Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ex-New Orleans mayor worried that CIA agents would 'shoot me with a miniature, slow-acting poison dart'...


Since Hurricane Katrina’s winds died down, Ray Nagin has cast his role as mayor of New Orleans as a me-against-the-world struggle to save his hometown against inept government officials and racist forces, sometimes even laying out vague conspiracy theories to bolster his worldview.

But that perspective has never been laid out as starkly as in Nagin’s self-published memoir, “Katrina’s Secrets: Storms After the Storm,” released Wednesday.
From then-President George W. Bush to former Gov. Kathleen Blanco to members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation, top officials of suburban parishes and the powers-that-be at FEMA and the Coast Guard, Nagin paints himself as a Lone Ranger attempting to rip through maddening bureaucracies and navigate savagely partisan politics to save his drowned city.

The former mayor, who left office last year, also admits in the 330-page paperback that the infamously botched nature of the disaster response led him briefly into a state of paranoia. Nagin writes that he suspected the federal government of trying to poison him, and he believed at one point that the city’s wealthiest, most powerful residents were trying to bug his hotel suite.
But in recounting the hot, harrowing days after the storm, Nagin also portrays himself sympathetically, as a decisive, honest executive who faced daunting tasks, from evacuating starving residents to pumping floodwaters back into Lake Pontchartrain to establishing rules for rebuilding.
At a news conference Wednesday, the mayor-turned-disaster consultant called writing the book a “therapeutic” experience.
“It’s helped me to kind of heal from some of the stuff that I saw and witnessed and experienced throughout Hurricane Katrina,” Nagin said. “You know, I went through a lot of this, but it was going so fast, that now that I’ve gone back and looked at it, it allowed me to connect the dots and understand the depths and the complexities of everything we were dealing with.”
The book recounts many anecdotes familiar to New Orleanians: Nagin’s discovery at Zephyr Field in Jefferson Parish shortly after the storm of mountains of relief supplies; his first helicopter tour of the flooded city; his shower on Air Force One; his rescue of his daughter’s pet, Fishy.
Among the more shocking revelations is the former mayor’s account of the evening of Aug. 30, 2005. Nagin writes that he and his top aides were in the Hyatt’s fourth-floor command center when about 20 men entered, “dressed in black combat outfits and adorned in bulletproof vests, rifles, and leg straps holding at least two very large handguns each.
“Their presence was shocking, menacing, bizarre, and surreal,” he writes, adding that one barked out: “‘We’re here to protect the mayor. Everybody else get out.’”
The armed men wouldn’t say who sent them or why, though Nagin surmises they may have worked for mega-defense contractor Blackwater. “If they were here to protect me, I sure did not feel that as my gut told me there was another agenda at play, and it clearly did not have our best interests at heart, period,” he writes.
The guards managed to access Nagin’s 27th-floor suite and install “all kinds of wires” they claimed were “for a satellite connection.” Ultimately, though, their efforts were thwarted when “Greg (Meffert) and crew stopped (them) cold,” Nagin writes, referring to his former chief technology officer.
“And after several rounds of going back and forth, our unwelcome visitors got the message that we were not going to allow them to take over or gain access to my room to plant bugging devices.”
Nagin also worried about becoming a target of sinister forces after his famous Sept. 1, 2005, rant on WWL-AM, which the former mayor writes was prompted by reports that Blanco and U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter had bragged “about how well things were going,” even as evacuees continued to suffer at the Superdome and Convention Center.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’m a dead man! I have just publicly denounced the governor, U.S. Senators, FEMA and the president of the United States,’” he writes. “I started wondering if during the night I would be visited by specially trained CIA agents. Could they secretly shoot me with a miniature, slow-acting poison dart?
“As my dad often told me, ‘Be careful your mouth doesn’t write a check your butt can’t cash.’ I was convinced my mouth had just gotten me into a whole lot of trouble,” he writes.
Nagin admits he also suffered pangs of paranoia on the Monday after the storm, when he visited the USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship that docked near the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and served as a base of federal operations.
There, he was escorted to an infirmary where two medical staffers “had orders to examine me and give me shots.”
“I was still a little paranoid and again started imagining a secret CIA plot where in six months I would be gone,” he writes. “After thinking for a minute, I said to them, ‘Okay, you can give me shots, but I want you to do the same for my two security guys.’
“My thinking was it would have been easier to spin that stress ultimately took me out, but it would be much harder to explain all three of us suddenly dying mysteriously,” writes Nagin, who said during Wednesday’s briefing that his sense of suspicion abated shortly after his visit to the ship.
“Subsequent to that, we kind of got out of nuclear crisis mode and then we were more focused on” specific recovery tasks, such as “what do we to dewater,” he said.
In an aside to the anecdote about guards descending on the Hyatt, Nagin recalls getting a call earlier in the day from Jimmy Reiss, a business-turnaround specialist and an early supporter of Nagin’s political ambitions whom Nagin in turn tapped to head the Regional Transit Authority.
Saying he hoped to get Reiss’ advice about “how to get more resources to help rescue more citizens in need,” Nagin writes that the businessman instead “immediately started demanding that I let a private security firm into the city to protect, get this, only Audubon Place,” a gated enclave of Uptown where Reiss lived.
“I now recall that his preferred security company, Blackwater, had also been hired to work in Iraq,” the former mayor writes, adding that he denied Reiss’ request.
Reiss makes another appearance later in the memoir, when Nagin recounts a well-known, mid-September gathering of New Orleanian business elites in Dallas. He recalls that the meeting included “just about every uptown New Orleans businessperson of the highest social standing” and likened it to a “secret meeting of the Rex and Comus organizations.”
On his way there, Nagin writes that he was contacted by several black community and business leaders who alerted him to news reports quoting Reiss and others saying they wanted New Orleans to be rebuilt “in a completely different way: demographically, geographically, and politically,” an option the former mayor insists he would not abide.
“Taking the social reengineering play off the table meant I would have troubles with these very powerful, shadowy figures in the future,” he writes. “From that point on everything changed, especially local media treatment. I had a target on my back as the guy who stood in the way of their vision of a new New Orleans where mint juleps would once again be the drink of choice in a bleached, adult Disney World-like city.”
Nagin doesn’t mention that within weeks, he appointed a number of wealthy business executives to a key recovery panel, the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, which publicly mulled the controversial notion of barring rebuilding in some sections of town. Nagin ultimately rejected that proposal.
Nagin, who as mayor was in charge of the Police Department, also recounts how a small group of police officers “evolved from protect and serve into something much more sinister.”
“Several became evil opportunists who saw what was unfolding during Katrina and took it upon themselves to play out their deadly fantasies,” he writes. “These guys generally play in the shadows and some have described them as modern-day Ku Klux Klan with badges.
“It is now coming to light that right after Katrina hit, a small group of racist cops went out on regular patrols with the boldly announced purpose of ‘time to go out and shoot some Negros,’” Nagin writes, noting that he altered the quotation to remove racially offensive language.
The former mayor writes that he “would not fully understand until four and a half years later” the extent of the “dark side (of) Katrina policing,” though news accounts of rogue police action began appearing within days of the storm and continued in earnest throughout his second term.
Martha Carr, Frank Donze, Stephanie Grace, Peter Kovacs, Rhonda Nabonne and Gordon Russell contributed to this report. Michelle Krupa can be reached at or 504.826.3312.

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