Hurricane Katrina: One Year Later, Part 2: Ray Nagin

The Mayor Speaks Out

Dr. Phil stands at the Industrial Canal levee, the site of New Orleans's largest breach during Hurricane Katrina. "One of the biggest concerns in New Orleans now is has this been fixed. I'm getting ready to sit down with Mayor Nagin and ask that very question," Dr. Phil says. "Some people, some citizens in New Orleans, are very frustrated with Mayor Nagin. They feel he is making empty promise after empty promise about rebuilding the city, bringing back their neighborhoods."

 

Dr. Phil strolls down the street with Mayor Nagin. They pause at the house where the mayor grew up. "When you played on this porch and this street, did you ever think you'd wind up being mayor of this great city?" he asks.

"No, I was a jock. I played baseball and basketball," Mayor Nagin replies. "I never had an inkling that I would get into politics."

 

Congratulating Mayor Nagin on his re-election win, Dr. Phil says, "It was a tough fight. What made it so hard to get re-elected, and why did you want the job?"

"I wanted to finish the job. I got in the race, and everybody, all the big players, kind of lined up against me," Mayor Nagin says.

"Why did a lot of those players line up against you? What was the main criticism that you had to overcome?"

"Everyone needed someone to blame. I was the face of New Orleans," Mayor Nagin answers.

Dr. Phil expresses concern about the housing problem in New Orleans. "I talked to a lot of residents this morning who are living in some of the FEMA trailer parks. Some good, hardworking people," he tells Mayor Nagin. "They had jobs when Katrina hit; they have jobs now. But they're saying that rents have gone up 300 and 400 percent in some places, and there's just not housing available that's affordable. What are those folks going to do, in your point of view?" 

"Right now, it looks very bleak because we have the supply-and-demand problem," Mayor Nagin replies. "But everything we're doing, going forward, deals with affordable housing. As more units come online that are affordable, it's going to drive downward pressure on rents, and then the market should correct."

When Dr. Phil points to signs that say, "Don't Bulldoze Our Neighborhood!" and "No Bulldozing," Mayor Nagin explains, "If you have not gutted your home or started the rebuilding process, then the city has the right to declare it blighted and start the expropriation process." 

"How's the crime here?"

"Overall, crime is down. Violent crime is down, but our murder rate is starting to show some signs that we're really concerned about."

"You had 22 murders in July?" Dr. Phil points out. 

"I don't know if we had that many, but the trend is definitely up as far as murders are concerned," Mayor Nagin answers. "What's happening is that drug dealers are coming back into the city, just like most urban centers, and trying to re-establish territories."

"One of the things that I've been sensitive to is the mental-emotional health of the people in the community: a lot of learned helplessness, a lot of depression, a lot of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," Dr. Phil says. "Before Katrina, there were over 200 psychiatric beds in the city, and now there are 30. There were 196 practicing psychiatrists here; 22 have returned. What happens with those people who are suffering so much?"

"Big challenge," Mayor Nagin replies. "We have teams that go out and try and assess exactly how they can help. We focus on first responders, because, initially, they were the most traumatized."

"When people have problems now, what do they do if they get depressed, if they're just really backed up and upset?" Dr. Phil presses.

"There are help lines that they call, but obviously, most of the agencies are overwhelmed," Mayor Nagin says. But he expresses confidence in the rebuilding of his city, particularly with the new levee system. "All those levees that were breached are repaired. Before Katrina, they were at 12 to 13 feet. Now they're as high as 20 feet," he says proudly. "It's not totally fixed to where we need it to protect against another Katrina, but it's the best system we've ever had. As far as our evacuation plans, they've all been updated. We feel comfortable with them. We're not going to have people in the Superdome or the Convention Center this time. We're evacuating people out of this city as quickly as we can."

"What happened to Eddie Compass?" Dr. Phil probes, referring to the former police chief who had been on the force for over 26 years. "Was he fired?"

"He's a hero in my opinion, did a lot of great things," Mayor Nagin replies. "He and I sat down one morning and we kind of jointly came to the conclusion that it probably was a good time for him to go. He said he was going to go off and write a book, and make some speeches. He has a young daughter who he was very concerned about, and he felt as though it was his time."

"Was he fired?" Dr. Phil presses.

"No, he wasn't fired."

"If he hadn't wanted to quit, would he still be here?"  

"Yes, he would have, but I was very concerned about Eddie," Mayor Nagin says. "I told him that. I said, 'Look, man. There are some things that are getting ready to come out, and you're on a high horse right now as far as what you've been able to accomplish. As these things come out, do you want to be the face to deal with them, or do you want to to go out on a high?' He decided he wanted to go out on a high."