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