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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 May 2006, 05:46 GMT 06:46 UK
Profile: Ray Nagin
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin
Ray Nagin's first and only political office is as mayor of New Orleans
Ray Nagin was catapulted onto the world's radar in late August 2005, as Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans and floodwaters breached the city's defences.

Nearly 1,200 people are thought to have died in the aftermath, and grisly images were beamed around the world as desperate survivors waited for help and order in the city began to break down.

Mayor Nagin lambasted federal authorities for the lacklustre response to the disaster but attracted his own share of criticism for delaying ordering a mandatory evacuation, and for failing to mobilise an effective evacuation procedure.

A series of controversial remarks since the tragedy has also ensured Mr Nagin is never far from the headlines.

In October 2005, he angered Latino groups when he asked a business audience how he could "make sure that New Orleans is not overrun by Mexican workers", referring to an influx of labourers who had arrived to help rebuild the city.

Mr Nagin was forced to apologise for remarks on 16 January 2006, when he suggested the multiple hurricanes which lashed the US in 2005 must indicate God was "mad at America... for being in Iraq under false pretences".

"But surely he is upset at black America also. We're not taking care of ourselves," he added.

He later tried to water down remarks in which he called for New Orleans to return to be a "chocolate" - presumably meaning black - city.

Business background

Mr Nagin's own story is a classic rags-to-riches tale. He was born in 1956 in the city's Charity Hospital, one that was overwhelmed, flooded and evacuated when Katrina struck. His father then took on two jobs to support his family and pay his son's education fees.

After a baseball scholarship took him to Tuskegee University in Alabama, Mr Nagin worked his way up the corporate ladder at Cox Communications, eventually working as a senior executive in cable television.

In 2001, dismayed at his son's plans to leave New Orleans because there were no jobs, Mr Nagin decided to stand for mayor of the city they call The Big Easy.

Ray Nagin the Republican repositioned himself as Ray Nagin the Democrat, but still preached a can-do creed, challenging African-Americans to make the free-market dream work for them.

His populist policies - to cut the city's spiralling crime rate, end the seemingly endemic corruption and cronyism which characterised its politics and revitalise a moribund local economy - caught the mood of the times, and he was elected.

"I'm not in it for the money," he said on the night of his election. "I'm in it for our children and grandchildren."


Once in office, the mayor set to work with a will. There was a police crackdown on local corruption, which led to everyone from unlicensed cab drivers to Mr Nagin's own cousin being arrested.

New Orleans skyline
Nagin tackled city corruption - and pot holes

Tax evaders were summarily dealt with and $1m was made available to fill in the city's 60,000 potholes.

A personable and popular figure, with an engagingly informal style, the mayor and his reformist initiatives were welcomed by the vast number of citizens. But not everyone was pleased.

Black groups, who previously benefited from the city's patronage when it came to jobs, condemned Nagin's administration for being "too white".

Re-election victory

Despite the deployment of vast resources, the city's murder rate has rocketed.

And his use of the City Hall website to personally endorse a Republican candidate for governor of Louisiana led to a furore, especially when the Democrat Kathleen Blanco won the race.

Despite his brash style and criticism over his handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Mr Nagin was still pegged as the front runner in New Orleans' mayoral race in 2006.

In May, Mr Nagin was re-elected having narrowly beaten challenger Mitch Landrieu, the lieutenant governor of Louisiana, in a second round run-off.

He now faces the task of overseeing reconstruction work and helping tens of thousands of people displaced by last year's hurricane to return to the city.

More than half of the residents who fled the hurricane last year have not yet returned to the city, where many neighbourhoods are still uninhabitable.


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