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Commentary: Adios New Orleans

By Rawlins Gilliland, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX –

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is losing a fighting battle.

He apologized after proselytizing that God wants New Orleans to remain, in his words, "chocolate," but you and I both know he meant it. While Crazy Ray's raising hell, let's raise a few flags Mayor Nagin may not salute. One, the people who have returned to New Orleans thus far are largely white, and two, the people currently cleaning it up are largely brown.

Do the math.

While the majority of New Orleanians remain in limbo, strewn across the land, Hispanic workers are living in jam-packed makeshift rooms earning $15-20 an hour doing the lion's share of their city's excavation. Workers, who come to your community to rescue whatever shortfalls are called for, historically remain in places they helped develop or, in this case, restore. Children born there become instant citizens. Ironically, that's no small part of how the transplanted African population propagated in the original French city.

So what about this "black to the future" ideology? Mr. Nagin's earlier offensive bravado, vowing he'll prevent New Orleans from becoming "Mexican" (pre-Katrina 3% Hispanic) was not only politically and racially transparent; it's also laughingly futile. The truth? New Orleans had all but lost its white middle class base years ago, in response to the escalating crime and welfare state, and the haughty presumption of men like Ray Nagin. If, as Ray insists, a city's future belongs to those who create it, why aren't the Dutch running New York?

World history shows us that wars like our Civil and disasters like Galveston's create permanent demographic upheaval. The Black Plague in the Middle Ages redistributed and consolidated money and power throughout Europe as one-third of its populace perished. Pre 1900, Galveston was the richest of American cities, while Houston was literally a backwater bayou. After that hurricane, the future belonged to Houston as it probably does to Baton Rouge.

Mayor Nagin returns to Baton Rouge (where he originally fled in the immediate apocalypse turmoil) to beg yesterday's constituents to come home. Surely they'll overlook the toxic filth and zero progress throughout their former neighborhoods. Perhaps he can make them nostalgic for the absurd way his city has been corruptly run. Maybe he can convince them that God wants tax dollars used to reconstruct a shantytown status quo. That's a hard sell to anyone who thought the cavalry was coming, and instead, saw a portion of the police flee and the mayor's ass leaping over the last dry levee.

Lord Mayor had better hope that absentee ballots are airlifted across this land, and that yesterday's black supporters have amnesia regarding his atrocious performance in post-Katrina's mishandled melee. Otherwise, Ray Nagin has about as much chance of being re-elected as Susan Sarandon has to play Phyllis Schlafly in an Eagle Forum production.

New Orleans deserves a future, free of the past while building upon it. Contributors of all stripes who love New Orleans quietly work to recapture a world they fear is lost. But this noisy mayor never stops talking a bad game: his ideas are expensive and his words are cheap.

Here's a new word he'll hear "real soon": "Adios."

Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.