) – In what turned out to be a racially charged election, Mayor Ray Nagin narrowly-defeated Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu in Saturday’s run-off but still faces an uphill battle in restoring the hurricane-ravaged city of New Orleans.

''I know what it's like to go up against Goliath, with five smooth stones,'' a tired Nagin reportedly told a congregation gathered Sunday morning inside New Orleans’ St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, which sits in the still-littered Treme neighborhood.

David, in the form of Nagin, won the run-off with 52 percent (59,460 votes) to Landrieu’s 48 percent (54,131 votes).

The run-off was split along racial lines with Nagin winning 80 percent of Black votes and about 20 percent of White votes, according to GCR Associates, an urban planning and campaign analyst of New Orleans. Landrieu won roughly the same percentages in reverse.

“I’m not surprised because historically, whenever there is a perception in the Black community that an African-American leader is under attack, history shows that we will get behind them,” says Vincent Sylvain, the New Orleans-based regional director of the Rebuild Hope Now Campaign of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

“This became more of a cause in the Black community, that they were going to fight to hold on to something that they had. What we kept hearing in the New Orleans community was, ‘This was bigger than Nagin.’ What folks were saying is while they may not have been happy with his leadership over the past four years, he was still theirs, he was still one of them.”

This was a switch from four years ago when Nagin won with more than 80 percent of White votes and only 40 percent of Black votes. The erosion of Nagin’s White support and Landrieu’s family legacy as progressives caused some analysts to predict a victory for Landrieu.

But Landrieu made a tactical error.

“He did not distinguish himself as being that much different from Mayor Nagin. In fact, at mayoral debates, he constantly agreed with the position of the mayor,” Sylvain says. “So, from the Black community perspective, if you agree with the mayor, then there’s no need for change.”

Greg Rigamer, chief executive officer of GCR and Associates, concluded that Nagin won 80 percent of the Black vote. He says he understands why Whites abandoned Nagin this time around.

“Not only did the White people support him in 2002, but they have supported every recommendation and endorsement that he’s made in the interim,” says Rigamer, a White who was born and reared in New Orleans.

He said that changed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“White people honestly knew that Nagin was Black prior to the primary. They didn’t say, ‘Oh my God, we voted for a Black man for mayor.’ That wasn’t the problem. The problem was leadership. Less accustomed to adversity, they expected more out of their leader,” says Rigamer.

Nagin now faces the mammoth reconstruction of a city 80 percent flooded, 300,000 of its citizens scattered across the U.S., its government teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and 60 percent of its businesses closed.

The mayor is eager to change that. On the night of the run-off election, his administration announced an agreement between the hurricane-torn city and JPMorgan Chase, which accepted a proposal to provide up to $150 million in loans to the city from Morgan, Bank of New York, two Paris-based banks, Dexia Credit Local and Societe Generale.

Nagin will have to resurrect a city that has traditionally depended on a regressive sales tax and tourism. While there is evidence that the tourism industry is rebounding – the Jazz and Heritage Festival drew large crowds recently, and conventions are coming this summer – no one knows when exiled New Orleanians will return.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of evacuees may be homeless in June, the start of hurricane season, because FEMA is slicing and dicing survivor lists and deeming people ineligible to continue receiving benefits to which they are entitled under the law.

Mrs. M.V. Adams wrote recently to the San Francisco Bay View newspaper seeking help for her daughter, Banetta Adams.

“My daughter Banetta Adams has been notified by FEMA that she has 60 days to vacate her apartment here in Houston. FEMA says that she will be evicted because she cannot provide proof of her residency in New Orleans. In other words, FEMA is going to put my child and her two children in the street because she cannot prove that the vicious waters of Hurricane Katrina ravished her apartment and destroyed her property …. Where is the justice in this?” Mrs. Adams asked.

As of May 11, more than 2.5 million people affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have applied for FEMA assistance.

Hurricane season begins anew next month. The National Hurricane Center predicted on Monday that four to six major hurricanes will strike the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico this season. The center predicts that there will be 16 named storms, down from the record 27 last season.

Nine months after the worst disaster in American history, people in the Katrina and Rita Diasporas are living in all 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii, plus the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and other locations.

Texas has the largest group, 600,000 evacuees and affected Texans. Louisiana, where three-quarters of its land was flooded, is second with over 1 million, followed by Mississippi 503,475, Alabama 135,197, Georgia 40,947, Florida 28,908, Tennessee 16,889 and California 16,728. The remaining states are housing from 7,200 in Illinois to as few as 48 evacuees in the Virgin Islands.

Evacuees and survivors of the Katrina Diaspora were given one-way tickets out of town.

Today, as the August anniversary of the Katrina catastrophe grows closer, many are estranged from community, relatives and their culture.

Reports from FEMA and the White House on what went wrong and how they will do better the next time ignore the reality of tens of thousands of people in the Katrina Diaspora who must start their lives over from scratch because of the incompetence, poor design and poor management of the city’s levees by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Orleans Parish Levee Board, a state agency.
It’s a problem not lost on evacuees, many of whom have or are creating organizations and banding together to demand basic human rights and the right to return, participate and rebuild their lives.

The People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Committee was convened shortly after Hurricane Katrina by Curtis Muhammad, a long time civil rights activist. PHRF evolved from an organization dedicated to “finding our people” to one that is working for justice and human rights for evacuees. Muhammad left the group recently and formed a new organization.

Headquartered in New Orleans, the PHRF is a coalition of numerous organizations nationwide and hurricane evacuee organizations in five states.

The group last week presented “Reconstruction with Justice in New Orleans,” a mayoral campaign platform, to Nagin and Landrieu.

“This platform comes from the demands articulated by Survivors at three national gatherings since September 2005, and by coalition groups working for ‘Reconstruction with Justice in New Orleans,’” PHRF announced at the press conference.

Survivors are demanding access to housing, the reuniting of families, public safety and health, community based economic development and global competitiveness, restoration of public education, the rights of all workers and survivors’ right to reconstruction jobs, environmental justice, and levee and waterway safety.

Leading the Houston affiliate is Malcolm Suber, a Katrina survivor, community activist and educator. “Eight thousand families in Houston have been asked to pay their own freight, utilities, and many are not prepared. There is a looming crisis of homelessness. A number of lawsuits have been filed against independent landlords on behalf of tenants,” Suber said.

“By October, over 300,000 will be cut off from FEMA assistance. FEMA has not set up housing except temporarily,” he added, alluding to the law as outlined in the Stafford Act which says government may provide housing up to 18 months.

“The June 1 deadline threatens to make about 50,000 homeless, while more than 300,000 are expected to be evicted on the anniversary of Katrina. FEMA announced this week that trailer residents may also be evicted if they fail to perform unspecified recertification tasks every 60-90 days. And New Orleans’ Housing Authority, under direct federal control, refuses to reopen public housing to over 36,000 displaced residents who lived there,” an earlier release affirmed.

“FEMA-contracted job placement programs send people to unstable low-wage work, often regardless of skill. They’ve threatened survivors with eviction every few months,” said Suber. “Where’s the progress that makes it OK to end disaster housing? FEMA is on a schedule that has nothing to do with recovery.”

The six-page campaign platform demands full justice for “Internally Displaced Persons,” as provided for in the U.S. government’s “USAID Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons Policy.” The policy was designed to protect the human rights of people who are displaced as a result of a natural or man-made disaster.

“This U.S. policy, based on the United Nation’s ‘Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement,’ is intended for people in foreign countries. However, human rights are universal, and this policy should be applied to protect the human rights of U.S. residents who are displaced from their Gulf Coast communities,” said PHRF organizers.

PHRF is seeking to assist other evacuees to form Hurricane Evacuee Councils and unite with the coalition to get justice for Katrina victims. Visit the website or call (504) 931-7614.

“We are going door to door to help our neighbors from New Orleans navigate the broken system FEMA has implemented. Some of us are getting letters of ineligibility from FEMA even though our houses are destroyed back home. Others are worried that with this sudden cutoff we will be evicted or lose our apartments,” says Dorothy Stukes, president of the ACORN Katrina Survivors Association. “This is driving tenants and landlords into a panic. All we want is a stable place to live.”

ACORN is calling for FEMA to continue stable housing assistance, the non-profit announced in “Promises Made, Promises Broken,” a reply which contained a list of demands around the upcoming evictions or, as social service practitioners say, “The end of FEMA’s Temporary Housing Program.”
ACORN demands that FEMA work with tenants and landlords in Houston so that there is a smooth transition to secure safe and stable housing for Katrina evacuees; that a clear and speedy appeal process be created and housing support continued during the appeal; that a process be established to prevent landlords from gouging Katrina evacuees with high rent prices and discriminating against them by requiring extensive credit and background checks.

ACORN is working with allies in Washington, D.C., to change FEMA’s policy on housing assistance.

“We cannot move forward from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina if FEMA chooses to leave behind those who need the most help. I am saddened to see that FEMA has neglected its duty, but I am more outraged that the American people are forced to bear the brunt of its poor decision making,” said U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, who also sat on a House committee that investigated the feds’ handling of the disaster.

“Our lives have already been shaken upside down, and we can’t afford to be destabilized again,” says Kemberly Samuels, leader of the ACORN Katrina Survivors Association.

“A Bipartisan Senate Committee report called FEMA’s response to Katrina totally dysfunctional and pointed out that New Orleans and other Gulf Coast residents have paid the price in suffering and even loss of life. FEMA cannot be allowed to make another set of mistakes that threaten us with homelessness yet again. This is an outrage, and with ACORN we’re taking action to resolve this problem,” Samuels concluded.

ACORN is encouraging all evacuees who want to appeal FEMA housing ineligibility letters or are having trouble with their landlords to call ACORN at (713) 868-7015.

Meanwhile, the job of African-American voters in New Orleans is not close to being finished, says Sylvain.

“The Black community must continue to remind the mayor that they were the base of his victory and not just an asset or component,” he says. “But, they were the base, the key, the main.”
Sylvain says only the future will determine whether Nagin will now distinguish himself from the mayoral candidate who played to the White Republican vote four years ago.

“This will be determined by the policies he enacts, the staffing he puts in place, it will be determined by the neighborhoods that get developed,” Sylvain says. “One could argue that since the African-American community gave him 80 percent of their vote, that they should be first in line for the redevelopment efforts across the city.”

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