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Last Updated: Friday, 9 September 2005, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Faces of the week
Faces of the week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are Ray Nagin (main picture), with Kate Adie, Lord Glentoran, John Humphrys and Keira Knightley.

Ray Nagin

Ray Nagin's transformation from poor black boy to self-made millionaire to Mayor of New Orleans personifies the American Dream. But today, at the centre of the political storm which has accompanied Hurricane Katrina, he finds himself fighting for the millions whom the Dream passed by.

Ray Nagin's choice, when asked some years ago about his favourite book on his home town, was both enlightening and chillingly prescient.

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America, by John Barry, is a classic disquisition on the unexpected impact of nature on the political culture of a nation, a story which seems more relevant than ever in the light of recent events.

Mayor Ray Nagin in New Orleans, 6 September 2005

The legacy of the 1927 storm, which killed 246 people and displaced 700,000 others across six states, proved decisive. Black voters in the Deep South, who had previously supported the Republicans, were appalled by what they saw as a lack of support from President Calvin Coolidge.

They defected in droves to the Democrats, providing a solid electoral base for Roosevelt's New Deal and the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

Today, as he fights his own battle with a Republican White House and 25,000 body bags are delivered to his devastated city, Ray Nagin may well be reflecting on the lessons of Louisiana's history.

Nagin's own story is a classic rags-to-riches tale. He was born in 1956 in the city's Charity Hospital, the very same 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, Nagin worked his way up the corporate ladder at Cox Communications, eventually working as a senior executive in cable television.

A flooded New Orleans
Devastated: New Orleans is under water
In 2001, dismayed at his son's plans to leave New Orleans because there were no jobs, Nagin decided to stand for mayor of the city they call The Big Easy. It was his first and, to date, only political campaign.

Nagin the Republican repositioned himself as 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."

Radio rant

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 Nagin's own cousin being arrested.

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

Despite the deployment of vast resources, the city's murder rate has rocketed, with more than 200 victims so far this year.

A man carries a baby through the flooded streets of New Orleans
What now for the people of The Big Easy?
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.

But Hurricane Katrina has left Ray Nagin, the man who once vowed never to beg Washington for anything, being reduced to venting his impotent fury in a rambling, obscenity-laden, rant at the White House on a local radio station.

"I keep hearing that this is coming, that is coming," he fumed, in one repeatable moment. "And my answer to that today is... where is the beef?"

As the search goes on for the dead and as those citizens who have remained in their homes are being forcibly removed, the blame game is in full swing.

Nagin has been slammed for failing to evacuate New Orleans early enough, thereby condemning thousands of poor, mostly African-American, citizens to face the full horror of the storm.

As Democrats prepare to mount a political assault on the Bush administration for its perceived failings, some political commentators are musing on the possibility of a 1927-style transformation in Louisiana politics.

And Ray Nagin, once the bright hope of this run-down, murder-ridden, place may yet see his own political career washed away with so much else in the city.


Kate Adie: Second family
Kate Adie

Veteran BBC journalist and broadcaster Kate Adie has spoken of her adoption as a baby and her discovery that she had a second family. Adie, formerly the Beeb's chief news correspondent, enjoyed a happy childhood with her adoptive parents in Sunderland, before discovering her blood relatives in the 1990s. She says: "Having had loving people who brought me up, and then I find another set of people. That really is a double blessing."

Arrested: Lord Glentoran
Lord Glentoran

A Conservative peer and his wife were arrested by Spanish police on the border with Gibraltar. Lord Glentoran, the shadow minister for Northern Ireland in the House of Lords, was "briefly detained" after a row allegedly broke out as they were passing through customs. Lord Glentoran, who entered the House of Lords in 1995, was a member of the British bobsleigh team which won gold at the 1964 Innsbruck Winter Olympics.

Censured: John Humphrys
John Humphrys

The BBC has said that comments by the interviewer John Humphrys about senior Labour politicians were "inappropriate and misguided" and could be used to question his and the Corporation's own impartiality. It follows a row over a speech which Humphrys delivered at the Communication Directors' Forum in June. In a statement, the BBC said: "John himself accepts that some of his phrases were injudicious."

Keira Knightley: Austen fan
Keira Knightley

Pirates of the Caribbean star, Keira Knightley, has wowed the crowds at the premiere of a new film adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. 20 year-old Knightley, who plays Elizabeth Bennet opposite Matthew Macfadyen's Mr Darcy, praised Austen's timeless writing as the key element in the film: "For me it is that the characters are flawed, I think that that is one of the best things in the entire world, you don't have perfect characters, you have very realistic characters."

Compiled by BBC News Profiles Unit's Andrew Walker




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