NEWORLEANS-- From defending his own version of the city budget to trying to discredit the city's Inspector General's Office, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin gave those in the metro area a lot to talk about on Thursday. But it's what he said about the upcoming mayor's race that's now leaving some wondering.
After eight years in office, Nagin is no stranger to controversy. His latest words to raise eyebrows hit the airwaves on Thursday -- some say he tried to inject race into politics when talking about the upcoming mayoral election on the urban talk radio station WBOK.
'I think that if we're not careful we can get a candidate that really can do some damage to the community to all of New Orleans for a long time to come,' Nagin said during the interview. 'You could have a major shift in political power not only in the mayor's seat, but at the council. We've already seen it at the DA. I'm hearing rumors about the Sheriff's Office.'
'He seems to be speaking in code, in racial code, in this interview and if he's race baiting, he's really doing damage to this city,' said Dr. Ed Chervenak, University of New Orleans political scientist. 'African Americans make up the majority of voters in the city, and black officials have been running the city since they became a majority, and so he's appealing to the fear that a white official might be elected.'
Not true, Nagin said.
'I just think having the number of candidates that are in the race is going to split the vote whether you're talking black, white, Hispanic or whatever,' said Nagin. 'We as a community need to consolidate around one candidate.'
Dr. Vera Triplett said she agrees with the mayor. As president of the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association, she represents hundreds of residents of all races, ages and incomes. She said the mayor's words make sense so long as they have nothing to do with race.
'I don't think we have the luxury of looking at things that are just trivial and divisive. I think that we have to, if we're going to survive, focus on the things that really matter,' said Triplett. 'That's competence, that's skill set and that's a proven record.'
The mayor now promises to hire political pollster Dr. Silas Lee to get a sense of the support behind each of the mayoral candidates. Nagin then said he'll decide who to throw his support behind.
'I don't think any of the candidates are going to be seeking an endorsement from Ray Nagin,' said Chervenak. 'I realistically think they'll be playing the anti-Nagin card. They're going to all point to the fact that they are not him.'
Qualifying in the mayor's race officially begins and ends next week. The election is set forFeb. 6.