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Jambalaya de Crony

New Orleans developer and banker Joseph C Canizaro emerges today in two New York Times stories as an important behind-the-scenes adviser and campaign contributor, and also as a man who will have a major say in how New Orleans will be rebuilt. Interestingly, Mr Canizaro is not a native New Orleanian. He came to town from Biloxi in his late twenties. In spite of that, he has worked his way into the centers of local power. He does not appear to have ever served as an elected official, however, and as a private citizen now, Mr Canizaro is under no obligation to speak to newspaper reporters. So I was tickled by Times reporter Gary Rivlin's delicate handling of Mr Canizaro's assumption of practical power.

Mr. Canizaro, who earlier this year hosted a fund-raiser in his home for the mayor, tiptoed around the topic of his behind-the-scenes role. Only when pressed did he acknowledge that he is fully engaged in the creation of the advisory council: "The mayor and I have spoken numerous times about getting the commission together," he said, but he stressed that ultimately the mayor, and no single private individual, would fill out its roster.

"This is the mayor's thing," he said, over a breakfast of ham and eggs in Baton Rouge last week. "I'm just doing what I can to help."

This contrasts quite starkly with an earlier bit of reporting in the same article.

Since Katrina, Mr. Canizaro has spent much of his time in Utah, where he owns a second home. In mid-September, when the mayor invited a group of business leaders to Dallas to discuss the city's future, the mayor took the time for a phone conversation with Mr. Canizaro.

"It was an incredible thing to witness," said one participant in the Dallas meeting, who did not want his name used because he was talking about a private gathering. "The mayor stood there on the phone, nodding and jotting down notes, as if Joe were passing on bullet points directly from the president."

Mr Canizaro may be the nicest, noblest man ever to go into real estate; I don't mean to say anything about him personally. He seems exemplary of an entire class of wealthy but insulated American businessmen whose principal skill - aside from their grasp of the balance sheet, if they've got that - is a synthetic candor, by turns oleaginous or tart, that will call a spade almost anything but a spade. In our democracy, it's the guys with the money who call the shots. Elected officials merely implement them. It is no wonder that voter turnouts keep dropping.


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