Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Nagin Envisions a New N'Orleans

Last Sunday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin came to Houston ... again ... to speak with Hurricane Katrina evacuees who have relocated to our area. And while the pre-Katrina period of his Big Easy reign was appallingly absent of reforms and civic improvement, Nagin has apparently embraced a new vision for his once-decadent, now decaying, city.
Speaking to a few hundred of the estimated 150,000 evacuees in the Houston area, nagin said the devastating storm that displaced thousands might ultimately have a cleansing effect on the flood-ravaged city.

"Everything that you didn't like about New Orleans, let's get rid of it. Everything that you liked about New Orleans, let's enhance it. Everything you dreamed about and wished New Orleans had, let's make it happen," Nagin told the crowd gathered at Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church.
Last night I spoke with some neighbors that are members of Pleasant Grove and attended the Sunday "pep rally" (their words). While the Chronicle reported that Nagin urged attendees "to speak out about their frustrations with the recovery effort," my friends seemed more of the opinion that he went out of his way to discourage people from (or would simply not listen to) complaining about what went wrong, especially in speaking individually with evacuees after the meeting.

Nagin apparently went on the defensive several times during the meeting, shifting blame and responsibility to government and FEMA officials whenever he could.
At one point, someone in the crowd interrupted Nagin as he recited the accomplishments, yelling, "What about housing?"

Indeed, Nagin agreed, housing is problematic in a city where whole neighborhoods were demolished by floodwaters that spilled over failed levees. He said housing was part of his three-pronged approached [sic] to recovery.

First, he said, the city's levee system must be "world class." He said Dutch and German officials were being consulted about how to get the levees to pre-Katrina strength by next year -- and to help explore making them stronger.
Maybe they can train some of New Orleans' thousands of unemployed on the latest technologies of plugging holes in the levees.
He also said officials a all levels must provide tax incentives that encourage businesses to locate in New Orleans.
He expressed frustration at delays for federal relief funds, saying the city shouldn't have to "beg" to get back on its feet.

He urged evacuees to help by writing state and federal lawmakers and speaking out to others so they don't forget about pledges to rebuild the city and keep it a colorful, vibrant place.

"I'm trying to make it a better place. But I can only do so much. I need your help," he said. The evacuees had mixed reactions.
The NBC local news crew of KPRC interviewed one former New Orleans citizen who has temporarily settled in the Bayou City. Dorothy Stukes seems to represent many of the N.O. evacuees I have talked to in the past few weeks who want Mayor Nagin both to shoulder some responsibility for the city's failures during the disaster, and to offer them something a little more solid than his unrealistic dreams of the glorious rebuilding to come.

And while the New Orleans mayor busies himself traveling between his temporary homestead in Dallas and visiting evacuees in Houston, Memphis and other cities around the nation, Jeff Crouere of Louisiana-based BayouBuzz.com is frustrated that Nagin is racking up travel miles while leaving his city to rot and decompose.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin certainly has racked up some frequent flyer miles since Katrina hit his city. The Mayor set his family up in Dallas after the storm and has been commuting on weekends to see his wife and children. Quite frequently, he has traveled to Washington D.C. to testify on Capitol Hill. He has also been barnstorming around the area meeting with displaced constituents in Baton Rouge, Houston and other cities. He also squeezed in time for a vacation and spent Thanksgiving in Jamaica with other American tourists. Some questioned whether Nagin should be lounging on a beach in a ritzy resort while many of his constituents don’t even have a trailer to lounge in, but this Mayor has never been concerned about public relations.

While he has ample time to be a traveler and tourist, Nagin has not found the time to be a leader. An editorial last Friday in the Washington Post summed up the problem for New Orleans quite succinctly, "No unquestioned leader has emerged. Until one does, there is certainly a danger that the city and its problems will be forgotten and the architectural and cultural treasures of New Orleans ultimately abandoned..."

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