While New Orleans residents chuckled at Mayor Ray Nagin's negative assessment of Philadelphia's cleanliness in a speech on Saturday, folks here may not find the comments so funny.

"Let me tell you something," Nagin said to some of his constituents during a town hall meeting in New Orleans Saturday. "You ought to go to Philly and you will appreciate how clean New Orleans is."

Laughter and applause broke out and then he continued:

" . . . We still have some work to do but we definitely beat them by a long shot."

His remarks were a bit incongruous considering that he had praised Philly when he was here just two days before.

"To all the people of Philadelphia, we thank you; we applaud you," he said during a news conference here.

Nagin and members of his administration were in Philadelphia to learn how the city deals with its blight problems.

They toured a range of neighborhoods that showed how efforts by the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative had changed areas like Northern Liberties and University City.

The group also toured neighborhoods that are on the cusp of gentrification, such as West Kensington and other areas in West and North Philadelphia.

"We wanted to show them different types of neighborhoods, to show what revitalization looks like," said Eva Gladstein, director of NTI, who declined to comment on the mayor's negative remarks.

But she said that the neighborhoods she and the delegation visited were pretty much free of litter.

"It was a few days after the Nor'easter so maybe there was some," she said.

"But there wasn't a significant amount of litter."

Overall, Gladstein said the group was receptive to NTI's work. It was Nagin's second trip to Philadelphia. The first was before Hurricane Katrina in 2004.

After the hurricane, Philadelphia reached out to about 1,000 people displaced by the storm. The Registered Nurses Response Network sent 300 local nurses to the Gulf and many volunteer students and staff from local universities went to help.

Ceeon Quiett, a spokeswoman for Nagin, said his comments were taken out of context and that he praises the city's efforts in solving its blight issues.

She said what Nagin meant was that New Orleans beat out Philadelphia in maintaining cleanliness in its most visited sections.

In fact, she said Philadelphia's NIT will serve as the model for rebuilding New Orleans.

"Driving around Philadelphia, we saw that it has its issues," Quiett said. "Philadelphia has struggles keeping clean just as New Orleans."

Describing the increased effort to powerwash streets and provide more manual cleaning as the "Disney World-like" treatment, Quiett said areas like the French Quarter are now immaculate.

"The mayor just said that to show what a long way we have come," said Quiett.

"It was a great trip and we learned a lot. We are excited to come back," she said. *

Staff writer Damon Williams contributed to this report.