New Orleans In a Tempest Over 'Deluge'

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin greets a well-wisher at a campaign stop. Nagin has faced persistent questioning recently on his depiction in
New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin greets a well-wisher at a campaign stop. Nagin has faced persistent questioning recently on his depiction in "The Great Deluge," a new book about Hurricane Katrina. (By Mario Tama -- Getty Images)
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 19, 2006

NEW ORLEANS, May 18 -- He gets asked at campaign stops, in candidate forums and televised debates.

What about the book, Mayor?

"Bogus" he replies, or "total distortions." And sometimes he gets mad.

Rarely has a work of history figured so prominently in a mayoral election here or anywhere else. "The Great Deluge," by Tulane University historian Douglas Brinkley, covers a week of the Hurricane Katrina debacle and depicts New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin as too vain, too stunned and too paranoid to have been effective in the city's crisis.

Relying in part on accounts from Nagin's political rivals, the book has been characterized by his supporters as a campaign attack timed to sink his bid for reelection on Saturday. "The Great Deluge" began appearing in bookstores this month.

Brinkley, the author of several best-selling history books, says the book was meant to coincide not with the election but with the June 1 onset of hurricane season.

Brinkley said that nobody was misquoted and that Nagin should blame himself that the book has become such a prominent part of the campaign.

"Nagin denounced the book without reading it," Brinkley said Thursday. "If he had ignored it, I don't think it would have become an issue. People love the food fight -- it was suddenly the Tulane professor from Uptown versus the mayor. It got framed as a square off.

"It only made my sales jack up," Brinkley said. "My publisher is very happy with Mr. Nagin."

On Saturday, voters here will elect Nagin or Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu in a race that many analysts say is too difficult to call because of the displacement of voters. One poll does show Landrieu with a substantial lead.

Many voters say there appear to be few substantial differences in the approaches the two men have outlined for recovery. Both candidates have rejected calls for abandoning some neighborhoods that are considered extremely vulnerable to another inundation. Both have acknowledged that the city's rebuilding will depend in part on federal aid.

The leadership abilities of the candidates have become a central issue instead, and that is one reason Brinkley's account of Nagin has proved to be a sensitive subject.


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