- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 2005

Tom Benson has come to be the bogeyman of New Orleans because of his understandable reservations about a city with an uncertain future following Hurricane Katrina.

The owner of the Saints has been portrayed as unthinking and unfeeling, and worse, as he revisited the notion of moving the Saints to San Antonio. Yet he was only doing what anyone with a modicum of common sense would do, which is explore all opportunities in order to maintain the financial competitiveness of a business.

New Orleans never has been a big-league city in the strictest sense. It is an economically limited city, a corrupt city in a corrupt state presided over by incompetent lawmakers. New Orleans is not a decadently cool place, as a number of ninnies commented from the safety of their cubicles.

No one would think it is decadently cool to be pistol-whipped while being relieved of your cash and credit cards, which was one of the leading industries of the city before Benson blew up the levees and allowed Lake Pontchartrain to enter all too many living rooms.

The conspiracy theorists have been out en masse since then, and it is surprising that this space is the first to suggest that Benson, in scuba gear, rigged the levees with dynamite to facilitate his moving of the Saints.

This post-Katrina connecting of the dots is no more absurd than Sean Penn’s near-drowning experience, the insipid insights of social scientist Kayne West and the doe-eyed lightweight Mary Landrieu threatening to punch out President George Bush if he or anyone in his administration noted what a dolt she is.

Benson undoubtedly lacks diplomacy and public relations moxie, and he made a number of missteps following the hurricane, but his long-held concerns about the decaying city are not misplaced.

It remains forever baffling why the NBA permitted the Hornets to move to a place that already was a one-time loser with the Jazz. It would be folly if the Oklahoma City Hornets eventually return to yesteryear’s city.

No one is certain how the rebuilding of New Orleans will evolve, or how many of its residents will return, or if it is destined to become a glorified playground for tourists, with a Disney-like makeover of the French Quarter.

All kinds of business owners are making the same sort of hard calculations as Benson, only out of the glare of the national press. After all, it is difficult to run a business based on compassion and what might be in two or three years.

Will the beady-eyed, pompadour-haired Penn be there to squirt tears if your business goes belly-up?

The fixation with Benson and the Saints is out of place, given the mayor and governor who abdicated their basic responsibilities in the days leading up to the hurricane and now are entrusted with salvaging the economic basket case.

And Landrieu remains at large and is considered extremely dangerous to her constituents.

Let’s forget about this addle-brained trio and instead concentrate on the mixed signals emanating from Benson.

Yesterday, the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune expressed pleasure with Benson following his acknowledgement to work with New Orleans with the help of an NFL willing to provide the Saints with provisional measures.

Paul Tagliabue hardly wants the NFL to be viewed as cold and calculating, and he is prepared to do whatever it takes to patch the relationship between New Orleans and Benson, even if it requires making the Saints a de-facto charity case.

Yet New Orleans has a whole lot of problems, the least of them the goings-on of a football team.

It is a city of darkness, of substandard educational system, public services, inept officials and thievery.

Somehow, so the obtuse thinking goes, if you are a business owner, you are obligated to bet on this city in its time of need.

Perhaps the paparazzi-bashing, peace-loving, Saddam-backing Penn will invest in the future of New Orleans, assuming he is dried out and psychologically recovered from his near-drowning ordeal.

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