This Isn’t A Defense Of Ray Nagin, But…

…since he was just brought in guilty on 20 of 21 counts in his corruption trial today I thought I’d pass along this story.

Namely, that I was at a function in New Orleans back in the spring of 2006, in the middle of the mayor’s race between Nagin and Mitch Landrieu that the just-convicted mayor managed to win. And at that function I met a recent arrival to the Big Easy from New York, a super-smart entrepreneur who was building a tech-based company creating exactly the kind of jobs all the politicians say they want.

And we had a nice conversation which ultimately came around to the mayor’s race that was going on at the time. I assumed my new acquaintance would be a Mitch Landrieu supporter given the foul odor so many were perceiving from Nagin in the wake of his stupid Chocolate City comments and the incompetent performance he displayed in Katrina’s aftermath.

But I was wrong. This guy said he was a Nagin voter.

And his justification for it is something I carry with me still.

“Look,” he said. “Both of these guys are socialists. The city’s probably screwed either way, or at least neither one of them will do a damn thing to fix it. You need people like me, who will invest money and build businesses, who will fix the city – not some politician.

“But between two socialists, give me the idiot. With the smart socialist what I’ll get while I’m trying to build my business is an army of goons he’ll send in to harrass me and chisel bribes out of me. Somebody from the health department, the fire marshall, the this, the that.

“Nagin would do that, but he’s a fool and all his people are fools. I don’t need the government to do anything for me to build this company of mine, I need them to leave me alone. And with Nagin that’s what I’ll get because they’re not smart enough to harrass me.

“So I’m voting for Nagin and chaos, and I’m voting against Landrieu and the army of smart socialists he’ll bring with him.”

Nagin and chaos won, as you know. And what’s interesting is that by 2010 New Orleans was one of the hottest cities for business startups and tech development in the country.

Some of that had to do with the billions of federal dollars in Katrina recovery money that poured into the city; while we’re no fans of Keynesian economic theory, billions of dollars going into a city will be followed by people looking to access those funds and do things with them.

But a lot of it had to do with exactly what my partner in conversation back in 2006 was talking about. New Orleans was perhaps the large city in the country with the least amount of actual government, and without that government business thrived. It’s ironic that Nagin got sent up for taking the exact kinds of bribes my friend said he’d get shaken down for by Landrieu’s goons; what that tells you is that Ray and his guys weren’t as good at that game as the professionals. Plus, Nagin was shaking down people who wanted government contracts, which is a different animal than my friend was talking about.

Now that Landrieu has been in office for four years there are signs the boom is slowing down. How much of that comes from the army of smart socialists my friend was so leery of, I can’t say.

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