Mayor C. Ray Nagin apologized Tuesday for a Martin Luther King Day speech in which he predicted that New Orleans would be a "chocolate" city once more and asserted that "God is mad at America."
"I said some things that were totally inappropriate.... It shouldn't have happened," Nagin said, explaining that he was caught up in the moment as he spoke to mostly black spectators, many of them fearful of being shut out of the city's rebuilding.
During the speech Monday, Nagin, who is black, said that the hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast in quick succession were a sign of God's anger toward the U.S. and toward black communities in particular because of violence and infighting. He also said New Orleans had to be a mostly black city again because "it's the way God wants it to be."
On Tuesday, Nagin said his comments about God were inappropriate and stemmed from a private conversation he had with a minister earlier. "I need to be more sensitive and more aware of what I'm saying," he said.
The mayor said his speech was really meant to convey that blacks were a vital part of New Orleans' history and culture and should be encouraged to return. "I want everyone to be welcome in New Orleans -- black, white, Asian, everybody," he said.
Nagin said the other main point he had hoped to make Monday was that when blacks did return, they must work to stamp out the crime and political infighting that had held them back.
Nagin, a former cable company executive, was elected in 2002 with about 90% of the white vote, according to polls conducted by Ed Renwick, the director of Loyola University's Institute of Politics.
Nagin received less than half of the black vote, Renwick said Tuesday, and the mayor's heaviest criticism since taking office has come from rival black political factions.
Nagin has been trying harder to gain the trust of black residents, Renwick said.
"But some of the remarks he made Monday will possibly dampen enthusiasm among some whites," Renwick said. "It seemed to be another Nagin-being-Nagin. He has a penchant for just speaking off the cuff and not thinking it through."