A Hurricane Story In the Hallway

The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, was sitting at a table in the hotel hallway being interviewed. He was a guest speaker at the Denver Democratic Leadership Committee meeting in Denver last month and had arrived early enough to spend an hour or so mingling.

Sometimes on TV, height and looks are often distorted. Nagin is quite tall and much more handsome in person-a commanding presence in any room even if he had not become a nationally known politician.Sitting at another table within eyesight of the mayor was one of two Nagin’s security officers, Wondell Smith. He was a friendly, big guy who thought well of his boss. “You know, Ray Nagin is the second most recognized person other than George Bush,” Smith noted, “He’s his own man, too.”

Smith followed Nagin through the worst of the New Orlean’s disaster from Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent floods. It was no surprise to Smith that Nagin had been re-elected mayor of New Orleans earlier in the year. “He’s got to finish the job in New Orleans,” Smith said simply. Although Nagin was outspent 8 to 1 during his re-election, it was the “power of the people” that won the race for him, Smith declared.

“It’ll be a better town, it’s got to be,” Smith emphasized. “We had terrible schools, lots of things were messed up. We have a chance to start over, but it’s going to take awhile,” Smith admitted. “We only have half our city workers on staff and we still barely made payroll.”

New Orleans had dropped out of the quest to host the Democratic National Convention in 2008. “It hurt us to withdraw, but we couldn’t have supplied the necessary security and other requirements,” Smith said.

Nagin got up from his interview and took a short walk, still within the view of his security chief. Nagin politely stopped for another round of questions.

“Why are you here at the DLC meeting in Denver?”

He answered, “I’ve been coming for the past three years to these meetings. It’s serves as a vehicle for Democrats to talk about policies.”

“And about New Orleans?”

“I need to share the realities about New Orleans,” Nagin said. “We need help with our economic development and we’re looking for assistance everywhere we go.”

Then Nagin was greeted by Robert Klein from Time Magazine. It was an opportunity to update the national political columnist on New Orleans. Nagin and Klein left the hallway for privacy and Smith followed discretely behind them.