updated 5/17/2006 11:31:57 AM ET 2006-05-17T15:31:57

NORMAN ROBINSON, WDSU-TV ELECTION ANCHOR:  A city scarred and broken. 

Hurricane Katrina brought New Orleans to her knees.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is really horrible!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ELECTION ANCHOR:    Nine months later, bodies are still being found, neighborhoods sit empty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You never finish if you don‘t start, so you got to start a little bit at a time.

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ROBINSON:  As another hurricane season approaches, will the levees be ready?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You can rest assured that we are totally committed to this project.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Billions of your tax dollars up for grabs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  ... one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen.

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ROBINSON:  Twenty-three candidates for mayor now down to two.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RAY NAGIN (D), CANDIDATE FOR REELECTION:  I am a maverick.  I cross the line periodically.

MITCH LANDRIEU (D), CANDIDATE FOR MAYOR:  Who do you trust with your future, with the future of your family?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Will New Orleans rise again, or will Hurricane Katrina be the death of an American city?

ANNOUNCER:  Live from the Crescent City, at Hearst-Argyle Television‘s WDSU studios and in partnership with MSNBC, this is “The Debate for New Orleans Mayor.”  Tonight‘s moderators are MSNBC‘s election anchor Chris Matthews and WDSU anchor Norman Robinson.

ROBINSON:  Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.  We‘re back with round two of perhaps one of the most important elections of the history of New Orleans.  Our purpose is to help you and especially all of the displaced voters across the country decide who will lead New Orleans‘s recovery effort.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re broadcasting this debate tonight live across the country because all of us in this country have an economic stake in this election.

ROBINSON:  The large field of candidates has now been narrowed down. 

Two men, both of them Democrats, are in a run-off, the incumbent, Mayor C.  Ray Nagin, his opponent is Louisiana‘s current lieutenant governor, Mitch Landrieu.

MATTHEWS:  Well, gentlemen, as you know, we‘ve gotten rid of the rules tonight.  No limits on how long your answer can be, no shortness test, no longness test.  You can say what you want.  But if you get off track and go off into a some area of talking points, we‘re going to bring you back, Norman and I.  We‘ve agreed on that.

Secondly, if you want to challenge what somebody else has said—and there‘s only one other person you can challenge—go ahead and do it.

I‘m going to start with a question to you, Mr. Landrieu.  I speak as an outsider.  I ask this question as an outsider. Maybe I‘m wrong.  Correct me.  A lot of people believe that if you win this election down here on Saturday, in a city that everyone knows is majority black, African-American, it will be because a lot of those African-American voters weren‘t able to vote, that you won with not everybody being counted.  What‘s your response?  And how will you deal with that perception, if you have to deal with it?

LANDRIEU:  Well, first of all, it‘s very important that whoever governs the city governs with the consent of the majority.  A majority of African-Americans voted the last time, and I believe that‘s going to happen again.  One of the things that I‘m most proud of is in the first primary, I got an equal amount of votes in the African-American and white community and believe that my campaign represents somebody that can actually unify the city.

I advocated satellite voting.  I thought it was important.  I‘m sorry that it didn‘t happen.  I have campaigned around this country.  I have advertised around this country, and I think it‘s critical that everybody express their opinion...

ROBINSON:  But Mr. Landrieu, what about those—we‘re talking about

black and white voters.  What about those white voters who are saying that

that they are now stuck between having to vote for somebody they don‘t like, they don‘t feel that comfortable with, or holding their nose and going to vote a Landrieu, who is anti-business and too liberal?

LANDRIEU:  Well, first of all, “City Business” endorsed me, which is the preeminent newspaper dealing with business in town.  I‘ve been awarded twice with the Chamber of Commerce Business Award.  I‘ve been criticized for having too much business support and then not enough business support, so I feel very comfortable in articulating a position and creating an atmosphere for business to grow.

It is also true that I have tried to grow my campaign from the center up.  There are folks on the extremes on both sides who don‘t like what I am and what I represent, but there a lot of people in the middle who do.  And I‘ve said very clearly, if the center holds, I have an excellent chance of winning.  If it does not and this is built from the outside in, then I may not win.

MATTHEWS:  Would you be in this race if everybody was still here?

LANDRIEU:  I think that I would be.  One of the things that compelled me to get back in the race had nothing to do with race itself.  Remember, I ran in 1994 when the city was African-American.  I ran against a number of African-American candidates and I bested them.  I came home to run because this is where I think I‘m needed now and where I think my talents can best be put to use.

NAGIN:  I don‘t believe that, and I don‘t think may people believe that.  Mitch has always been poised to run for governor.  Now we‘ve got this huge dispersion of people, and all of a sudden, he‘s one of 23 in the race.  I think the changes that happened after Katrina created an opportunity that he is now trying to take advantage of.

MATTHEWS:  Are saying he liked the odds better this time?

NAGIN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about you.  If you win this election...

LANDRIEU:  Well, may I—may I respond?

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to ask you about another perception problem, Mr.  Nagin.  Everybody‘s been watching this election.  Everybody‘s been watching you for all these months during Katrina and thereafter.  If you win after all the attacks on your behavior, your performance during Katrina, a lot of people will say—and this is a perception in the country—you won because of ethnic solidarity because a lot of African-Americans said, We got to stick by our brother, we got to stick by our fellow African-American.  Is that a fair perception?  If you win, is it because of ethnic solidarity.

NAGIN:  I think if you lined us up together and you put our qualifications together, you‘d see that I‘m very qualified.  I have an MBA.  I‘ve got a business background.  I‘ve been in politics.  You know, there‘s really no real difference—or there is a big difference in my qualifications.

ROBINSON:  But about the—what about speaking to the issue?  The question was, you know, a lot of people are going to perceive you as winning, if you win, because of ethnic solidarity.  Is that not a question that rates some merit?

NAGIN:  Well, I don‘t see that.  You know, I‘ve been on both sides of the spectrum.  Coming in the first time, I got a significant amount of white folk and a significant amount of black folk.  This time, it seems to be just the opposite.

ROBINSON:  And why is that?  Did you not, under the tutelage of your -

your wizard of a campaign strategist, design your campaign to have that kind of outcome?

NAGIN:  Absolutely not.  And as a matter of fact, the way the trends are going, you know, I could mirror, at the end of the day, the election results that happened last time, but just a little different...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What are you going to do, Mr. Landrieu, if Jesse Jackson is on television, and Al Sharpton and a lot of other activists around the country who know how to get on television—you‘re winning Saturday night.  You‘re winning.  And they‘re out there saying, This guy only won because our people weren‘t allowed to get back into that voting system.

LANDRIEU:  Well, first of all, I don‘t think that‘s true.  And secondly, there a lot of African-Americans that have supported me and endorsed me, elected officials in the criminal justice system, outside of the criminal justice system, in the state senate.  Business leaders have endorsed me.

What‘s interesting about this race is we have the first chance in America to really deal with the issue of race and put it in its proper perspective, to try to find a way to have—use the New Orleans tragedy to have a national discussion about race.  I think one of the thing that happened is that when the nation saw all of our brothers and sisters outside of the Superdome and the Convention Center, then America looked at that, and the rest of the world, and said, Man, we got a problem that maybe we have tried to ignore.  We haven‘t dealt with that issue nationally.  I think we can use this as an opportunity to do it.

The person that sits in the seat starting on Saturday has got to have the confidence of the people who win.  And win, lose or draw, whoever‘s sitting in that seat has got to support the other person and move this city forward.

ROBINSON:  If I may, gentlemen, let me get in here.  Let‘s—as my grandmother used to say, let‘s put the hay down where the goats (ph) can get at it.  Now, what should we be worried about, Mr. Landrieu, if your opponent wins?

LANDRIEU:  Well, it‘s the reason why I ran.  I was very concerned that Ray had a difficult time putting coalitions together and actually getting things done.  I was very concerned in the first term, when he had such a significant turnover in the CAO‘s (ph) office.  He had three.  He had three city attorneys.  He had a number of police chiefs.  He had a number of folks in legislative affairs.  And I was very concerned about that.

Post the election, I was very concerned about some things that the mayor could do, that in my opinion, he didn‘t do, like get the debris removed, get the cars picked up.  And I was concerned about the pace.

The mayor alluded to the fact that I was on track to be the governor. 

Maybe, maybe not.  People have different opinions about that.  But...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the truth?

LANDRIEU:  The smart thing—truth is, is that—and when you‘re in public service, you go where you‘re needed.  And that‘s what happens.  When you have a house that gets hurt, you have three siblings that lost a house, when your mother and father get eight feet of water, you forget about politics and you go where you‘re needed.  And that‘s what I was trained to do, and that‘s what I‘m doing.  This is not a smart political decision for anybody because it‘s going to be a very difficult task.

ROBINSON:  Mr. Nagin, what should we be worried about if your opponent becomes mayor?

NAGIN:  I think you ought to look at what he‘s doing and more what he‘s doing and what he‘s saying.  You know, in pretty short order, he and his friends raised almost $6 million right now to take this seat.  He‘s lining up every possible political organization and past politician that you can think of...

ROBINSON:  What does that mean?  What does that mean, Mr. Mayor?

NAGIN:  Well, it means that we‘re probably going back to what we had before.  I pretty much have spent my time trying to reform this government, trying to move this city forward in a different direction, and now it looks as though there may be a chance for us to go back.

MATTHEWS:  Is he being bought, your opponent?

NAGIN:  I don‘t know...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what you‘re saying here.

NAGIN:  ... if he‘s being bought, but...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re saying he‘s going back to the old—he raised $6 million.  You‘re talking about money changing hands.  For what purpose?  Why did he get all this money?

NAGIN:  I don‘t know.  I‘m just asking the question.  How—what is all this money?  Where is it coming from?  Who‘s presenting it?  And...

MATTHEWS:  You were up in Chicago the other day, picked up half a million.

NAGIN:  No, I didn‘t do that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, how did that number—what was the number that was reported...

NAGIN:  I don‘t know.  You know how you...

ROBINSON:  You don‘t know how much money you picked up?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You have no idea?

MATTHEWS:  More or less?  High or low?

NAGIN:  It‘s less.  It‘s less.

ROBINSON:  How much less?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve been able to pick up $6 million that night, you would have walked home with it, right?

NAGIN:  I don‘t think I can do that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why is he more bankable than you?  What‘s this about?

NAGIN:  I don‘t know...

MATTHEWS:  What are you suggesting here?

NAGIN:  There‘s something national going on.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there‘s a national push for this guy here, your opponent?

NAGIN:  It looks like it.

MATTHEWS:  Why?

ROBINSON:  You don‘t think there was a national...

(CROSSTALK)

NAGIN:  I don‘t know.

ROBINSON:  Mr. Nagin, you don‘t think there was a national push going on by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to get you...

NAGIN:  That was about voting rights.  That was about the fairness of...

ROBINSON:  But they all showed up at your campaign headquarters...

NAGIN:  ... of this election.

ROBINSON:  ... on election night.

NAGIN:  That was about...

ROBINSON:  They didn‘t show up at...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  ... but yours.

NAGIN:  ... fairness in voting.

LANDRIEU:  I want to address this issue, if I can.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The response to what he said about you taking money and being bought by these people...

(CROSSTALK)

NAGIN:  I didn‘t say he was bought.

LANDRIEU:  I want to address...

MATTHEWS:  What did you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to follow your line of thought here.  Are you saying there‘s something wrong with taking $6 million?  He can put more ads on television than you would.  I mean, that seems to be an advantage he has here, and you‘re questioning the ethics of that advantage, right?

NAGIN:  I‘m just saying that‘s a lot of money.  That‘s double what the previous mayors‘ race—

MATTHEWS:  What is he saying here?

(CROSSTALK)

NAGIN:  ... all candidates raised.

MATTHEWS:  ... he‘s accusing you of being bought?

LANDRIEU:  Yes, I want to spend four minutes on this.  I want to respond to this very directly.  First of all, Ray, my father in 1960, the year that I was born, stood in the breach when segregation was being pushed and was one of the few...

NAGIN:  What does that have to do with raising money?

LANDRIEU:  I‘m going to tell you in just a second.  Let me finish.  He stood in the breach and fought the fight, and for the last 46 years, with Norman Francis (ph), who‘s now the head of the LRA (ph), championed the cause Of African-Americans in the South.  For the last 18 years, I‘ve been trying to follow in his footsteps, and for the last 18 years, I‘ve served as a legislator, I‘ve served as lieutenant governor.  And even my staunchest ideological opponents have never questioned my integrity.  Never.  Not once.  I filed campaign finance reports.  My life is an open book.  And it‘s not becoming of you on behalf of the citizens of the state to question that integrity.

Secondly, I want to tell you that when I was 13 years old, somebody called me to the principal, said there‘s a lady outside that threatened your life because of your father‘s position.  Now, you call that a dynasty.  I call that a legacy.

NAGIN:  What has that got to do with...

LANDRIEU:  I‘m going to get to that point!

NAGIN:  ... raising money?

LANDRIEU:  Because you‘re talking about—you‘re talking about a dynasty.  I want to talk about a legacy in public service.  Now, secondly, if you think that I‘m going to apologize because 2,050 people have contributed to my campaign, little bitty contributions, medium-sized contributions and big contributions, most of whom contributed to your campaign, and you think the only reason for that is because you‘re—it could be because they don‘t think you‘re effective.  And this is a national campaign.  The country has a big statement here...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go back.  Let‘s go back.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  One question I asked last time, Mr. Landrieu, and I asked

the same question to you, Mr. Nagin, let me ask you—let‘s—I want to -

the question was, let‘s stop talking about the rich people.  Talk about the working guy, the working woman out there, the guy who‘s driving a cab up in a big city in the north.  He‘s miles from here.  He may never come to New Orleans.  He may never see it on television.  He may be—but he‘s out there driving a cab, paying taxes, and some of that tax money‘s coming down here.  Why should a guy working in this country, a woman working in this country, pay for somebody to build or rebuild a house below sea level down here in New Orleans?  Your answer last time was this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANDRIEU:  We did this in 1976 in New York, when they almost went bankrupt.  America rallied to that challenge, and we believe that they should rally to us now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, they didn‘t build New York City below sea level.  I want you to go back to the particular question.  You dodged it last time, Mr. Landrieu.  Answer this—why do you support, if you do, building houses below sea level?

LANDRIEU:  Well, I answered it partially, so let me answer it...

MATTHEWS:  How did you answer it?

LANDRIEU:  Let me answer it—let me answer it fully this time.

MATTHEWS:  All right.

LANDRIEU:  First of all, there‘s a reason why Thomas Jefferson bought this land, and the reason was, is because it‘s the gateway to America for imports and exports.  Most of the goods that flow from the heartland out of this country, that actually bring goods into this country, that supply the rest of the country, come through the port of New Orleans.

The second reason is because we supply most of the oil and gas to the rest of this country, and if they don‘t rebuild this thing, that cost is going to go up.

Thirdly, if they don‘t invest in rebuilding the wetlands, which is only there because the port of New Orleans exists, and so that we can move those exports in and out, then the price of gas is going to go up.  The price of food‘s going to go up.

And finally, on an international basis, if we don‘t have the courage in this country to rebuild a great American city, we‘re not going to be able to tell people around the world how to live, either, and it‘s going to threaten our credibility in...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... I said in the beginning the rules are here you got to stick to the question.  Why rebuild below sea level?  Same question.  You haven‘t answered it yet.

LANDRIEU:  Well, first of all, we can be safe below sea level.  We can be safe below sea level if the levees are built the right way.  The Netherlands have done it.  If you put the protections back to the wetlands, if you build the levels to category five, for the large measure, we can be safe.  Eighty-five percent of the damage here happened because the levees broke.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re going to get category five protection to the federal government...

(CROSSTALK)

LANDRIEU:  Let me say this.  I believe that this nation should build category five protection and restore the wetlands if they want to have the benefit of using...

MATTHEWS:  So you would rebuild below...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... below the flood level?

LANDRIEU:  There are a lot of places...

MATTHEWS:  Would you do that?

(CROSSTALK)

LANDRIEU:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And take federal money to do it?

LANDRIEU:  Absolutely.

ROBINSON:  Let me ask you this.  I mean, you‘re saying yes, and I‘ve heard both of you talk about not telling people they can‘t come back.  But when you see people in those hard-hit areas, gentlemen—and I want you to make your best case to those people who are sitting there, scared to death to reinvest their hard-earned money in a structure and a floodplain that cannot be protected—how can you responsibly and morally tell those people it‘s OK to come on back and build in east New Orleans, Ninth Ward and parts of Gentile, if not Lakeview?  Mr. Mayor?

NAGIN:  You know, my argument is that if it wasn‘t for the failed levees, we wouldn‘t be here talking about this.  This is a federal responsibility, whether it‘s below sea level or not, to provide adequate protection for Americans.  And the federal government did not do its job.  It did not respond to this hurricane on a timely basis.  I‘m getting directly to...

MATTHEWS:  Do you know how odd that sounds to most Americans?  It‘s like saying, Except for that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was your evening?  I mean, if the—if the levees hadn‘t failed, we wouldn‘t be here.  I wouldn‘t be here.  This is a major national concern, that a major investment was made down here by local people to build their homes because that was what was available to them, low-income people, to build in areas below sea level, which are hard to protect.  And now you‘re asking the federal government, taxpayers around the country, to pay for an investment which has gone bad in the past.  I‘m just asking that question.

ROBINSON:  Yes, are you—let‘s—I‘m still trying to get you to answer that question.  You know in your heart of hearts that if you had a home in New Orleans east, you would not be rebuilding it there.

NAGIN:  I would be rebuilding.

ROBINSON:  You would?

NAGIN:  I‘m comfortable with...

ROBINSON:  You are comfortable...

(CROSSTALK)

NAGIN:  Absolutely.

ROBINSON:  ... with telling people to come back and build their houses in east New Orleans?

NAGIN:  The levees are being rebuilt much better and much stronger than we‘ve ever had them before.  The design flaws are being fixed.  They‘re being built as high as 20 feet, whereas when Katrina hit, they were 12 to 13 feet.  They‘re using clay versus the dirt that they used.

ROBINSON:  So you‘re telling me that there is an apparatus, a flood protection apparatus to stop the water from legborn (ph) and to stop the water from the Mississippi River Gulf outlet and to stop the water from the intracoastal waterway?  That‘s what you‘re telling us right now?

NAGIN:  I am telling you that the levee protection system that we have will be better than we‘ve ever had in this city, if another Katrina hit us, that we would have some overtopping, but not the catastrophic flooding that we had with Katrina.

ROBINSON:  I asked you that, Mr. Mayor, because you testified before Congress.  When they asked you, you said, I am confident that we can protect people west of the industrial canal.  I don‘t know about protecting the people east of the industrial canal.  What changed?

NAGIN:  That‘s because I‘ve gotten more updates and more information, and I‘ve inspected the levee systems.  And when I went to Congress to talk to them, the Corps of Engineers was talking about 15 to 17-foot levees.  Now they‘re talking about 20-foot levees.  And they also have the gates that are going in to provide us with extra protection.  So I‘m comfortable with New Orleans east, whereas when I made—when I was testifying, it was a little different set of facts I was dealing with.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Landrieu.

LANDRIEU:  I want to just talk about the issue of risk.  Living below sea level is not the only risk in America, and actually, federal dollars are going to places—I know you come from the Northeast.  The Big Dig cost a lot of money, too, just to push on you because you might have had something to do with that.

But the thing that people are confused about in New Orleans...

(CROSSTALK)

LANDRIEU:  It is a big dig, and it cost a lot of money.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

LANDRIEU:  And one of the things that people are confused about is the coast of Mississippi is vulnerable, and nobody‘s talking about why are you building it back in Mississippi.  Florida got hit by four storms in the last couple of years, and nobody‘s talking about why you‘re not building back in Florida.  When San Francisco got beat by a fire, nobody said, Why are you—why are you building back?  And there are other kinds of natural catastrophes that we somehow try to conquer.  You‘re never going to live without risk in America and in the world.  And the question is, Can you manage it and can you deal with it appropriately?

NAGIN:  But to say...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I...

NAGIN:  Can I—can I just...

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

NAGIN:  ... talk to the cab driver?  That was your original question.

MATTHEWS:  Talk to a working guy...

NAGIN:  I‘m going to talk to the cab driver...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... be taxed to build houses...

NAGIN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... below seal level down here, and they‘re going to think it‘s crazy.

NAGIN:  To the cab driver in Cleveland, New Orleans is a very special place.  It‘s been here for 300 years.  It was part of the reason for the Louisiana Purchase.  This is a place that is as American as any city out there, and it deserves, it needs to be preserved.  It‘s the birthplace of jazz.  And besides all the other things dealing with oil and gas, if this place is not preserved, you may see your gas bills go up tremendously.

MATTHEWS:  I have to move on here.  The question that—did you both watch the president last night speak about illegal immigration?

LANDRIEU:  I did not.

NAGIN:  I think I was at a debate or something.

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, let me ask you about...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  There were some teeth in that proposal.  It wasn‘t all heart and guest workers and legalization.  There were some real teeth in that proposal.  He said that from now on, if his bill gets passed, everybody who‘s in this country who isn‘t a citizen—every foreign worker, if you will—that was the phrase he used—has to carry a non-tamperable ID card to prove they have the right to be here.  In other words, no more illegal hiring.

Can this city rebuild itself with only legal workers?

LANDRIEU:  Well, you know, we‘ve talked about this many times.  Legal is (INAUDIBLE) Now you‘re going to ask us to solve the immigration problem for...

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m asking you...

LANDRIEU:  ... America with all the troubles that we have...

MATTHEWS:  ... can you rebuild this city without the help of illegal workers?

NAGIN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Undocumented workers.

NAGIN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  You can do it?

NAGIN:  We can do it.  There is enough workers in this country that who would be dying to come here for the rates that are being charged.

ROBINSON:  Well, they aren‘t beating down our borders to get here.  All we are seeing are migrant workers.  Those are the people who are bearing the brunt of the rebuilding burden, not workers—regular American people from across the country. 

NAGIN: You know what the big issue is? 

ROBINSON:  What is the big issue?

NAGIN:  We have a state law that does not allow reciprocity for certain contractors.  So the contractors can‘t really come in here and do the work that they need to do, because they have to go through a prime and become their sub.  And guess what the prime gets?  The prime gets a piece of the profits. 

ROBINSON:  So you‘ve answered his question.  Under that—under that present law, it can‘t be rebuilt without immigrant labor. 

NAGIN:  No, I‘m still saying that it can be done. 

MATTHEWS:  But it‘s not being done that way now. 

NAGIN:  It is. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t have illegal workers in New Orleans? 

NAGIN:  We have some. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t have a lot? 

NAGIN:  We have some. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You didn‘t get a response—I didn‘t get a response from you. 

LANDRIEU:  I think the answer is yes, but...

MATTHEWS:  But the reason I‘m asking is because this is real—this is a tough part of the bill. 

LANDRIEU:  I‘m going to tell you, the honest answer to that question is we don‘t know right now.  We don‘t know.  And the reason is, is because until the federal money gets down here—and you know with the actual supply and demand, it‘s going to be hard.  Having said that...

MATTHEWS:  Hard to rely on legal workers.

LANDRIEU:  It is going to be hard to find as many workers as is necessary to get the job done quickly.  Obviously, the more workers you have, the more you can do.

MATTHEWS:  Would you as mayor enforce the law and say only legal workers? 

LANDRIEU:  Absolutely.  Well, first of all, absolutely.  Legal is legal.  When Congress decides what they‘re going to do...

MATTHEWS:  Right, when the bill gets passed, yes.

LANDRIEU:  When the bill gets passed, I think you absolutely have to enforce the law that Congress passes, no exceptions. 

Having said that, that‘s not really what Congress is debating what‘s legal and what‘s not.  How you give and should you give incentives to people that are technically illegal right now, to give them an opportunity to become citizens.  And if they are talking about that, if Congress gets to that point, if the House and the Senate can work out their issues—and I happen to think the president is trying to steer a reasonable middle course here.  You know that the Senate rejected the president‘s proposal today on the guest worker program.  That—if that is true, then I think there should also be incentives for workers to come here. 

NAGIN:  I still believe...

MATTHEWS:  Where do you stand?

NAGIN:  I still believe we can do it. 

MATTHEWS:  With your own people, with (inaudible) people, Americans?

NAGIN:  Absolutely.  You know, we have hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians that are dispersed that are able-bodied workers. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I don‘t understand here.  Sheet rock workers.  Everybody says, oh, we‘ve got to bring people in this country because the people won‘t do these jobs.  Painters, sheet rock workers, construction workers, painters.  These are real skilled jobs. 

NAGIN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t understand why people keep saying, we need people from another country to come here to do this basic American skilled labor.  I don‘t get it. 

NAGIN:  I think the big issue is how much work can be done in the short period of time?  I think we can have full employment for all New Orleanians first, and I think as we move... 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the employment rate right now? 

NAGIN:  Probably 5, 6 percent. 

MATTHEWS:  A little higher than the rest of the country. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  It‘s probably higher than that.  Gentlemen, let me first observe that you have been more passionate than I have seen you most of late.  And there a lot of voters who have opined that you have lacked a lot of passion. 

NAGIN:  Who?  Me? 

ROBINSON:  A lot of passion in your debates. 

NAGIN:  Look, the debates are boring, you know. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  Let‘s talk about people who are from, like, the Lakeview area, who don‘t see you out really taking a passionate stance on the rebuilding effort that it‘s going to take.  They say you guys are running this race as if it‘s just like any other normal race for mayor. 

NAGIN:  I don‘t think anything is normal right now. 

ROBINSON:  And that you aren‘t sounding the alarm loud enough about the widespread crisis that exists here.  So, why are you so laid back? 

NAGIN:  I‘m not laid back.  I don‘t see that.

ROBINSON:  In most of the debates, you have been very laid back. 

NAGIN:  No, I don‘t see that. 

ROBINSON:  In most of the response to everything, you have been laid back as of late. 

NAGIN:  No, I don‘t see that. 

ROBINSON:  One even questions whether you‘ve just given up. 

NAGIN:  How can I give up when I ran first in the primaries?

ROBINSON:  That was the question we all wanted to know. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you a shot, gentlemen, because we are on national telephone right now, and I‘m trying to keep my audience.  So I‘m not going to say how boring you are, OK?  So one thing I want to do, is give you a shot now, talk to (inaudible), don‘t talk to us, don‘t talk to your opponent.  Let‘s say there is a couple of million people who are going to see this show right now tonight in various reruns or whatever.  Talk to them and say why should they stay engaged in the rebuilding of New Orleans? 

LANDRIEU:  Well, first of all, the rebuilding of New Orleans has a lot to do with whether we are going to rebuild this country or not.  This was, in my opinion, an American tragedy.  It requires an American response.

All of the citizens of New Orleans are Americans alike, and we have a tragedy down here of epic proportions. 

You have seen the issues of race.  You have seen the issues of poverty.  We have now talked about our economy.  We‘ve talked about the impact on the international psyche if we don‘t rebuild the city.

This is a very important thing.  People from across political spectrums—Newt Gingrich, all right, and other people have said, you have got to come down here.  President Clinton, President Bush 41 and President Bush 43 down here have talked about this and talked about it being an American cause.  We talked about the issues earlier, about the port, about the oil and gas, about the culture.  This is a critical piece of the national psyche and I believe it‘s very important to get this done. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you mean by a critical piece of the national psyche? 

LANDRIEU:  Well, you can‘t write off an American city.  You just can‘t do that.  And I haven‘t seen any responsible person suggest that that should happen. 

When the president of the United States comes into Jackson Square and talks about making an American commitment, doing what is possible, the rest of America just can‘t write that off.  And the fact of the matter is, they haven‘t.  A lot of America has been down here.  It‘s been an amazing outpouring of sympathy and support. 

But this is hard-going (ph) all the way (ph).

MATTHEWS:  A lot of people would look at this election and say, yes, this mayor has taken a lot of heat for this, but he didn‘t invent, nobody out there thinks, the problems with the levees, the problems with the sea walls, the problems that broke out on the big day down here when Katrina hit down here.  You were almost hit directly.

LANDRIEU:  That‘s true.

MATTHEWS:  But you have been involved in politics down here for years.  Your family has.  You use that as a credential.  Is it fair to wave as a credential a long-term involvement in Louisiana politics and New Orleans politics when these problems were allowed to build up, all these generations, build up under your dad, under your sister?  Constantly building up these problems?  How can you brag about your credentials as being a legacy of that inaction? 

LANDRIEU:  Well, that‘s a great question, but the fact of the matter is...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the answer?

LANDRIEU:  I am going to give it to you.  My father was the mayor of this city 40 years ago, and I have been a legislator during that time.  I haven‘t been the mayor of the city of New Orleans. 

It‘s important to have somebody in position today, today that knows how to get along with people, that can coordinate activities, that can actually solve problems. 

It has nothing to do with what happened 40 years ago in 1960 or something that we‘ve talked about before... 

MATTHEWS:  When were the levees built? 

LANDRIEU:  The levees were built a long, long time in this town. 

MATTHEWS:  But they weren‘t built right, though, were they?

LANDRIEU:  Well, but the Corps of Engineers built the levees.  The designed the levees and they engineered them.  You can‘t blame the levees on the people of the city of New Orleans.  That‘s a federal responsibility.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re pushing this off to the federal government then?

LANDRIEU:  I‘m telling you they built the levees.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do you want to be mayor if these decisions are federal? 

LANDRIEU:  Well, because it‘s not the only decision that needs to be made.  You have to rebuild the city and talk about issues of housing, about education, about crime.  There are some things that the mayor of the city of New Orleans can do, and if the mayor of the city doesn‘t have credibility, then the federal government is not going to listen.  So it requires a federal response, a state response and a local response.

ROBINSON:  Are you saying that this mayor doesn‘t have credibility? 

Is that what you‘re saying?  This mayor doesn‘t have credibility?

LANDRIEU:  What I‘m saying...

NAGIN:  He‘s been saying that forever, you know, and here we are, sitting in Louisiana that has—the corruption is legendary, and we are talking about my credibility.  When I came into office four years ago and started to address some of the bad things that were happening in New Orleans and correcting those things before Katrina, we had for the past 40 or 50 years this economy has been in decline.  I came in, started to unleash economic energy, got the economy turned, got people off of the poverty rolls, and now all of a sudden my credibility is tarnishing years and years and years of Louisiana history.  I don‘t get that. 

ROBINSON:  On that note, let‘s pick up this issue.  After our last debate, we got an e-mail from a very irate resident of Bay St. Louis, who said that she was sick and tired of all this bellyaching from New Orleans politicians, that the Gulf Coast had been hit just as hard, many towns wiped out—specifically Bay St. Louis and Waveland—and she didn‘t understand why we were getting so much air time to a second-rate city with a bunch of third-rate politicians who had robbed the coffers blind and left the city vulnerable to a storm like Katrina.  What do you say to that person?

NAGIN:  You know, I say to that person that we‘ve had our historic moments.  I came to office to try and clean some of that up.  Unfortunately, Katrina hit in the middle of some of the turns that we were making.  And we have an opportunity now to kind of write the slate clean.  And that is why I am pushing forward to continue this forward movement as mayor. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—you want to talk about the hotel thing, right?

ROBINSON:  Oh, absolutely.  Last month, we challenged you, Mayor Nagin, to give us your best sales pitch in trying to bring a convention to the city.  And this is what you said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NAGIN:  The areas that you would visit, nothing happened to them, for the most part.  We have the utilities back up, we have all the services.  Our restaurants are back up.  We are not at 100, but we‘re probably at 75 percent. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBINSON:  How do you address the people in the 75 percent of the area that was hit hard?  How this is relevant to them?  And how this helps them rebuild their lives?

NAGIN:  Well, I think it‘s relevant, because if we don‘t stand the economy back up, we can‘t provide city services.  And that‘s one of the things that we‘re probably a little ahead of pace on.  Sales tax revenues in March came in at 85 percent of pre-Katrina March.  We now have a consortium of banks that are so comfortable with what‘s going on that they‘ve now loaned us another $150 million to carry us through another two years until the economy is self-sufficient. 

ROBINSON:  On that $150 million you talked about, a lot of people are saying, “Mr. Mayor, show us the money.”  Is that a signed deal ready to be delivered?  You‘ve got the documents and you‘ve got the signature on paper? 

NAGIN:  We have letters of commitments.  They‘re working on...

ROBINSON:  Do you have a signed...

NAGIN:  ... the final terms.

ROBINSON:  Do you have a signed, final deal?

NAGIN:  We have letters of commitments.  They‘re working on the final paperwork right now.  But this deal is done.  We have French banks; we have J.P. Morgan; we have lots of people who are signed up to support New Orleans. 

ROBINSON:  Is this a signed deal, Mr. Landrieu? 

NAGIN:  He don‘t know. 

LANDRIEU:  I don‘t know.  He needs to tell us. 

NAGIN:  He don‘t know.

LANDRIEU:  But I want to answer the question that you asked before about the tourism industry.  As a lieutenant governor, I‘m responsible for the tourism industry of the state. 

And immediately after Katrina, I brought a national group of folks in here.  I created a local advisory board, went to New York, said, “What happened after 9/11?”  We created a plan.  We‘ve hit every one of the marks. 

We stood up Mardi Gras, which I got criticized for.  We stood up Jazz Fest.  We brought in a 30,000-person convention that‘s coming in June for this specific purpose.

MATTHEWS:  Which one‘s that?

LANDRIEU:  The American Library Association.  It‘s coming June 1st.  We brought in the Zurich Classic, because I know that, right now, even though tourism is not the best thing in the world, it is the best punch that we have.  It‘s a $9.6 billion piece of our economy that generates a lot of jobs. 

And if you don‘t put money back in the coffers, the city can‘t spend it for basic services, and it‘s important.  Although people said, “Why are you doing these events?”  To make people understand that we are in the business of entertainment.  We‘re one of the best tourism destinations in the country.  We‘re an international competitor, and it‘s important that we stay focused on that as we try to diversify our economy. 

Now, the $150 million deal, it‘s just ironic that it happened the last week of the campaign.  I‘m glad it happened.  It gives us a little bit of breathing room, but we don‘t even know what the terms of the deal are.  We don‘t know what the interest rate is.  We don‘t know what the term is.  We haven‘t seen any of that.  And the only person who knows about it is the mayor and the banks themselves.  And I‘m just in the dark like everybody else.

NAGIN:  How about our financial advisers who work for the board of liquidations that watched this deal?  How about, you know, the state buying commission (ph) that pre-approved deal before we even did it?  We cannot go out and just do haphazard deals. 

And, you know, speaking of the plan for tourism, that was a $1.6 billion ask.  How much money have we gotten thus far?  Zero, donut egg.  They asked me to stand up Mardi Gras.  Oh, the tourist industry (INAUDIBLE) cheering, we‘re going to help you, we‘re going to financially support?  You know how much money I got?  Zero, donut egg.  We stood up Mardi Gras anyway.

LANDRIEU:  That‘s clearly not true.  We started a $7 million advertising program in the department of lieutenant governors off in CRT to advertise this state.  We did the same for the Jazz Fest.  The Zurich Classic is the same exact thing.  We actually stood it up, and we did a good job. 

The mayor criticized me in Atlanta for holding Mardi Gras.  He blamed me for it, and I‘ll take credit for it, and I thank you for that.  It was important.  It was important then; it‘s important now.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Canal Street, they‘re all here?

LANDRIEU:  No, I didn‘t save them all...

MATTHEWS:  All the hotels are going to be saved here or are some going down?

LANDRIEU:  Well, it‘s hard to say.  I think most of them are doing pretty well.  I think a help...

MATTHEWS:  But some big ones are going down, aren‘t they?

LANDRIEU:  Well, I don‘t have any indication that that‘s going to happen yet.

MATTHEWS:  I thought you were in charge of it.

LANDRIEU:  I am.  I don‘t have any indication that that‘s going to happen.  I don‘t think they‘re going down.  I think they‘ve done a good job.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Mayor, are you going to save the big hotels of this city, all of them? 

NAGIN:  I think most are going to survive.  Some are going through a major retrofit, which is going to allow them enough breathing room because they had the business interruption insurance to kind of take them through this lull period.  We‘re going to have a tough summer, but the fall should pick up, and I think we‘re going to be... 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about an area I do know something about, that‘s Washington politics, and I want to ask you gentlemen a personal question.  Who would you call in the White House right now, Mr. Nagin, if you needed some help from the president?  Who would you call? 

NAGIN:  Who would I call? 

MATTHEWS:  Person.

NAGIN:  Don Powell, Mr. Hubbard, who‘s the chief domestic adviser...

MATTHEWS:  Has this guy got clout with the president? 

NAGIN:  He reports directly to the president. 

MATTHEWS:  You got Hubbard as big as you can get.  Would you call Rove? 

LANDRIEU:  I don‘t know him personally, but I would call Don Powell and Al Hubbard. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you both a more general question.  You got a Republican president now, Republican Congress.  You guys are both Democrats.  You both said in the last debate—I was here with you—you disapprove of the president‘s behavior in office.  You don‘t like his conduct.  You don‘t think he‘s been a good president, right?  Am I right about that?

NAGIN:  Well, I‘ve said I disagree with certain aspects of what he‘s done. 

MATTHEWS:  You say you disapprove of his job performance.  I asked you a particular question.  You don‘t like the job he‘s done as president?

NAGIN:  Show me the tape.  I don‘t particularly remember that.

MATTHEWS:  You both said that.  Take my word for it, OK?  Move on.

ROBINSON:  You both said that. 

MATTHEWS:  This isn‘t “Meet the Press.”  I don‘t have all the tape with this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  Let me ask you—we don‘t have—let me ask you this question, I mean, a serious question.  You‘ve got a real hard-nosed administration.  You can argue it‘s very partisan and very tough. 

This state is one of the few southern states that‘s capable of electing Democrats to statewide office.  Why should a Republican president and Republican tough guys, operatives like Karl Rove, come down here and help you rebuild a city so that it can be more African-Americans coming back home, more Democrats live down here, so that this state can stay in play nationally? 

Wouldn‘t the Republicans like to see this state join the rest of the South and become a predictable southern vote for the Republicans?  And why shouldn‘t they help you?

LANDRIEU:  First of all—let me answer your question, first of all.  I did say that about President Bush.  I said it in a very principled and polite manner.  And you have to learn in this business, even to get along with people that you don‘t agree with.  That‘s one of the significant points.

MATTHEWS:  Why should they help you?

LANDRIEU:  All right.  Secondly, because this is America, and this isn‘t a partisan issue.  That‘s why the president, and the governor, and the mayor need to work together.  They need to put aside partisan differences, find higher common ground, and make it happen.  And forget about whether it‘s going to be a solid South or whether it‘s going to be a new South, until we can get Americans back in their homes and this place stood up again. 

ROBINSON:  So do you think the White House would be comfortable working with you or more comfortable working with the incumbent?

LANDRIEU:  I think the White House is going to be very comfortable working with me. 

MATTHEWS:  How‘s your feeling about it?  I know these guys on the other side of the aisle from you.  You‘re a Democrat. 

You‘re a Democrat.  How do you convince a hard-nosed guy like Rove, who calls a lot of the shots politically at the White House—we all know that—to say, “Look, I know we‘re Democrats.  I know we‘ll probably end up being Democrats if we pull this act together down here again, but we want your help.”  How do you make that case, Mayor? 

NAGIN:  You know, I‘ve spoken to Karl, as well as, you know, just about everybody in the White House.  They have a commitment to New Orleans.  They feel responsible for this, and they have—the president has stood in Jackson Square and said that, “I want to see this place come back.”

ROBINSON:  Is he keeping his promise? 

NAGIN:  I think it‘s slow, but I think we‘re starting to make some promise. 

ROBINSON:  We‘re slow.  Is he keeping his promise?

NAGIN:  The next $4.2 billion that‘s coming down is going to give us the money that we need to move this city to the next level. 

ROBINSON:  Is he keeping his promise?

LANDRIEU:  I think that the answer right now is that it‘s coming.  I think the comfort level with us is getting better, and I think, if we expect the American public, through the president and Congress (INAUDIBLE) expecting us to be responsible, as well.  And as we show that, as we give them good information, they‘re going to continue to do better.  That‘s why they agreed to add $4.3 million on top of the $6 that we already had, and I think that comfort level is going to take some time. 

ROBINSON:  And considering the money you‘ve just talked about and the comfort level in Washington, is very concerned with what‘s going to happen to that money.  So what is your plan to distribute that money to help people rebuild in a way that‘s going to make Washington comfortable? 

NAGIN:  Well, the way the legislation is written, is it comes from Congress to HUD.  The state submits a plan, and then the money is disbursed from the state to the state, down to the locals.

ROBINSON:  So it‘s the state plan and not yours? 

NAGIN:  Well, we have helped to fashion that plan.  We came up with $150,000 grants that was fashioned somewhat like Mississippi, but better.  And the state seems to have adopted that. 

ROBINSON:  Is that a satisfactory plan?  Is that going to address the people who are in that income bracket, with homes above $150,000?

LANDRIEU:  Well, let me address it this way:  I don‘t think the money that we have gotten from the federal government is going to be enough to satisfy the needs of everybody, but it is, in fact, the money that we‘re going to get. 

I‘m pretty comfortable that that $6 plus $4 is the best we‘re going to get right now.  I happen to think the mayor‘s plan and the governor‘s plan, the differences were very de minimus. 

And the reason why that happened is because Don Powell came down here and said:  The White House wants you to do exactly what Mississippi is doing so we can treat all Americans who are similarly situated the same way.  And the federal guidelines have dictated generally the parameters of that particular plan. 

ROBINSON:  So much of this race is about leadership.  Mr. Mayor, you took some hits regarding questions about your leadership from Doug Brinkley, the presidential historian. 

NAGIN:  Who? 

ROBINSON:  Doug Brinkley, the presidential historian.  He has admitted that he has a problem with you, in the sense that he doesn‘t think much of your leadership style.  However, the governor, who he quoted, was audiotaped questioning your leadership.  This is what she had to say. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA:  But what has gone on is that, you know, he was locked up on the 24th floor of the Hyatt, and I think it was the Hyatt, and anybody who wanted to see him had to climb up 24 flights of stairs, and he was afraid to come out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBINSON:  Were you afraid to come out?  Did you hide?  Did you panic? 

Did you cower?

NAGIN:  Total distortions. 

ROBINSON:  She‘s not telling the truth?

NAGIN:  She wasn‘t there.  Doug Brinkley wasn‘t there.  Why aren‘t these people talking to General Honore?  Why aren‘t they talking to Dan Packer?  Why aren‘t they talking to Admiral Allen?  Why aren‘t they talking...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  She is saying, Mr. Mayor, she couldn‘t find you.

NAGIN:  ... to the people who...

ROBINSON:  This is the governor of the state of Louisiana who is saying she can‘t find you.  Why is she saying that? 

NAGIN:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know.

ROBINSON:  Is she not telling the truth? 

NAGIN:  At the time of that, I think the governor was dealing with a lot of issues...            

ROBINSON:  So she was under stress?

NAGIN:  ... and being criticized herself.  But I can tell you I was very visible.  I was out and about.  We had press that was there to document this.  And this whole notion of me being locked up and on the 24th floor...

ROBINSON:  Twenty-seventh.  Did you take a room on the 27th floor in lieu of going to the emergency operation center at City Hall? 

NAGIN:  I had a room on the fourth floor.  I had a room on the seventh floor.  I had a place where I would try to get to that was comfortable, that had access to communications so that we could manage this crisis. 

ROBINSON:  Where were your emergency preparedness first responders? 

Where were your official leaders? 

NAGIN:  They were with me. 

ROBINSON:  They were in the hotel room with you? 

NAGIN:  They were in the Hyatt.  We had a command center set up in conjunction with Entergy, which was on the fourth floor, that had the backup systems necessary to keep communications going. 

ROBINSON:  So at no point did you sequester yourself in your room and not come out because you were afraid? 

NAGIN:  No.  That‘s total bogus stuff.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you—I‘m trying to keep this up, that this was all in the “Vanity Fair” article.  Let me ask you about the larger philosophical distinctions between you two candidates. 

I‘m an outsider, but what I‘ve sort of begun to figure out is the perception that people have about both of you.  And race or background has little guide to this.  It has to do with your attitude about the role of a mayor in this town. 

Mr. Landrieu, you were portrayed as a classic Democrat, a guy who believes in the little people, helping people out, programs, spend some money, raise some taxes, but do good, help people out, and, in fact, find your real heart with the people who are worst off.  That‘s where your strength comes from. 

You are perceived as a guy who believes, hey, to make this city come back alive, you‘ve got to make some tough business decisions.  Some people aren‘t going to like them, but you‘ve got to have the tough act that says, “This is going to work for the people in the long run,” and not everybody is going to like it. 

Now, you‘re running for a second term.  You can‘t run for re-election after this.  You‘re running for possibly two terms.  Are you, Mr. Landrieu, putting yourself in a position where your first goal is to keep people liking you, keep yourself popular so you get re-elected? 

This fellow here can‘t do that.  He‘s got to act courageously, more or less, because he‘s got no prayer to stay in office otherwise.  Am I tilling this too much here? 

LANDRIEU:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me how. 

LANDRIEU:  Well, first of all...

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you, as a politician, want to get re-elected once you get off one term in this city? 

LANDRIEU:  No, not necessarily. 

MATTHEWS:  You have another plan? 

LANDRIEU:  No, I don‘t have any plans, except to serve here and to serve as though this is going to be the last office I hold.  This is the only way that you‘re going to get it done.  You know this as well as I do.  You‘ve been around a long time.

MATTHEWS:  But I‘m asking you this question... 

LANDRIEU:  I‘m going to answer your question.

MATTHEWS:  OK, go ahead. 

LANDRIEU:  Being the mayor of a major city, there‘s nowhere to go after that.  There‘s no history that mayors of major cities go anywhere and do any great things, you know?  And at the end of the day, whoever serves in the position...

MATTHEWS:  Because of the unpopular decisions they have to make?

LANDRIEU:  Well, absolutely.  There‘s no question about it.  And at the end of the day, what this is really about between Ray and is not about philosophy.  It really is about leadership style and being able to get things done.  That‘s what this race has gotten to be about. 

The philosophical divide is not that great.  He can make it that great, I can try to, for political purposes.  But the truth of the matter is:  This is a meat-and-potatoes job.  You know this.  All politics is local.  Somebody said that once.

MATTHEWS:  In other words, there‘s no Landrieu way to collect garbage and there‘s no Nagin way to college garbage.  Do you buy this, that there‘s no distinction between you and your outlook of the city? 

NAGIN:  No, I don‘t buy that at all.  I think he‘s been on this kind of copycat strategy to create this impression that it‘s just about whether he‘s a good guy or I‘m not, I‘m a bad guy.  You know, you look at the plan that we put together and you look at his plan, and it‘s just apples and oranges. 

MATTHEWS:  How so?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, just explain it to a national audience.  How is Ray Nagin different than Mitch Landrieu, in terms of your approach, not your competence, your approach to government?

NAGIN:  Let me tell you a major league difference.  Within 30 days after the storm, I had the presence of mind in dealing with all of these challenges to put together a commission that dealt with seven key areas to bring this city back. 

We had over 173 different public meetings.  The LRA came behind us.  There was nobody else doing a planning process, and this was the only thing that we needed to get the president and Congress on board. 

Nobody thought about Mitch Landrieu being a key player and somebody who would get the stuff done.  On my commission, his name never came up. 

Even at the state, when they were putting together the LRA, his name did not come up.  Why is that?  If he‘s such a player, why didn‘t somebody say, “Wow, Mitch Landrieu has to be on one on these commissions.” 

ROBINSON:  The question that I have is:  If you‘re doing a wonderful job, why are people complaining about the fact that their garbage is not being picked up, the debris in front of their houses are not being picked up, the infrastructure is in such disrepair, and all of these abandoned cars are just strewn about the city.  It makes it look like a landfill.  In fact, your opponent cut a commercial, and this is what it said. 

NAGIN:  Yes, he did. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANDRIEU:  Take a look.  New Orleans shouldn‘t be the graveyard for abandoned cars.  It says a lot about our city.  Debris has been all around us for eight months.  It‘s demoralizing.  A mayor‘s job is to run the city. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBINSON:  What are about that? 

NAGIN:  I think that‘s an unfair characterization of what‘s been going on. 

ROBINSON:  What‘s unfair about it?

NAGIN:  You have a city that has been totally devastated, with 80 percent of it under water.  You have no revenue streams to speak of.  You‘re pretty much dependent upon FEMA, which we all know FEMA.  So to suggest that I can go out there and waive a magic wand or he can waive a magic wand is just not authentic. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this as good as it gets?

NAGIN:  No, it‘s going to be incremental improvements.  And what we have seen over the past eight months is incremental improvements.  No one can waive a magic wand and get all the debris.  We still have eight million cubic yards of debris to get rid of. 

ROBINSON:  Well, Mr. Landrieu, you stood there in that commercial and gave the impression that you could make it happen, that you could do what the mayor hasn‘t done.  How would you make that happen?  And what‘s your time parameters? 

LANDRIEU:  I want to tell you—let me tell you why.  First of all, we‘re eight months past the storm.  Now, what could we compare it to?  What happened in Saint Bernard, what happened in Plaquemines, what happened in every county in Mississippi. 

The Corps of Engineers tracks debris removal.  It‘s at 90 to 100 percent in every other country or parish in Louisiana, except New Orleans, which the last time I checked was at 62 percent.  It might be at 68 percent. 

Secondly, when this city is under emergency order, which this city is under right now and continues to be, the mayor has an extraordinary amount of power.  And FEMA and the Corps of Engineers are responsive to the mayor, not to the governor, in the parish where it happens.  And there a lot of people that have been watching this that said the cars could have been picked up earlier. 

As a matter of fact, the city defaulted to the state to start working on the car removal contract after it went through a whole bunch of stuff.  You talked about the landfill. 

NAGIN:  You‘re still not saying how. 

LANDRIEU:  Well, you have to get with FEMA.  You have to put out the contract for RFP, let the contract, and get the cars picked up. 

NAGIN:  And we‘ve been getting with FEMA.  I don‘t get it.

LANDRIEU:  Well, the cars are still there. 

ROBINSON:  So how would you...

MATTHEWS:  Why are the cars still there?

ROBINSON:  How would you break the logjam? 

NAGIN:  The cars are still there.  The way this rolled out was FEMA originally said that they were going to get the cars, and they weren‘t doing it.  And we said, look, let us take a shot at this.  And then we weren‘t able to get that contract done, and now we‘re back to the state process. 

But in the middle of that, we had local companies that moved over 8,000 cars from the streets.  You know, you can see the progress if you were here when it first started, compared to today. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you say your relations between the state—among the state, federal, and municipal, those relations are gummed up right now? 

NAGIN:  No, I think they‘re OK.  Now, there are moments when I push very hard, because I‘m fairly impatient at times.  I will sit down, and drink coffee, and sit down for hours, and go to Ruth‘s Chris, and get a steak dinner, and all that, but at some point in time, I‘m saying, “Let‘s do this, and let‘s make it happen.”  And after that happens, things start moving.

ROBINSON:  What about those that are saying that basically whoever wins is going to be a figurehead, that it‘s going to be the federal government and the state driving the recovery effort in New Orleans? 

NAGIN:  Well, I don‘t think that‘s going to happen, because most of the dollars, the hard work, the lobbying of Congress is starting to pay off.  And the money is in place.  So whatever money flows to the city, the mayor is still going to have a significant amount of influence on determining where those resources go. 

MATTHEWS:  But let me—I‘m sorry.

ROBINSON:  Go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just going to try to open this up as we get to the end and just of get a look at you guys, and your heads, and your hearts, and minds, and ask you questions you may not expect here, OK? 

NAGIN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of Hillary Clinton as a future president? 

You first.

LANDRIEU:  She‘s not going to make it.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think?

NAGIN:  She‘s got a shot. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you vote for her for president? 

NAGIN:  Sure. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you? 

LANDRIEU:  Could be, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Among other candidates, you‘d pick her? 

LANDRIEU:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘d pick her over the other Democrats?

LANDRIEU:  Depends on who she‘s running against on both sides. 

ROBINSON:  John McCain, would you vote for Hillary Clinton in deference to John McCain? 

NAGIN:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  You would?  Why?

NAGIN:  I think she‘s, you know, got some pretty good ideas.  I‘ve always been impressed with Hillary.  She has good presence.  She has good command of the issues.  She‘s someone who is a bit controversial, but I think...

ROBINSON:  You like that, because you‘re controversial? 

NAGIN:  Yes, I like that.

MATTHEWS:  You think she‘ll be better than Bush? 

NAGIN:  Better than Bush?  I don‘t know.  I think it‘s too early to tell.  I mean, President Bush still has a couple of years before we really know how he‘s going to go down in history. 

MATTHEWS:  Same question to you. 

LANDRIEU:  I like her very much.  I don‘t think she‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Would you vote for her over Bush?

LANDRIEU:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Strong.  Let me ask you about the president of the United States, because we‘ve been all dancing around this fellow for a minute.  Maybe I‘m a romantic, but I‘m going to ask you a romantic question to the both of you.  Maybe it‘s a fantastic question. 

Suppose when everything broke hell down here, everything went to hell, and a lot of people really desperate, not just the ones who were stranded, but the ones who were down at convention hall and they were out there crying with their babies in hand, begging for the lives of their babies, because those babies didn‘t have water.  They were dehydrating in the hot sun and humidity, and we all saw that.  Everybody watching saw that.  That had a bigger rating than anything we‘ll ever put on television because people did care about it. 

Suppose the president of the United States, instead of not showing up until later or going to Mississippi first and finally getting here, suppose he had shown up day one with water bottles, Marine One coming in here, handing out—leading the charge of relief, would this country feel better about itself right now? 

LANDRIEU:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Mayor?

NAGIN:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  How so?  How would it be different?

NAGIN:  I think that would have demonstrated a total commitment to this particular disaster.  And I think the president was relying upon his advisers, and that probably was not the best...

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  And they held him back you‘re saying? 

NAGIN:  Yes, they held him back.  And by the time he realized exactly the depths of what was going on, he was in recovery mode. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe it was instincts or his advisers that kept him from coming here in a rush to lead the charge? 

LANDRIEU:  You know, one of the things you do is you try never to question anybody‘s intentions, so I don‘t know the answer to that question.  I will say this, though, that it would have been far better if he would have gotten here sooner and been on the ground. 

I think people saw a stark contrast between the response to September 11th and what happened in New Orleans.  And I think it caused a lot of concerns, and I think it would have been far better if he would have gotten here sooner. 

ROBINSON:  Mr. Nagin, you accumulated a lot of fans when you put the president on the spot, when you went on the radio to use a few choice words, if I may put it that way.  And you had a lot of fans.  They were applauding you, because you put heat on the White House.  You put heat on the White House, in terms of, from local perspective, from the state perspective, from the federal and international perspective.  And you backed off.  Why? 

NAGIN:  I don‘t see it as I backed off.  You know, I pushed, and then I started to develop a relationship.  I still have a pretty good relationship with the president to this day. 

Every time he‘s visited Louisiana or New Orleans, we get together and talk about how we make this situation better.  It‘s just a way of trying to get things done.  After all, the president does control the biggest budget in the world, so it made sense to...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  But you had the public relations upper-hand, and a lot of people who supported you saw that, and they saw you back away from it. 

NAGIN:  I don‘t see that.  I mean, because, at the end of the day, this past December, I was there when we announced $3 billion for levees.  That‘s paying off right now.  I was in Congress when they announced $8 billion for incentives, the GO Zone Act.  And then I was in the middle of the negotiations to get the initial $6.2 billion.  So all of that work paid off for this region and for the state. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to the—we‘re getting short on time.  You want to say something?  I don‘t want to hold anybody up here.

LANDRIEU:  I just would—yes, even though the president and I disagree, I like the heck out of him.  I think he‘s principled, and I think he‘s tough. 

One of the things he said to me when he saw me, he said:  You know, I‘ve seen you.  You know, I‘ve watched you a little bit, and I appreciate your measured response to everything that‘s occurred. 

And the trick here is, even though you disagree with somebody on some things, you find a way to find common ground and get things done, and I feel comfortable that I‘ll be able to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you a question I think a lot of people watching have in their heads.  Let‘s exhume it.  A Category 3, we‘ve got hurricane season coming up here next month in June.  It‘s early down here, earlier than the rest of the country. 

You‘ve got a Category 3 coming here, a Katrina cousin coming here.  It‘s turning a little bit to the east and you feel like you may get a break.  Do you have a command-and-control operation right then?  Will you feel comfortable you‘ve got one, Mr. Mayor, right now? 

NAGIN:  Once the storm gets in the Gulf, we go into action.  I don‘t care where it‘s going, but we...

MATTHEWS:  How will it be different this time from the last time? 

NAGIN:  Well, we established our command-and-control centers established.  It‘s linked with the states and the feds, and we have our evacuation plan ready to roll out.

MATTHEWS:  Total evacuation?

NAGIN:  Total evacuation.

MATTHEWS:  Mandatory evacuation? 

NAGIN:  Anything Category 3 or above. 

MATTHEWS:  Mandatory?  OK.

LANDRIEU:  Absolutely.

NAGIN:  Yes, sir.

LANDRIEU:  There are going to be a lot of false starts this year, by the way, and I think people down here know it, and I think people need to be prepared for it. 

MATTHEWS:  By the way, we have the tape right now.  I have to do this. 

This will be a little bit of “Meet the Press” right now.  Here‘s you. 

NAGIN:  You have the tape?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, the power of television.  It‘s coming on. 

NAGIN:  It‘s me?

MATTHEWS:  I think both of you.  Let‘s watch both of you guys give your assessment of the president‘s performance. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Do you approve or disapprove of President Bush‘s job performance?  There‘s two answers here.  There‘s two answers here.

ROBINSON:  Yes or no?

VIRGINIA BOULET, CORPORATE LAWYER:  There are only two answers. 

Disapprove. 

MATTHEWS:  Rob?

ROB COUHIG, BUSINESSMAN:  Overall approve. 

MATTHEWS:  Approve?

RON FORMAN, NONPROFIT EXECUTIVE:  Approve. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Forman?

FORMAN:  Approve. 

LANDRIEU:  Disapprove. 

NAGIN:  Disapprove. 

REV. TOM WATSON, PASTOR:  Disapprove. 

PEGGY WILSON, FORMER CITY COUNCILWOMAN:  Approve. 

MATTHEWS:  So we have three approves. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So you now acknowledge the truth of my statement?

NAGIN:  Overall...

MATTHEWS:  The dodgeball you were playing with me right there.

NAGIN:  You proved it.  You proved it. 

MATTHEWS:  We had the tape. 

ROBINSON:  Let me ask this final question.  Mr. Mayor, your evacuation plan, some people said it was more of a dream than a plan because you didn‘t talk about talk about where the people were going to go once you bused them out or how they were going to get back.  I‘d like to get your response to that.

NAGIN:  You know, we have a plan that‘s solid.  It‘s been signed off on, for the most part, from the secretary of homeland security.  We‘ve been working with the state.  We need to know where the evacuation shelters are going to be. 

ROBINSON:  And you‘ll have to get that from the state?

NAGIN:  Once that‘s done—that comes from the state—once that‘s done, we will implement, and it‘s gone. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got an opening statement.  You had your statements now this time for a closing statement—Mr. Mayor?

NAGIN:  It‘s on me?

ROBINSON:  It‘s on you.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Nagin, you got a minute. 

NAGIN:  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.  It has been my honor and privilege to serve as your mayor over the past four years. 

I come from a working-class family that has taught me to be a man of honesty and integrity.  I have made tough decisions, business decisions based upon facts.  As a result of that, our economy was turning, and things were headed in a much better direction, and people were moving up the economic ladder. 

Katrina happened.  I was here; I never left my post.  And we put together a plan that we now can rebuild this city, and I want to work with you and your families to make that a reality. 

I need your support.  We need to continue to move this city forward.  New Orleans is poised for growth, to have better neighborhoods, better schools, better jobs and opportunities.  Let‘s not go backwards.  Let‘s continue to move forward. 

I‘m Ray Nagin, Number 63.  I would really appreciate your support on May 20th

ROBINSON:  Mr. Landrieu, your closing statement?

LANDRIEU:  Ladies and gentlemen, it‘s great to be with you tonight. 

Thank you for your time and thank you for your attention. 

This was an American tragedy; it requires an American response.  If we‘re going to make that happen, the next mayor needs to have three things.  We need to be able to restore the credibility to the state, to the nation, and to the international community. 

You actually need somebody that can get the job done by finding higher common ground, somebody that bring all different walks of people together, somebody that can find a way actually to get the job done. 

What was OK before Katrina in New Orleans is not OK after Katrina.  We have a big job to do.  I believe I can make that happen, and I would appreciate your support. 

ROBINSON:  We want to thank you, candidates.  And we want to thank you here at MSNBC for giving us this opportunity to reach our displaced voters. 

To the candidates, I‘d like to say, in addition thanking you, I would like to borrow a quote from perhaps one of the country‘s greatest humanitarians, Dr. Martin Luther King, who said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” 

And to those of you out there who are displaced and torn away from the bosom of your beloved New Orleans, I borrow yet another quote from Dr.  King, and that is, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” 

Thank you for watching. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s been great to come down here again.  And I have to say, although it‘s not a fair estimate of what‘s going on down here, this city looked beautiful today to come into town here. 

The humidity was just right, which means there was no humidity.  It‘s a beautiful city.  It‘s got to be saved.  I think America loves this town and it roots for the people of this city, and we‘re all going to know which of you two gentlemen is going to lead this city come this Saturday. 

And we hope that everybody who can possibly vote get out there and vote, because that is what we‘re trying to do around the world right now, I‘ve noticed, is sell people on voting. 

ROBINSON:  So, in short, what we‘re saying to you gentlemen is that the fate of New Orleans in its darkest hour rest on your shoulders.  Thank you. 

Thank you for a spirited discussion.  Thank you.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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