Via Liprap, New Orleans City Council member Shelley Midura’s letter to George W. Bush, on the occasion of his visit to new Orleans for the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina:
August 28, 2007
Dear Mr. President:
Thank you for visiting New Orleans for the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the worst federal levee-failure disaster in United States history followed by the worst federal disaster response in United States history. We’re also grateful for the $116 billion federal allocation for the Gulf Coast. That $116 billion has served you well, as your spokesmen often cite it as an indicator of your dedication to our recovery. But, it hasn’t served us as well — it’s not enough, it’s been given grudgingly, and only after our elected officials have had to fight for it. So I feel I must correct the record about you and your administration’s dedication to our recovery and implore you to take action to make things better.
Indeed, you have allocated $116 billion for the Gulf Coast, but that number is misleading. According to the Brookings Institute’s most recent Katrina Index report, at least $75 billion of it was for immediate post-storm relief. Thus only 35% of the total federal dollars allocated is for actual recovery and reconstruction. And of that recovery and reconstruction allocation, only 42% has actually been spent. In fact, while your administration touts “$116 billion” as the amount you have sent to the entire area affected by Katrina and the levee failures, the actual long term recovery dollar amount is only $14.6 billion. This amount is a mere 12% of the entire federal allocation of dollars, billions of which went to corporations such as Halliburton for immediate post-storm cleanup work, instead of to local businesses. Contrast that to the $20.9 billion on infrastructure for Iraq that the Wall Street Journal reported in May 2006 that you have spent, and it’s an astonishing 42% more than you have spent on infrastructure for the post-Katrina Gulf region. The American citizens of the Gulf region do not understand why the federal obligation to rebuilding Iraq is greater than it is for America’s Gulf coast, and more specifically for New Orleans.
New Orleans has more challenges and fewer resources than we’ve ever had in my lifetime in the City of New Orleans. Yet, other than FEMA repair reimbursements, the only direct federal assistance this city has received from you has been two community disaster loans that you are demanding be paid back even though no other city government has had to pay back a these types of loans for as long as our research can determine (at least since the 70’s). These loans are being used to balance the city budget to provide basic services to citizens who need far more than the pre-Katrina basics.
Despite this obvious contradiction, your administration blames local leadership for our continued need for federal assistance. But this argument is disingenuous, Mr. President. There are a host of tasks that only you and your administration can accomplish for our recovery. These are some concrete steps you can take to make good on your 2005 Jackson Square promise:
* Completely fix the federally managed levees
* Fully fund our expertly crafted recovery plan
* Give New Orleans all that you have promised to Baghdad – schools, hospitals, infrastructure, security, and basic services
* Forgive the community disaster loans, as authorized by the new Congress
* Appoint a recovery czar who works inside the White House that reports daily and directly to you and whose sole job is the recovery of New Orleans and the rest of the region
* Restore our coast and wetlands
* Work with Congress to reform the Stafford Act
* Cut the bureaucratic red tape
In turn Mr. President, the people of New Orleans are more than willing to do our part. We have already:
* Consolidated and reformed the state levee board system.
* Consolidated and reformed our property assessment system.
* Passed sweeping ethics reform legislation.
* Created an Ethics Review Board.
* Hired an Inspector General.
* Submitted a parish-wide recovery plan.
Much has changed in New Orleans for the better since the storm, and more progress is coming. Civic activism is at an all time high. For the first time in my lifetime, there is an actual reform movement in New Orleans driven by the people. “Best Practices” has become a City Council mantra. We have a new Ethics Board. Our incoming Inspector General, Robert Cerasoli, is considered one of the elite in the Inspector General world, as is our new Recovery Director Dr. Ed Blakely in that world and our Recovery School Superintendent Paul Vallas in the realm of public education. We are attracting the cream of the crop. Young people from around the country seeking to make a difference in their lives are moving to New Orleans to teach in public schools, provide community healthcare, build housing, work for nonprofits engaged in post-Katrina work, and, in general, do whatever they can for the recovery because they all know what I am not so sure that you know, mainly that what happens in New Orleans over the next few years says something about the very heart of America itself.
Mr. President, we are in fact doing our part locally in New Orleans despite contrary comments by your administration. Our intense civic activity and government reform initiatives are serious indicators of our local commitment to do our part for the recovery. But we are drowning in federal red tape. We are being nickel and dimed to death by your Federal Emergency Management Agency. We are resource-starved at the city level. The mission here is not accomplished. What we need is Presidential leadership, not just another speech filled with empty promises. Our recovery’s success, struggle, or failure will be intimately woven into your legacy, for better or worse. What Americans think about America is deeply affected by how this country rises to national challenges, none more significant than post-Katrina New Orleans. Fully restoring New Orleans to its formerly unique and permanent place in American culture is this nation’s greatest domestic challenge. Your leadership of our country through this difficult time will serve as an American character lesson for future generations.
New Orleans City Councilmember