Satirical newspaper lampoons New Orleans' politicians

Thursday, March 1, 2007
Rudy Vorkapic walked the French Quarter as he distributed his newspaper, The New Orleans Levee, in New Orleans on Tuesday. (Alex Brandon ~ Associated Press)

NEW ORLEANS -- Mayor Ray Nagin announces a plan to rebuild the city with Legos. And the Army Corps of Engineers is thinking of a new slogan: "YOU try building things with government screwdrivers."

Those are some of the parody news stories in the New Orleans Levee, a wickedly satirical newspaper about this woeful city.

The free monthly makes fun of the slow pace of recovery from Hurricane Katrina and mocks the politicians in charge, including Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and President Bush.

And there seems to be no shortage of material.

'Bringing it on themselves'

"The thing is, they keep bringing this on themselves. This is not me making fun of them; this is them doing it to themselves," said editor and publisher Rudy Vorkapic, a freelance journalist and Chicago native who married a local woman and moved to New Orleans two years ago. "Let's face it, you can do this daily, down in this town. Every day there's another day of ridiculousness trying to be passed on us as progress."

The paper -- whose motto is "We don't hold anything back" (i.e., just like New Orleans' levees) -- has circulated around New Orleans for the past five months. Vorkapic prints 25,000 copies.

"It's sort of helping people get through the drama with a little levity, a little comedy," said Otis Fennell, who runs a bookstore in Faubourg Marigny, a neighborhood next to the French Quarter. "It's a good rag."

The newspaper isn't making Vorkapic rich. So far, advertising has barely covered production costs, he said. He has won some loyal advertisers, though.

"It takes a certain amount of intelligence to appreciate that kind of writing," said one advertiser, Judith Whitty Jenkins, a real estate broker who sells land in the piney country north of New Orleans. "Smart people in New Orleans know there's something rotten in Gotham."

The monthly newspaper is modeled after The Onion, the popular national satirical newspaper. The way Vorkapic (pronounced Vor-KAP-ick) and his stable of writers see it, the politicians are botching the city's rebuilding.

'Where's Baldo?'

In the Levee, Nagin is referred to as the "so-called mayor," and repeatedly gets chastised for his MIA status. One issue contained a puzzle called "Where's Baldo?" (In the puzzle, the baldheaded mayor was nowhere to be found.)

The Levee also observed that Blanco is remarkably similar to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, "from their top goals of maintaining power by any means necessary to the fact that neither can get President Bush to speak to them."

Other sources of delight are Allstate and Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. Last year, the FBI said it found $90,000 in bribe money in Jefferson's freezer. In the Levee, articles about the congressman are accompanied by doctored photographs of Jefferson grinning in front of a refrigerator overflowing with dollar bills.

"The paper's born out of tears," Vorkapic said. "Comedy comes out of tragedy. This sure did."

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