New Orleans has chance to set national example
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin at times appears to be the general who gets on his horse and rides off in all directions.
Some situations cause people to grow into leadership. Other people in charge become more myopic as the pressure mounts.
Mayor Nagin never handled preparation for Hurricane Katrina or its immediate aftermath well. Yet, he's shown the capability to at least think long term even if later he can't stay focused.
He can't make up his mind if he wants to be part of replicating the pre-Katrina New Orleans or if he wants to give vision to the greatest urban renewal in the nation's history.
Mistrust is rampant. The mayor has the twin problems of race and lack of money. He's under tremendous pressure to allow neighborhoods to re-establish themselves along the lines of what they were.
He's pressured by black leaders to make sure New Orleans stays black while the minority white leadership pulls him toward creating a city that functions better.
He's apologized for promising New Orleans would again be a "chocolate" city. He's apologized for suggesting God had a hand in the terrible destruction.
Doing damage control, the mayor explained what he meant to convey in a Martin Luther King Day speech. Black history and culture of New Orleans are important, he said, urging black residents to return.
Then he rode off in another direction, saying he wanted to make the point that blacks, when they do return, must work to stamp out the crime and political infighting that hold them back.
The city's schools were among the nation's worst. New schools now educate a fraction of the displaced students. And they are good schools.
The universities and colleges are functioning.
Workers are slowly cleaning up the city, and it should be rebuilt properly, even if that means some neighborhoods never come back.
The American people are willing to rebuild the city once, but not twice because of flooding.
The mayor needs to rid himself of the people pressuring him to say goofy and offensive things. But only if he puts the city ahead of politics can New Orleans come back, as it should.