Clarence Ray Nagin once strode into New Air Jordan 20s Orleans City Hall as one of the most popular mayors in Louisiana history, later Air Jordan 10 becoming the public face of the city during the chaos and destruction of Hurricane Katrina.
On Monday, Nagin, 57, is scheduled to sit as a defendant in a federal corruption trial that could land him in prison for two decades.
His spectacular KOBE 9 slide from political heights to possible prison is more than a corruption trial tale. It’s the story of the political free fall of someone who mingled with presidents and pop stars but later became overwhelmed by the scale of disaster to his city and widely criticized for the slow pace of its recovery under his watch.
Prosecutors Jordan Pro Strong accuse Nagin of accepting more than $200,000 in cash and wire transfers, lavish family vacations and benefits to his family’s countertop business in exchange for millions of dollars worth of city contracts.
Prosecutors are expected to bring several co conspirators to the stand, including business associates accused of paying off the former mayor and flying him in private jets to New York City or on first class trips to Jamaica and Hawaii in exchange for city contracts.
The 21 count indictment is not related to post Katrina rebuilding activity, and Nagin has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyer, Robert Jenkins, did not return several requests for comment.
If convicted, Nagin faces up to 20 years in prison and would be the first New Orleans mayor convicted of corruption in the city’s 296 year history.
“We’ve had our share of indicted legislators and council members and governors,” said Dane Ciolino, a Loyola law professor following the trial. “But he was our mayor and the highest profile mayor we’ve had in a long time.”
Nagin, who served two terms as New Orleans mayor from 2002 to 2010, was widely criticized for not doing enough to steer the city’s rebuilding after the 2005 Katrina floods left 80% of New Orleans underwater, around 1,800 dead along the Gulf Coast and billions of dollars in damages, said Mike Sherman, a Tulane University political scientist. Still, few imagined illegalities stemming from Nagin’s office, he said.
“Even when some folks doubted his performance, it was always said, ‘Well, at least he was honest,'” Sherman said. “This trial puts that into question.”
A former executive at Cox Communications, Nagin won the mayoral election in 2002 on promises of being a reformer and business savvy political outsider, Sherman said. He enjoyed an 80% approval rating in his first two years of office, higher than most similar posts around the country, he said.
Then Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005. Nagin initially received high marks for publicly challenging the slow footed federal response to the disaster, said Clancy DuBos, political editor at the Gambit, the city’s alternative weekly. But as challenges mounted, Nagin began to waver.
A turning point came a few weeks after the storm, when DuBos witnessed Nagin walk out of a legislative committee hearing on the storm in Baton Rouge and collapse to the floor. “I did not sign up for this [expletive],” DuBos heard Nagin say repeatedly.
From then on, Nagin would leave on prolonged trips out of the city and seemed to delegate the day to day matters of rebuilding the city to others, often with scant results, DuBos said. “When Katrina happened, we really needed someone to stand the city up and lead,” he said. “He just wasn’t up to it.”
But missteps and verbal gaffes such as when Nagin, who is black, said New Orleans should repopulate as a “chocolate city” during a 2006 speech overshadowed many of his accomplishments, such as keeping the city out of bankruptcy in the immediate aftermath of Katrina and rebuilding the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, said Silas Lee, a local pollster who knew Nagin.
Personally, the disaster took a toll on the mayor, Lee said. Nagin was re elected in 2006 but left office four years later with a 24% approval rating the lowest ever of a New Orleans mayor, he said. “He was trying to rebuild the city but there was never a template,” Lee said. “It was a major challenge not just for him but any mayor.”
Along the way, Nagin was also indulging in first Air Jordan CDP class trips to Hawaii and Jamaica and limousine rides around New York City, courtesy of associates who would later win million dollar contracts with the city, according to his federal indictment. Government prosecutors allege that between 2002 and 2011, Nagin repeatedly received cash payoffs and private jet travel to Chicago and Las Vegas.
But whether Nagin is convicted or acquitted of the charges or agrees to a plea deal will be of minimal importance to residents today, Sherman said. Mostly, they just want to turn the page on this chapter of their recent past, he said.
“This trial brings back a painful and divisive time in the city’s history,” Sherman said. “The overwhelming majority of citizens are looking to the future.”