NEW YORK — New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin opened a visit to New York on Friday by expressing regret for describing the World Trade Center site as “a hole in the ground.”
He said residents of New York and New Orleans both “understand what tragedy is all about.”
Nagin was in town for a two-day pitch to investors to support business in New Orleans, which still has an enormous rebuilding job ahead of it a year after Hurricane Katrina.
During a recently broadcast “60 Minutes” interview, a CBS correspondent pointed out flood-damaged cars still on the streets of New Orleans’ devastated Ninth Ward. Nagin replied: “You guys in New York can’t get a hole in the ground fixed, and it’s five years later. So let’s be fair.”
Nagin apologized soon afterward, saying he was simply making a comparison of how difficult it is to recover from a disaster.
On Friday, he stopped short of explicitly apologizing but expressed regret for the remarks and said he hoped to put the matter to rest. More than 2,700 people died in the collapse of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, after terrorists piloted two commercial flights into the twin towers, causing them to collapse.
“I will never refer to that site as a hole,” Nagin said at a news conference with the Rev. Al Sharpton and representatives of a New Orleans delegation. “It’s a sacred site that’s currently in an undeveloped state.”
He added, “We as New Orleanians and as New Yorkers understand what tragedy is all about and understand the difficulty of recovering from tragedy.”
Deputy New York Mayor Dennis Walcott said neither he nor Mayor Michael Bloomberg held any resentment over Nagin’s comments.
Many New Yorkers have also criticized the slow pace of reconstruction at ground zero, which has been mired in political battles over what to build there.
Nagin sidestepped questions about whether his criticism was legitimate. “It’s very difficult to deal with an emotional tragedy — there’s no quick fix,” he said. “Unfortunately, we in America like the fast-food mentality.”
Nagin was leading a delegation of business and public sector leaders on the New York trip. They were to spend Friday and Saturday at a Manhattan theater, touting city and federal tax breaks for investment, encouraging filmmakers to return to the city and seeking commercial sponsors for next year’s Mardi Gras, an idea that didn’t take off this year as the city struggled through a scaled-back Carnival season.
Wall Street executives, representatives of the arts and tourism industries, and private investors have been invited to attend the New Orleans presentations, Nagin spokesman Ernest Collins said.
New Orleans is still struggling to market itself one year after the storm flooded 80 percent of the city. Its pre-storm economy was largely based on tourism, shipping, military installations and higher education.
© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.