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Mayor on the road with rebuild message
ALSO: Nagin's recovery tour
Saturday, June 17, 2006
By Frank Donze and Gordon Russell Staff writers

Mayor Ray Nagin just can't seem to stop talking about God and chocolate.

Five months after he offered a fervent mea culpa for a Martin Luther King Day speech in which he vowed to rebuild New Orleans as a "chocolate city" and linked Hurricane Katrina to the Almighty's disenchantment with American war policy in Iraq and black-on-black violence in American cities, Nagin struck some similar themes this week, this time in Chicago.

Talking on Tuesday to the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Rev. Jesse Jackson's organization, Nagin suggested that Hurricane Katrina was a divine effort to reorder the city's social landscape, according to an account in the Chicago Tribune

Before Katrina, the mayor said, New Orleans was a city of "haves and have-nots," with high poverty, high crime and a dysfunctional school system.

"Then, you know, God looked down on that and said, 'You know, I need to change that,' " Nagin said, according to the Tribune. "And then Katrina happened. And in the midst of all that devastation, God is now allowing us to have an opportunity to reset the table, and that was what the election was all about."

It was but the latest evidence of a mayoral penchant for divining God's hand in New Orleans' destiny.

During his inaugural address two weeks ago, the mayor pointed skyward and smiled as he suggested that his victory over Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu may have been guided by a higher power.

Though he had apologized profusely for this kind of patter after the King Day speech and vowed not to make the same mistake again, Nagin also revisited the chocolate theme in Chicago, apparently attempting to make light of the earlier uproar. Nagin said that he's encouraging "all folks" to help rebuild New Orleans.

"My white-chocolate friends, come on down," he said. "My medium-chocolate friends, come on down. And my dark-chocolate friends, definitely come on down."

The latest remarks caused a bit of a buzz on some talk-radio circles this week, with callers complaining that Nagin's latest remarks, even if meant in jest, were divisive.

In an e-mail, Nagin said he hadn't heard that anyone took offense, and said he didn't know why anyone would. He noted that he got "several standing ovations at every function" he attended during the Chicago conference.

The mayor also suggested that he had been misquoted by the Tribune. "I did not reference that God is angry at anything," he said, calling such an insinuation a "total fabrication."

"Let's focus on building one New Orleans and stop trying to get mileage out of 'chocolate city,' " Nagin concluded. "It's over!" . . . . . . .

BARNSTORMING?:The Tribune article also said Nagin indicated his Chicago speech was "part of a national tour."

Whether or not that's true is a bit of a mystery. Asked about the tour -- which Nagin has not mentioned to local reporters -- Nagin's communications director, Terry Davis, said he was not sure what the reference meant. However, he did not deny that a tour might happen, and promised to answer questions about the matter next week.

Bill Rousselle, a media consultant hired by City Hall, said Wednesday that the mayor would visit several cities to seek support for New Orleans' recovery and encourage tourism, though he did not know which cities or when. Rousselle said he would provide that information Thursday morning but could not be reached Thursday or Friday.

Asked about it directly via e-mail, Nagin did not respond.

Nagin was out of town Friday, but Davis said that trip was not part of any larger pattern. Rather, he said, Nagin was on "family business." Davis would not say where Nagin went.

. . . . . . .

Staff writer Michelle Krupa contributed to this report. Frank Donze can be reached at or at (504) 826-3328. Gordon Russell can be reached at or at (504) 826-3347.