Ever since the July day when Mayor Ray Nagin announced that 84 arrest warrants had been issued in a massive campaign against public corruption, New Orleans has been a changed city. The simple fact that such a thing could take place in the town called the Big Easy is a signal of change in itself. But even more striking has been the way Nagin's efforts have been embraced by the public.The "massive campaign against public corruption" turned out to be a joke. The immediate effect at the time was a number of cab drivers, themselves little more than more victims of the mess at the taxicab bureau, were arrested and frog marched for TV cameras. Nagin was cheered as a hero.
The arrest warrants arose from an investigation of the city's car inspection and taxi licensing bureaus that Nagin launched shortly after taking office in May, and they were just the beginning. In the months since, his administration has dismantled the city's Utilities Bureau, announced that it had found graft in contracting and revealed extensive fraud in federal housing contracts. In addition, the acting U.S. attorney in New Orleans announced late in August that the FBI is two years into an ongoing probe of graft in city hall. "Everyone's settling in for two or three years of probes," says one local reporter.
After that nothing happened. Before retiring, DA Harry Connick declared much of what Nagin's crackdown had yielded to be unprosecutable garbage.
By late last week, Connick had refused charges against all but eight city workers out of nearly 100 cabbies and municipal employees arrested in the mayor's corruption probe arrests in July. "The courts have actually agreed with Connick on issues of probable cause for those arrests, but his decision is unpopular," (criminologist Peter) Scharf says.
Political pollster Ed Renwick concurs: "He has reasons for not prosecuting those cases -- but with the public, it's gone over like a ton of bricks."
Connick not only refused the charges, he called on the mayor, the police chief and the media to apologize for the arrests, which were televised and announced in advance by The Times-Picayune.
"For [Nagin] to lead the public to believe that the police gave us good evidence is grossly unfair, and this is what he has done," Connick says.
In response, Nagin continued to demagogue welcoming the arrival of "a new DA and a fresh perspective." In time, New Orleanians would render a different judgment on Eddie Jordan's "perspective." At the time, though, Nagin's comment allowed Connick to get in one particularly prescient parting shot.
Responding to Nagin's comments, Connick says, "I consider that to be insulting because it questions my integrity. ... I think he's become involved in something and he's, in fact, over his head. This is new to him, and I don't think he knows what to do."Yesterday's arraignment of Nagin was mostly a distraction; an occasion for the same local press that cheered Nagin's bogus taxicab bureau crackdown to come out and gawk at him now. Still there's a certain symmetry to appreciate in watching Nagin take the same sort of walk of shame he had himself subjected those cab drivers to for his own cynical purposes. At least that's what I thought about when I watched this video.