As the news of former Mayor Ray Nagin’s 10-year prison sentence began to circulate around the city he once led, former associates and current political figures began to sound off on the judgement that was handed down and whether it was an appropriate punishment for the crimes he committed.
Former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy said simply: “The whole thing is just a sad day for New Orleans and I feel very sorry for his family.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu released a short statement after the sentencing that referred to the event as “the end of a sad chapter” for New Orleans.
“Today marks the end of a sad chapter for our city,” Landrieu said. “The people of New Orleans are turning the page and moving forward.”
Beyond the courthouse steps, federal investigators said the sentence would send a strong message.
In a news released emailed after the sentencing, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the New Orleans Field Division Michael Anderson said, “Given the nature and extent of former Mayor Nagin’s criminal conduct and betrayal of public trust over the course of several years, hopefully this result will bring at least some level of resolution to the City and its residents.”
Chief IRS Criminal Investigator Richard Weber echoed that sentiment in the same release. “In February, a jury of New Orleans citizens sent Mr. Nagin the message, loud and clear, that public officials will be held accountable for public corruption and criminal activity,” Weber said. “Today’s sentence confirms that message - public servants are elected to serve the public, not benefit from the position.”
Karen Carvin, who helped run Ray Nagin’s two successful mayoral campaigns before falling out with the mayor during his second term, said that all things considered, Nagin got lucky.
“I think he got the very best that any of us thought he would get,” Carvin said. “Given the number of counts and also his lack of accepting responsibility for any of this.”
After a years-long drama over allegations that Nagin sold his office during some the city’s darkest hours, the mayor was finally sentenced on Wednesday morning, avoiding the worst of what was possible under federal guidelines. Carvin said she thought the former mayor would have to spend at least 15 years in prison.
“Maybe in his mind, he’s completely convinced he didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. “He may be one of the only people who thinks that. The good news is because of the length of the sentence, he has the opportunity to rehabilitate himself as a human being.”
Uptown attorney Rob Couhig, who finished fourth in the 2006 mayoral primary prior to Nagin winning a second term, said he though the 10-year sentence for his former rival was reasonable.
“It’s probably pretty close to appropriate. It’s what Governor Edwards got. Ten years is a long time any way you stretch it for a guy who basically I suspect was an idiot and got caught up in his own vanity,” Couhig said.
“I think he got swept into power by those who thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, look at Ray, he’s going to be different,’” Couhig added. “His vanity probably told him he could afford to live on less than he was making before, and he had all these sycophants who told him, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ and he fell into that trap. It’s just idiocy and waste.”
The worst damage may have been to the city’s image, Couhig went on.
“When you have your first, quote, reform mayor, and he goes to jail and he’s the first mayor to go to jail, it kind of makes you wonder about the prospects for reform.”
Eddie Compass, the former New Orleans police superintendent who resigned from office just four weeks after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, had little to say about Nagin following the sentence.
Compass, now chief of security with the state-run Recovery School District, called his relationship with Nagin history. He said Wednesday he was unaware of the judge’s sentence.
“Once Ray Nagin forced me to resign, I’ve gone on with my life. I haven’t thought about Ray Nagin at all since I’ve been gone,” he said. “I just hope him and his family well.”