Reuters reported that former mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, was indicted with 21 counts of public corruption including receiving thousands of dollars in kickbacks for city services. The charges include six counts of bribery, nine counts of wire fraud, four counts of filing false tax returns and one count each of conspiracy and money laundering. "Nagin used his public office and his official capacity to provide favorable treatment that benefited the business and financial interests of individuals, providing him with bribery or kickback payoffs in the form of checks, cash, granite inventory, wire transfers, personal services and free travel," the indictment said.
The state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans in particular has a long of history of public corruption from the governor’s office on down to the state representatives, city council members and the police departments. A big part of the problem has to do with how the government is divided in the state. In Louisiana you have parishes and divided governments throughout the state with different rules based on what jurisdiction you live in. This is a recipe for failure from the get go! The city of New Orleans was founded on corruption and back room deals that is how things get done in New Orleans. Depending on how popular you are and the number of important people you don’t alienate, determines whether you are successful in not being indicted after serving in an official capacity.
The Times-Picayune of New Orleans reported in its December 12, 2012 edition that the New Orleans’ prisons, the city’s police department, housing authority, the sewage & water board and the school system or all under state or federal authority to remedy glaring troubles. Most recently the New Orleans' prison came under federal oversight because of the city’s notoriously shoddy and dangerous jails and because of poor inmate access to mental health care, suspect policies on deputies’ use of force, unconstitutional levels of violence and inhumane treatment in a facility that houses more than 2000 inmates. Katie Schwartzman, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Louisiana office reported that most inmates are pre-trial detainees who have not been convicted of anything. The jails get paid significantly per day for every individual in jail, so it has become a money making bonanza for the jails in New Orleans to routinely deny bail or put the bail at such a high amount that the individuals will stay in jail. Those individuals who are subsequently found not guilty, have little or no recourse for their incarceration.
Another issue that comes into play has to do with racial politics. Nagin a former cable television executive, had broad political support during his first term as New Orleans mayor. He was re-elected after the hurricane in 2006 but alienated some supporters who saw his public comments as racially divisive. In a speech on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2006, Nagin, who is black, said: "It's time for us to rebuild ... a chocolate New Orleans," adding that "This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be."
Is it just coincidence that Nagin has been indicted in the week that we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday? The indictment could have been announced weeks or months before or after King’s birthday celebrations. Is this the payback? Nagin should be commended for all the good that he has done for the city of New Orleans, but no one is above the law no matter their race. However, Nagin did nothing different than most political figures that came before him, he just got caught up in the politics of the situation.
For government to improve in the New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, there has to be a change in attitude and politician’s level of honesty from the governor’s office to local governments. The citizens of the state of Louisiana should demand nothing less.