The former Cox New Orleans GM’s cable roots make for good politics in the Crescent City. By K.C. Neel New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin promised he wouldn’t back away from cable issues when he was elected two years ago. But Nagin hasn’t had a chance to make good on that promise yet. His time as the Crescent City’s mayor has been marked by a dearth of cable issues, says Steve Sawyer, VP, public and governmental affairs, for Cox. That’s because most of the hard work between Cox and the parish came during Nagin’s 12 years in charge of the troubled cable system, which actually serves several area parishes (or districts). By the time he left in 2002, Nagin had overseen the system’s upgrade; improved customer service; punched up employee morale; launched new services; and cut a 15-year franchise that doesn’t expire until 2011. "The advantage of having Ray in office is that it gives us direct access to City Hall," Sawyer says. "But he does that with everyone. He used to have an open door policy at Cox, and he has one as mayor now, too." Still, Sawyer admits that having a mayor who comes from the private sector and who understands the nuances of the cable industry is a plus. "Many governmental VIPs don’t get involved in what we do day-to-day. But when they have a question about the business, Ray can generally address it right away without having to have someone go out and find the answer," he says. That description can be applied to much of Nagin’s team at City Hall, which includes several former Cox New Orleans employees. Earlier this year he replaced his chief political adviser Garey Forster—a previous administration member who repeatedly butted heads with city officials—with Brenda Hatfield, formerly Cox’s director of governmental affairs. Hatfield served on Nagin’s transition team and was one of his trusted kitchen cabinet members from the onset of his campaign. One of Nagin’s first hires—made before taking office—was Beth James, formerly GM of Cox Interactive Media, who was brought on to be his director of economic development. By most accounts, Nagin is achieving the same results for the city that he did for the local Cox system: weeding out problems; putting in place new procedures to make things run more smoothly; and making residents happier. His popularity among the parish’s citizens remains high, according to press reports. He has cleaned up corrupted city departments, pushed for reforms throughout the parish and tightened the city’s administrative ship by hiring outside experts, including four from Cox’s New Orleans operation. Nagin isn’t your everyday politician. No one expected the political neophyte, who self-financed his campaign, to even reach the launchpad, but he beat well-connected opponents in both the primary and general elections. And he did it in a city where political connections often mean the difference between success and failure. Moreover, Nagin came into office without a large political machine. Most of his appointees have come from the business community, although he did keep a few holdovers. "Ray comes from a strong business background," Sawyer says. "He brought that to the table when he was with Cox and he’s brought it to the table as mayor. It’s been good for the citizens of New Orleans parish." —with Shirley Brady

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