Harry Anderson Leaving New Orleans

Today’s NYT has a poignant story about comedian-magician-actor Harry Anderson’s decision to leave New Orleans.

Harry Anderson Andy Levin/Contact Press Images, for The New York Times Harry Anderson is leaving his French Quarter nightclub, and the city.

In the weeks after the storm, even before the power was back, Mr. Anderson opened his club for what he called French Quarter Town Hall meetings. The weekly gatherings, which at first offered little more than camaraderie by candlelight and warm beer, evolved into a de facto government for a part of New Orleans that had experienced little flooding but could not begin cleanup and rebuilding because of the city’s overall paralysis.

The meetings drew officials from the city, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers — all of whom were given an earful — and bit by bit, things improved. Many locals, in fact, gave Mr. Anderson a lot of credit for kick-starting the Quarter’s recovery.

So it is especially poignant that the Andersons have now decided to leave. But their story is not unique: many in this city are suffering the same continuing loss and strain that led these two to their decision. So their departure raises the question of whether others who can afford to leave, those who have not sunk every penny into a now-moldy house or a devastated store, will also move on.

Partly, it was loneliness, too few people coming to the club to see his show, and a general sense that, as the headline put it, “the magic is gone.” Mostly, though, it was a loss of hope created by inept city management, including a huge jump in property taxes and utility rates at a time when it was least sensible.

But it was the recent mayoral election, Mr. Anderson said, “that was the nail in the coffin.”

The re-election of C. Ray Nagin, whom Mr. Anderson holds largely responsible for New Orleans’s drift since the hurricane, came as a shock. The Sunday after the May 20 election, he said, he walked the streets of the Quarter, angry with a result that “pulled the rug out from any hope of” change for the better.

“This city hasn’t evolved,” Mr. Anderson said. “I just feel this place is stuck on stupid.”

And then there was this:

[W]hile they had chosen New Orleans as a home, the famously insular city had never really accepted them. Even after he started the town hall meetings, Mr. Anderson recalled, people would thank him “for helping my city,” never “our city.”

Now [that he is leaving], he added, they will say, “How can you do this to my city?”

The irony is that they are moving to Asheville, North Carolina which, if it’s like the rest of the South, probably will never fully accept anyone whose grandparents weren’t born there as true locals.

via David Weigel, guesting for Sully

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Rodney Dill says:

    I had to do a double-take before I recognized him.
    Its been a long time since Night Court.

  2. Mark says:

    Its been a long time since Night Court.

    And a lot of pounds since Night Court too.

  3. “The irony is that they are moving to Asheville, North Carolina which, if it’s like the rest of the South, probably will never fully except anyone whose grandparents weren’t born there as true locals. ”

    I think most of the south will except him easily, the real question is if they will accept him.

    But on that question, I think the issue is largely driven by the local. Dallas, Houston, Austin or Atlanta would likely quickly accept him because there is a large enough ‘foreign born’ population. San Antonion, El Paso and apparently New Orleans would be more likely to ‘except’ him than accept him.

    I don’t know Asheville that well, but I think that it is outside of the “Golden triangle” which would make it slightly more likely to go with the ‘except’ than accept.

  4. Christopher says:

    Geez is that the same guy?!?

    OMG I hate NO! The money we are pouring into it there! Your money my money!!! And for what, so they can be flooded all over again?

    Death of an American city, and it can’t come soon enough.

  5. McGehee says:

    And a lot of pounds since Night Court too.

    At first I thought James had erred and named Harry instead of Louie.

    Even on “Dave’s World” he wasn’t that … expansive.

  6. So now we see James making edits to his posts without acknowledging the edits. I tell you, give any pundit or news reporter a little power and they immediately start trying to hold on to that power by suppressing the truth ;).

  7. James Joyner says:

    Heh. I meant to respond with an “oops” or some such in the comments. I generally don’t post “correction” notices unless there was a factual error of some sort.

  8. Bithead says:

    Mr. Anderson has just gone up several points in my book.

  9. P. says:

    I adore Harry and Elizabeth. Truly lovely and sincere people.

    They tried, helped people, and stayed a year after the storm.

    I saw how it progressed and saw that the sadness truly envelops this haunting city right at this time. It’s overwhelming. I cannot blame anyone for leaving if they so desire. Change is healthy. But NOLA will be back one day. It will take some time, but it has always bounced back. It’s that kind of a city, no matter what anyone thinks or says.

  10. Welcome Harry and Elizabeth!
    Asheville is happy to welcome you both.
    We are a friendly, progressive city and we’re looking forward to meeting you!

  11. Ashevillian says:

    I live in Asheville. And this place will happily accept Harry. See that’s the thing about Asheville, people here are quite open and willing to accept anyone who doesn’t come with a preconceived notion about the South. There are quite a few folks up here who left New Orleans for Asheville after Katrina, and I’ve met a few. They came to escape the aftermath, but now they say they aren’t going back.

    Asheville isn’t your typical southern town either. It’s a town filled with writers and artists, which makes it a more more open-minded than other Southern towns. As someone aptly put it recently: Asheville–where the Blue Ridge and Berkeley collide.

  12. Joseph Adams says:

    People are either quick to judge, or fast to assume that others are judgemental. Asheville is the Liberal stronghold of North Carolina even though there is a lot of old money here. This is certainly a progressive town that welcomes everyone. Of course, we would like to welcome most folks as visitors. Asheville is an arts driven community, and has a diverse population. Like everywhere else there are problems within the community, but there are a lot of like minded people who live in pursuit of a better life for all. I hope that Harry and his lovely wife are happy here, and that they become active in our community. To Harry – If you ever want to learn how to Breakdance, hit me up!

  13. NJgreendemon says:

    Most people don’t seem to be giving Mr. Anderson and his wife the credit they deserve for not only staying in a city our idiot president has neglected to help, but also helping in New Orleans by holding meetings and helping locals out. I work in a company that helps parents with tuition payments for private and parochial schools all across this nation, quite a few of those schools in the area that was hit quite hard. It’s heart-breaking to listen to these people who don’t even know where they’re going to live, much less where their children will be educated.

    The fact that the Andersons stayed there as long as they did should be a testament to their strength and a loyalty shown by very few.

    Oh, and for those of you who want to nitpick at his weight, take a look at yourself in twenty years, and let’s see how hot you look, ‘nkay?

  14. laura says:

    I am so sad they are leaving New Orleans, I always stop by when I am in town. But the last time I saw Elizabeth was in April ( the day before they went house hunting in Ashville)and she did not seem her usual self. New Orleans has just suffered another great loss but Ashville has a lot to gain. These are good people.