Ray Nagin’s Vanilla Chill?

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"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. This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans. And I don't care what people are saying in Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day."

At the end of Election Day, New Orleans still had a Chocolate Mayor, but the question now becomes, will C. Ray Nagin, Jr. even bother to try to recreate a Chocolate City?

In a controversial speech delivered on Martin Luther King Day back in January, Nagin caused quite a stir when he expressed his hopes that the bulk of the black refugees scattered around the country since Hurricane Katrina would soon return and turn the Big Easy back into a predominantly African-American metropolis:

"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. This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans. And I don't care what people are saying in Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day."

However, when he came under fire for those comments, he recanted his remarks the very next day, saying he should never have used the word "chocolate." But the coded message had already been delivered and most of the Black community rallied around the brother in his re-election bid, trusting that the "C" in his name stands for Chocolate, not Clarence.

In a hotly contested race decided late on the night of May 20th, Nagin garnered 80% of the watered-down (pardon the expression) Black vote, barely beating his challenger, fellow Democrat Mitch Landrieu by just 4%. Proof that politics still makes strange bedfellows is that the constituency credited with putting the incumbent over the top was Republicans.

Nagin was endorsed by Rob Couhig, the GOP candidate with the most votes in the primary which led to the recent run-off. And it was reported that white women were seen sporting T-shirts and buttons which read, "Another vanilla sister for our chocolate brother!" Even President Bush seemed to support him, always embracing the embattled mayor during his numerous visits to the region.

Why would so many white conservatives be in Nagin's corner? What do they know that the black community doesn't? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that he endorsed the Republican candidate in Louisiana's last gubernatorial election. Or maybe it's because he was reportedly a lifelong Republican who only switched his registration to Democrat when he decided to run for mayor.

Regardless of their reasons, I would at best be cautiously optimistic, if I were an African-American survivor, displaced by Hurricane Katrina, still hoping for help from Nagin to resettle in New Orleans. For it is far more likely that the bureaucrats bankrolling His Chocolateness are the ones really overseeing the city's blueprint for recovery and plans for urban renewal. And that moneyed class undoubtedly has a vanilla agenda designed to strand the absent African-Americans in relative limbo permanently, a predicament no doubt exacerbated by the Supreme Court-sanctioned, eminent domain-driven, big business bonanza which promises to transform the 'hood into an unrecognizable oasis of lily-white privilege and exclusivity.

Black Star News columnist Kam Williams is an attorney and a member of the bar in NJ, NY, CT, PA, MA & US Supreme Court bars.

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