NEW ORLEANS — C. Ray Nagin sent an impassioned plea for clemency to ex-President George W. Bush after the former mayor of New Orleans was sentenced to 10 years in prison for corruption.
The sentence is set to begin Sept. 8 at a prison in Oakdale, La., so that Nagin may remain close to his wife and three children. Bush’s office said the former president is unlikely to get involved directly with Nagin’s case, but he is keenly watching the story unfold from a distance.
Flying above the prison complex that will house Nagin, Bush reflected on his own journey of redemption while surveying the challenges lying ahead of the man who was convicted of taking kickbacks from contractors in Hurricane Katrina’s wake.
“This recovery will take a long time. This recovery will take years,” remarked Bush, still scarred from an especially stormy second term in office and a history of alcohol abuse. “In America, we do not abandon our fellow citizens in their hour of need. And the federal government will do its part.”
Added Bush, “The Constitution prevents me, as an ordinary citizen, from intervening to pardon Nagin. He’ll have to handle this one on his own.”
Learning of his dim prospects for a presidential pardon, Nagin was quoted as saying, “Excuse my French, everybody in America, but I am pissed.”
Speaking to Matt Lauer of NBC’s “Today” show, Nagin insisted, “I’m not telling you that President Bush was a racist or what have you. But I think race and class and politics played in just about every aspect of this disaster.”
Judge Helen Berrigan took into consideration Nagin’s own “genuine if infrequent” efforts to help New Orleans bounce back after Katrina. “The city’s problems cannot be reduced to simple black or white, chocolate or vanilla. But someone has to be held accountable. Mayor Nagin is not above the law.”
Asked what Nagin could do to survive in prison, during his ex-presidential prison flyover Bush suggested, “On the day Ray arrives in lockup, he should pick some random convict and beat the hell out of them—totally unprovoked. Really shock and awe the inmates and prove he’s a loose cannon.”
Bush further recommended that Nagin take his sentence in stride. “Brownie, you’ll be serving a heck of a sentence. While I can’t offer you a pardon, I trust that you’ll find inspiration and guidance in my book, ‘Decision Points,’ now available in all prison libraries.”