NEW ORLEANS — Mayor Ray Nagin apologized Tuesday for a Martin Luther King Day speech in which he predicted that New Orleans would be a “chocolate” city once more and asserted that “God was mad at America.”
“I said some things that were totally inappropriate. ... It shouldn’t have happened,” Nagin said, explaining he was caught up in the moment as he spoke to mostly black spectators, many of them fearful of being shut out of the city’s rebuilding.
During the speech Monday, Nagin, who is black, said that the hurricanes that hit the nation in quick succession were a sign of God’s anger toward the United States and toward black communities, too, for their violence and infighting. He also said, “It’s time for us to rebuild New Orleans — the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans.”
“This city will be a majority African American city,” he said Monday. “It’s the way God wants it to be. You can’t have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn’t be New Orleans.”
On Tuesday, Nagin said his comments about God were inappropriate and stemmed from a private conversation he had with a minister earlier. “I need to be more sensitive and more aware of what I’m saying,” he said.
Meant to welcome residents back
The mayor said his speech was really meant to convey that blacks were a vital part of New Orleans’ history and culture and should be encouraged to return. “I want everyone to be welcome in New Orleans — black, white, Asian, everybody,” he said.
Nagin said the other main point he had hoped to make Monday was that when blacks do return, they must work to stamp out the crime and political infighting that have held them back.
New Orleans was more than 65 percent black before Hurricane Katrina. The storm displaced about three-quarters of the city’s population. Most of the estimated 125,000 residents who have been able to return are white.
Nagin, a former cable company executive and political novice, was elected in 2002 with about 90 percent of the white vote, according to polls conducted by Ed Renwick, the director of Loyola University’s Institute of Politics.
The mayor’s speech also attacked America’s efforts in Iraq.
“Surely [God] doesn’t approve of us being in Iraq under false pretenses. But surely he is upset at black America also. We’re not taking care of ourselves.”
Criticism from the black community
Nagin received less than half the black vote, Renwick said Tuesday, and the mayor’s heaviest criticism since taking office has come from rival political factions in the black community, many of whom have portrayed him as an “Uncle Tom” who caters to the interests of white businessmen.
Nagin has been trying harder to gain the trust of black residents, Renwick said.
“But some of the remarks he made Monday will possibly dampen enthusiasm among some whites,” Renwick said. “It seemed to be another Nagin-being-Nagin. He has a penchant for just speaking off the cuff and not thinking it through.”
The political analyst added: “He also tends to speak to the literal audience he’s with at the time instead of the whole world he reaches through the TV, radio and print media.”
NBC News contributed to this report.