NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) — Mayor Ray Nagin on Tuesday apologized for urging residents to rebuild a “chocolate New Orleans” and saying, “You can’t have New Orleans no other way.”
“I’m really sorry that some people took that they way they did, and that was not my intention,” the mayor said. “I say everybody’s welcome.”
Nagin added that he never should have used the term “chocolate.”
Across the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged city, many voiced their displeasure with the mayor’s Monday remarks at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech. One Web site even began peddling T-shirts showing Nagin with a top hat along with the caption “Willy Nagin and the Chocolate Factory.”
Resident Alex Gerhold called Nagin’s remarks “stupid” and “pitiful.”
“He used the wrong dairy product to describe us. We’re more Neapolitan, not chocolate,” Gerhold said. “It doesn’t do the city any kind of justice.”
Aisha Johnson said she didn’t think the mayor’s comments were necessarily inflammatory, just out of line.
“He should have chosen his words more carefully,” she said.
But some residents, like Ann McKendrick, were angered.
“You can’t reunite a city if your comments are going to divide a city,” McKendrick said.
Nagin’s remarks fall into a line of inappropriate statements the mayor has made, said civil rights attorney Tracie Washington. She said she is “done trying to figure out what our mayor is going to say off the cuff on any given day.”
“It was an unfortunate goofball statement for him to make,” Washington said. “All it has really done is make the city look just a little bit more ridiculous.”
The mayor, who is up for re-election this year, publicly apologized for his remarks at the beginning of a Bring New Orleans Back Commission meeting. He said he was trying only to encourage many of the city’s displaced poor population to return.
In an interview with CNN, Nagin said he was addressing an “unspoken thing about who’s coming back, who should come back, what type of city we are going to have in the future.”
Before Katrina hit on August 29, the city was 67 percent African-American.
“It was designed to talk to the African-American community for the most part, not only for here but throughout the country — and to make sure that they understood that they were welcomed in this city,” he said.
On Monday, Nagin said God wanted New Orleans to be predominantly black and said he didn’t care what the predominantly white Uptown section of the city had to say about it.
“I don’t care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day,” he said. “This city will be a majority African-American city. It’s the way God wants it to be.”
After the statement, he insisted he wasn’t being divisive.
“How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That is the chocolate I am talking about,” he said. “New Orleans was a chocolate city before Katrina. It is going to be a chocolate city after. How is that divisive? It is white and black working together, coming together and making something special.”
Nagin, first elected in 2002, was supposed to come up for re-election next month. However, state officials postponed the city election until April because of the disruptions caused by Katrina.