Ray Nagin pledged on Sunday to spend the first 100 days of his second term as mayor of hurricane-ravaged New Orleans finding ways to speed up rebuilding, solve its housing crisis and clean up debris.
Less than a day after narrowly defeating Mitch Landrieu, a relaxed-looking Nagin also said he would work to improve strained relations with officials, notably Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, and his own city council to accelerate the plodding recovery.
“We have probably the most important opportunity ever in the city of New Orleans’ history,” he told reporters in the hall of St. Peter Claver Church in the historic Treme District.
“We now have the economic stimulus that will happen at unprecedented levels in this city for us to expand the economic pie and for everyone to get a piece of that pie.”
Much of that economic might is expected from billions of dollars in insurance settlements and federal aid.
Nagin said he will appoint a committee to develop a 100-day plan aimed at solving problems that have plagued the city’s recovery nine months after Hurricane Katrina and kept thousands of evacuees scattered across the country.
President Bush, criticized for his poor initial response to the disaster, called Nagin on Sunday to congratulate him. The Democratic mayor said the two talked about how to accelerate the city’s rebuilding and solve a severe housing shortage that has kept workers away.
He said they also began a dialogue on how to prevent thousands of evacuees in other cities from being evicted from temporary homes subsidized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“He was pretty excited — he was happy,” Nagin said. “He basically said, ‘Look, I’ve been through the storm with you. We’ve gone through some tough times together, and I’d rather continue rebuilding in that mode because I understand what you’re all about.”‘
After Katrina devastated 80 percent of the city on August 29, the mayor made world headlines for his impassioned pleas for assistance from Washington. But he was criticized for his own initial response to the disaster, and many analysts wrote off his re-election chances.
The former cable executive managed to take 52 percent of Saturday’s runoff election to beat Landrieu, the state’s lieutenant governor, with strong support from fellow blacks and enough votes from whites.
Landrieu had painted Nagin as a lone wolf whose poor relations with key officials at the state and federal levels were keeping New Orleans from a quicker recovery.
Nine months after Katrina, parts of numerous neighborhoods are filled with gutted, empty homes, debris and junked cars are piled up on boulevards and more than half the city’s population of 470,000 people remains scattered across 44 states.
Now, Nagin must restore the city’s credibility with the governor, her recovery authority, Washington and Wall Street to keep billions of dollars in aid flowing and to win over the 48 percent of voters who supported Landrieu, said independent political analyst and demographer Elliott Stonecipher.
Nagin said he will reach out to those key interests.
“He knows where he messed up. This ‘can’t play well with others’ thing has to stop,” Stonecipher said.
Meanwhile, Nagin said he believed the rest of the country does not understand the voters in New Orleans who gave him four more years at city hall or the city’s predicament with a new hurricane season starting June 1.
“I think the nation is being entertained. I think this is a big reality TV show to the nation, and I just think they don’t get it,” he said. “They don’t get the uniqueness of New Orleans, they don’t really get what happened during Katrina. All they saw was those awful images. And they really don’t get Ray Nagin.”
© 2006 Reuters