The Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, is not known as a shrinking violet. The 2005 radio interview he gave in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in which he forcefully and expletively drew the Bush administration’s attention to just how dire his city’s situation was, still rings in listeners’ ears.
But he seems to have been curiously quiet, or perhaps just an exemplary citizen, when he got caught up here last weekend in global swine flu fears.
Mr. Nagin, his wife, and a bodyguard arrived last Saturday in Shanghai on a flight from Newark N.J., trying to drum up Chinese business for New Orleans. He had the misfortune to have been seated within three rows of a French passenger who showed symptoms of A(H1N1) flu, and so – like everyone else who had sat in the victim’s vicinity – he was taken to a Shanghai hotel and shut up in quarantine.
He could have pulled rank, tried a bit of mayoral swagger, blown some hot air about the importance of his business. But, according to the Shanghai Flu Control and Prevention Center, which began to wonder why it was getting so many calls from local and foreign journalists, he hadn’t made a squeak.
“Nobody in quarantine has claimed that he is the Mayor of New Orleans,” the prevention center’s press officer, identified only as Mr. Chen, told the daily Beijing News on Tuesday.
Mr. Chen had another reason to doubt that his bureau had an Important Person in their care. There were Americans among the 39 people quarantined, he acknowledged, but they had all traveled Economy class.
He did not say so outright, but his implication was clear, especially in China, where senior officials on foreign trips tend to make the most of every opportunity to indulge themselves.
How could the Mayor of a city the size of New Orleans travel cattle class?
(Ceeon Quiett, Nagin’s spokeswoman, told the AP that the Shanghai leg of the Mayor’s trip – which was also meant to take in Australia – was paid for by unidentified private interests and “wasn’t shared with us.”)
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was here last week to meet President Hu Jintao and other top Chinese leaders, is senior enough to have had another option. Even though it took him twice as long to get to Beijing as it would have in a commercial airliner, he flew in a US Air Force plane. That way not only did he get a desk and bed, he got to be sure that nobody in a row near him had swine flu, and that nobody in the Chinese immigration service would lock him up for a week…..