By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 17, 2007
New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin has suggested that the slow recovery and rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina -- which has prevented many black former residents from returning -- is part of a plan to change the racial makeup and political leadership of his and other cities.
"Ladies and gentlemen, what happened in New Orleans could happen anywhere," Nagin said at a dinner sponsored by the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade group for newspapers that target black readers. "They are studying this model of natural disasters, dispersing the community and changing the electoral process in that community."
Nagin's remarks Thursday night recalled the controversy stirred up by his prediction in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech in 2006 that, despite the evacuation of thousands of black people in the wake of Katrina, New Orleans would once again become a "chocolate city." The mayor later apologized for the comment, which had infuriated many whites and African Americans.
Nagin, who won reelection last May over Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, referred obliquely to the "chocolate city" comment at the dinner and suggested that his assertion that New Orleans would once again be a majority-black city had made him a political target.
"Everybody in America started to wake up and say: 'Wait a minute. What is he doing? What is he saying? We have to make sure that this man doesn't go any further,' " Nagin told a room full of black newspaper publishers and editors at the Capital Hilton.
Referring to Landrieu, who is white, as "the golden boy," Nagin suggested his chance at reelection in the mayoral race had seemed slim because "they dispersed all of our people across 44 states with one-way tickets."
"They thought they were talking about a different kind of New Orleans," Nagin said. "They didn't realize that folks were awake, that they were paying attention."