Nagin Discusses Issues Affecting Black Mayors

Jun 7, 2008
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From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

America's black mayors wrap up their annual meeting today in New Orleans. It began the day after Barack Obama sealed the Democratic nomination for president. The National Conference of Black Mayors won't be endorsing anyone in the race though. That would endanger the group's nonprofit tax status. But one of the mayors did say it would be very easy for you to guess who they'll be backing.

The meeting wasn't about politics anyway; it was about the issues that affect the cities the black mayors run. Ray Nagin is the mayor of New Orleans; he hosted the meeting there. And welcome to the program, Ray Nagin.

Mr. RAY NAGIN (Mayor, New Orleans): Andrea, it's good to talk to you and good to talk to America.

SEABROOK: Thank you. So, what are those issues that you're talking about in the conference?

Mr. NAGIN: Well, you know, the conference is focused on the things that, you know, all mayors are concerned about in their various communities, whether it be housing, taxes, the high price of gas. And then we have some interesting sessions where we're talking about greening initiatives - to take advantage of solar power and all those renewable energy sources that we desperately need to move toward.

SEABROOK: Mayor Nagin, your city has gone through so much over the last three years. As mayor of New Orleans, what do you learn from a conference that is generally about cities?

Mr. NAGIN: I talk to mayors from around the country and particularly at the National Conference of Black Mayors about how they deal with crime issues, making sure there is affordable housing, what are their health care challenges. And I take all of that in and I try to educate my fellow mayors about the challenges that we have with FEMA and the fact that money flows from the federal government to the state, and some of the things to look out for just in case they get in this kind of predicament that we're in.

SEABROOK: What does it mean for New Orleans to host this event.

Mr. NAGIN: For us, at this point in our recovery, every convention that comes here means a lot economically. It also sends a signal around the country that we're open for business. And it exposes people, you know, mayors in particular about what's really happening in New Orleans so they can go tell our story for us. So, it's very important.

SEABROOK: In a moment I'll be speaking with a woman who's been helping Hurricane Katrina victims transition from trailers to permanent homes. What's been the biggest obstacle for New Orleans when it comes to bringing people back to the city?

Mr. NAGIN: Well, it's all about housing. We have over 134,000 homes that were damaged after Katrina. Some severely and some totally demolished. And the second thing that has been a big challenge for us is the federal grants, the state coined it as the Road Home Program…


Mr. NAGIN: …that grant process was very slow. And as a matter of fact, I think right now they've only distributed about 60 or 65 percent of the checks that should go to homeowners. So, that slowed down the recovery also.

SEABROOK: And, Mayor Nagin, I have to ask a political question. Let's talk about Barack Obama for just a moment. I know the conference can't endorse the candidate but what's the buzz been like there?

Mr. NAGIN: The buzz has been incredible. I mean, it's black mayors, it's African-Americans. So, obviously, we are all very proud of what Senator Obama has done. And I gave a little talk to basically kind of encourage people and say, look, this is the best opportunity for a person of color to potentially be in the White House and we need to get energized and hopefully push the turnout in each one of our cities to the highest levels there have been ever, and I think that would give the senator a great chance of being in the White House.

SEABROOK: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin hosted this week's annual meeting of the National Conference of Black Mayors. Mayor Nagin, thanks very much for joining us.

Mr. NAGIN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.