Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (D) is back in the news these days. Unfortunately, he’s riding in on headlines of corruption, serving to cast a negative light on who was once a widely recognized politician.
A federal grand jury is looking into a tangled web of dealings between Nagin, city employees and contractors during his time in office. There are allegations of luxury travel paid for by Mark St. Pierre, a technology contractor. Authorities are also looking at how Nagin’s former granite countertop installation business, Stone Age, LLC, landed contracts with four local Home Depot stores from 2007-2008 as their exclusive provider of granite countertop installation services.
In addition, the grand jury wants to know how Nagin’s company got free equipment for the granite countertop business from another local businessman, Frank Fradella.
Other players in the story have suffered worse consequences than Nagin. St. Pierre, for instance, is serving a 17-year prison sentence for bribing Greg Meffert, the city’s chief technology officer under Nagin. Meffert will be sentenced in May for his role in the bribery scheme. Fradella is facing securities fraud charges in Dallas because of his role in inflating the stock price of his company, Home Solutions of America.
Nagin claims that he didn’t know that travel and other amenities were paid for by St. Pierre. He thought that Meffert footed the bill, which would not have put him in as much legal hot water.
From The Times-Picayune story, it is obvious local media did their homework about the mayor’s past dealings with city contractors. And this isn’t their first run out of gate on reporting improprieties within the Nagin Administration.
Nagin was one of the most well-known African American mayors of a major city in the past decade. He was thrust into the spotlight after his city flooded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Nagin, at times, was the loudest voice for displaced New Orleans residents and those who survived the flood. At other points, he was criticized for his lack of a realistic vision for the city’s rebuilding efforts, improper planning before and after the storm, and shady dealings.
He’ll be entitled to have the facts and a fair day in court, should the federal grand jury probe finds it necessary. However, the image cannot be overlooked, whether true or not, of yet another politician – especially a Black one – involved in suspected corruption. Situations like this only reinforce negative stereotypes about elected officials and tarnishes the hard work that some have done. It also shows how much of a negative influence money is on the political process.
This is also not a good look for Nagin’s image overall. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina he was instantly put on a national stage to represent part of the bungled political response to the storm catastrophe. Initially, he was able to distance himself from then-Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and President George W. Bush because he was so vocal about how the higher levels of government failed to help his city. Nagin was not unscathed in the court of public opinion on the storm, but he didn’t suffer the same irreparable fates as Blanco and Bush.
To see Nagin suspected of conducting this kind of pay-for-play business dealing so soon after the city’s worst tragedy was off-putting, to say the least.
Think about it.
The federal grand jury is looking into a few areas of concern regarding Nagin’s dealings with city contractors. The one that stands out the most is how Nagin’s granite countertop company, Stone Age, became a preferred contractor for four local Home Depot stores. Considering the overwhelming amount of home repair services needed in the Greater New Orleans area post-Katrina, Nagin’s company stood to greatly benefit from this setup. There is a lot of gray area when politics, money, and influence are mixed together.
No matter what the outcome, it is clear that corruption allegations are taking Nagin’s legacy in the wrong direction. It’s tough to watch a mayor who seemingly fought for his constituents on one hand, but enriched his own interests in the process on the other. The public will want to hear Nagin’s timeline of the events.