Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin arrives at the Hale Boggs Federal Building and U.S. District Courthouse to appear in federal court for an arraignment on public corruption charges in New Orleans, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013. / AP Photo
Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has pleaded not guilty to charges he accepted bribes, free trips and other gratuities in exchange for helping contractors secure millions of dollars in work for the city.
U.S. Magistrate Sally Shushan set Nagin’s bond at $100,000 during his arraignment last Wednesday on charges that include bribery, wire fraud and filing false tax returns.
A 21-count indictment last month accuses Nagin of accepting more than $200,000 in bribes, free loads of granite for a family business and trips to Hawaii, Jamaica and other places.
The charges against Nagin are the product of a City Hall corruption investigation that already has resulted in guilty pleas by two former city officials and two businessmen and a prison sentence for a former city vendor.
Nagin, a former cable television executive, was a political novice before being elected to his first term as mayor in 2002, buoyed by strong support from white voters. He cast himself a reform-minded progressive who wasn’t bound by party affiliations, as he snubbed fellow Democrat Kathleen Blanco and endorsed Republican Bobby Jindal’s unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 2003.
Katrina elevated Nagin to the national stage, where he gained a reputation for colorful and sometimes cringe-inducing rhetoric.
During a radio interview broadcast in the storm’s early aftermath, he angrily pleaded with federal officials to “get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans.” In January 2006, he apologized for a Martin Luther King Day speech in which he predicted New Orleans would be a “chocolate city” and asserted that “God was mad at America.”
Strong support from black voters helped Nagin win re-election in 2006 despite widespread criticism of his post-Katrina leadership. But the glacial pace of rebuilding, a surge in violent crime and the budding City Hall corruption investigation chipped away at Nagin’s popularity during his second term.
Nagin could not seek a third consecutive term because of term limits. Mitch Landrieu, who ran against Nagin in 2006, succeeded him in 2010.
His arraignment Wednesday marked a rare public appearance for Nagin, who now lives in Frisco, Texas, and has kept a low-profile since he left office in 2010.