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The Hayride Op Ed on Nagin’s ‘Chocolate City’ Legacy

Wikipedia

(By Sen. Conrad Appel for The Hayride) “We as black people, it’s time, it’s time for us to come together. It’s time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans. And I don’t care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day.”

– Mayor Ray Nagin 2006

Most of us back then knew the significance of the Mayor’s not-so-subtle intent, but we also knew the numbers. When the Italians had run the City, friends of the Italians got the power and patronage; when the uptown whites had run the City, the same; when the Irish had run the City, the same.

So, we knew the score. African Americans had achieved a voting majority in the City and their leaders intended to use their political sway to enhance themselves with the same patronage and favoritism schemes that others before them had. It was their turn and nothing, not least Katrina, would pry that from their grasp.

I suppose that it is a great weakness of democracy that he who controls the power, controls who benefits from that power.

Despite that inherent selfishness, what has made America so successful as a nation has been that the majority of the time there was always enough swag to go around. Even though one group reaped the political benefits of being in power, the overall system worked so well that the rest of the people could still prosper enough to satisfy themselves.

And when that equation invariably falls apart the great pendulum that is democracy swings and the once-powerful are swept aside in favor of a new group that take over. No matter who is in power, the key to American political stability was and is that there is enough prosperity to go around.

But now, years after Katrina, the people of Chocolate City have missed the boat to prosperity. The main reason being that, beyond obvious racial overtones, the whole concept of an Afro-American city, as envisioned by Nagin and built upon by his successors, involves social and economic policies that are an anathema to economic growth. There has not been enough economic vitality to share and therefore not enough prosperity to make everyone happy. And the most unhappy today may be African-American citizens who have been misled to believe that black politicians could have ever had anything to do with their personal well-being.

Take the recent Congressional elections, largely based in New Orleans. The candidates entered into a traditional Louisiana campaign to promise everyone everything, and that someone else would pay for it all. They made the “It’s our turn” case; a great fallacy of politics as nothing is free and no one has any obligation to do or pay for anyone else.

Nagin made his race-based decision because he was forced to by the black political leaders of the city. Theirs was a reaction to a plan promoted by white leaders to try to make post-Katrina New Orleans relevant, to recapture the potential to create prosperity for all. But in order to do so a lot of patronage, pecuniary and power alike, would have been eliminated and the black leaders would not abide by that, not while they held the reins of power.

A group of the most renowned city planners, architects, and economists in the world (the Urban Land Institute, the ULI) had been invited to redesign a city and an economy that was in shambles. They saw in New Orleans the opportunity to put into play the best practices that had demonstrated such success in re-building Europe after World War II. They had analyzed New Orleans in light of the results of Katrina and its weaknesses before and since Katrina.

Their answer was simple, the City did not have the people, the economy, or the resources to operate in the same way that it had before Katrina, let alone to create a modern economic center that had the potential to deliver prosperity for its people going forward. Read the full article here.

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