Someone's Back Yard in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward (Copyright Nienaber)
Journalists who jump through all the hoops when visiting a new country or city know that their first order of business is to get credentialed. After three days of frustrating unanswered emails and unreturned phone calls to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s press office, we finally got through to press officer James Ross. He assured us that the reason he did not return any messages was that credentials were not needed, since the city was now in “recovery mode.” Knowing better, in terms of the credentials, we spent the better part of an afternoon camped in the mayor’s waiting room with a helpful receptionist who could not find anyone either. Evidently, Nagin had just returned from meetings in Washington, DC and was in high level meetings with city officials. This did not explain the unavailability of the press office, though. The receptionist spent the better part of an hour locating a city map for us, which was the best we could do. The “high level meetings” will provide much fodder for research as we tackle this story.
The Thursday October 25th front page news in the Big Easy tells a fascinating tale, and explains much about what we have witnessed here in just short of two weeks, and why the City government of New Orleans is in seeming disarray, distracted, and unavailable.
According to The Times-Picayune newspaper, an armed robbery suspect who is also a suspect in a home invasion and shooting of a police officer and his wife, fled to the home of District Attorney “Eddie” Jordan. The suspect fled on foot from the scene of a robbery at a gas station and entered Jordan’s home.
One of the things that has been “going on,” is that a federal judge ruled last week that the assets of the DA’s office could be seized to settle a $3.7 million judgement involving racial discrimination against white employees. Jordan is black, and fired the former white DA’s staff when he took office. Depending upon the interview, both blacks and whites feel discriminated against here, and both seem to have legitimate stories to tell. The truth has so far been elusive, and we doubt that racial issues that resulted in largely segregated neighborhoods before Katrina hit will suddenly come into focus as this reporter combs through notes and video at a later date.
The New Orleans City Council is basically left holding the bag for the bagman, as they debate whether to bail out Jordan. On Thursday, the council's budget committee on approved a resolution asking Jordan to disclose actual and anticipated funding sources and spending for 2007 and 2008.
In another development, Mayor Ray Nagin is under possible scrutiny by the FBI. Nagin has denied, through a spokesperson, that he is being investigated.
State Senator Derrick Shepherd (D-District 3) is under investigation by the FBI for allegedly helping a repeat felon launder $141,000 in fraudulent bond fees. The senator, who is from a New Orleans suburb, said that he is being investigated by the FBI, due to the fact that he has refused to assist the bureau in the Nagin investigation.
A detention hearing in federal court had investigators in U.S. District Attorney Jim Letten’s office accuse bond broker Gwendolyn Joseph Moyo of selling bogus construction bonds.
According to investigators, Shepherd deposited checks sent to Moyo and then returned approximately half the money to her. Moyo, a twice-convicted felon, could not cash the checks herself because they were made out to her business, AA Communications, and to a Chinese national, and a convicted felon. AA Communications had its bank accounts seized last year by the state Department of Insurance.
The U.S. District attorney is white, the defendents are black, and the whole mess provides more fodder for discussions about race. However, most street violence here appears to be black on black.
We have spent parts of the last two weeks touring the still-devastated wards of Orleans Parish. The iconic images remain, and it is shocking to witness them---two years after they were seared into America’s collective consciousness. Many streets are deserted, neighborhoods are still devoid of life except for the vines snaking through vacant, storm-damaged homes, construction materials and refuse litter the sidewalks, and no one in the lower ninth ward wants to venture out onto the streets after dark.
Insurance premiums have not been paid, new construction is shoddy, the poor get poorer, and the middle class suddenly has an understanding about what it is to be left without basic infrastructure. Portions of once-solid Lakeview look much the same as the lower ninth ward, and in some ways worse. The middle class, black Gentilly neighborhood is silent, except for the sounds of shredded blue tarps and black plastic snapping in the wind.