Friday, October 16, 2009

President Obama's visit to New Orleans

I have a whole bunch of really fuzzy pictures from my increasingly useless digital camera right here on the flickr. I took pictures of political people I recognized. From the New Orleans City Council, I spotted Shelley Midura, Cynthia Hedge Morrell, Arnie Fielkow, and Jackie Clarkson. From our Baton Rouge delegation, I noticed Jim Tucker, Walk Leger, Ed Murray, and Karen Carter Peterson. Of course I also spotted Mayor Nagin, Governor Jindal, State AG Buddy Caldwell, as well as Representatives Cao, Scalise, and Melancon. As far as aspirant candidates are concerned, I saw Murray and John Georges but wasn't able to pick Badon or Perry out of the crowd. They may have been there; this is certainly not an exhaustive list.

I had a great time and came away satisfied with the experience. Seeing a Presidential speech in person is not a bad way to spend a Thursday afternoon. Being close enough to shake Mr. Obama's hand was also very exciting, as I've obviously been an admirer of his for some time.

More substantively, I found his comments to be largely uncontroversial, and therefore, somewhat unsatisfying. Some have criticized the President for what he did and did not say during his junket here. I don't necessarily disagree with many of the critiques I've read, but I'm going to take a different approach and discuss what I think are some significant signs of progress specific to our region during the administration's first nine months.


To me, this is the area in which the administration has been most proactive. Before HUD's Shaun Donnovan can even begin to evaluate housing policy here, he has to at least have people on the ground with the credibility to tell him what's happening. I'm encouraged by Donnovan's decision to send in an entire team to gut and rebuild HANO after Alphonso Jackson's pathetic receivership of the agency. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever heard of such an intervention before.

2. Coastal Restoration

The Obama administration has created the Gulf Coast Interagency Working Group to deal with environmental issues and coastal restoration. In part, this move seems to be designed to force the Army Corps out of isolation and into a collaboration with local agencies in Louisiana and Mississippi.

3. Criminal Justice

The Department of Justice and FBI have opened up a series of investigations into the NOPD's conduct during and after Hurricane Katrina. I've speculated that this could result in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division possibly pursuing a consent decree with the city of New Orleans.


President Obama has cleaned out the local FEMA office, appointed a new director who everyone seems fired up about, and established an arbitration system that will resolve ongoing reimbursement pursuits in less time than the traditional appeals process that local agencies had previously been muddling through.

5. Schools, healthcare, infrastructure

The stimulus bill has allowed Louisiana to compete for lots and lots of money - to accelerate school construction, to fix roads and build new train lines, and to keep clinics open. It is unfortunate that our Governor has decided we shouldn't try for some of this money but that's not the administration's fault. It's also unfortunate that our Congressional delegation - especially since Congressman Cao was not prepared to be effective when he was first sworn in - wasn't able to do more to push important Louisiana-specific infrastructure projects in the stimulus bill.


To me, that's an okay first nine months considering everything the country faces right now while also keeping in mind that President Obama is not the Mayor of New Orleans or the Governor of Louisiana. It's not fantastic, but it ain't bad.

The biggest problem is that our local officials are really poor advocates for the needs of the city.

The most common critiques I've seen from others and the biggest complaints that I have myself, revolve around the perception that the federal government isn't really serious about coastal restoration or levee protection, the sense the the administration doesn't care about punishing those who abused their power during Hurricane Katrina, and the idea that the administration isn't resolved to invest in infrastructure and opportunity here on the Gulf Coast.

Are our Congressional Delegation and our Governor all on the same page when it comes to proposing and advocating for the grander initiatives we need to move forward?

Is anyone from our local delegation calling for investigations into post-Katrina racism? John Conyers is, but he's from Michigan.

Is our local delegation united on an independent commission to look into the army corps and the federal levee failures? As far as I can tell, there isn't a significant lobbying effort by our Congressional delegation or our Governor for such a commission.

Are our local elected officials making a case for expanded federal funding of our infrastructure needs? Absolutely they are not. In fact, Governor Jindal seems to be consciously working against federal funding of infrastructure projects. When the stimulus was being negotiated, was the really city prepared ahead of time with a list of projects that need additional federal support? Were state agencies on the same page with the Congressional delegation about the needs of the region?


I don't mean to absolve the President of any criticism. It does seem like the President isn't interested in a transformational platform to make Southern Louisiana sustainable or to extend opportunity to its residents. It does seem like he's only taking President Bush's programs and making them work a little bit better.

That's not enough.

Nonetheless, it is the job of our local officials to work toward a consensus vision for rebuilding this region, not the President's. Until our local leadership can articulate that vision and mobilize New Orleanians to support it, this President and future Presidents are not going to risk political capital on big ideas for Southeast Louisiana or New Orleans.


Papa Bear said...

Badon was in the crowd, but he had a seat near the press risers on the left hand side.

Papa Bear said...

also THANK YOU for pointing out the reality of our current situation. The President has done more then people know. We have to look to our local political leaders and advocates to truly continue the push, and not look to the President as the Messiah of New Orleans.

Adrastos said...

Fine post. I agree with your conclusions. The record is much better than people here admit. Why people expect him to be President of New Orleans is beyond me.

judyb said...

Great post, Eli and good comments here. I'm also wondering why some people expect Obama to make everything right in NOLA. We must help ourselves which involves our elected officials doing what they were elected to do.

AVT said...

Agree, mostly, with the post. The achievements are real, tangible, and more important than Obama face-time. His cabinet is the key, and they're basically all over it.

My question: How the fuck did John Georges get so damn close? This guy gives $50k at the drop of a hat to RNC, and he's not a public official. That's what I want explained.

G-FUNK said...

" I'm also wondering why some people expect Obama to make everything right in NOLA. We must help ourselves which involves our elected officials doing what they were elected to do."

Ya'll sure did expect for Bush to make everything right didn't ya'll?

Anonymous said...

I can't beleive the Obama worship here. What has Obama done? Did he take a glance down Caffin Avenue on his way to MLK school? And yes, I voted for Obama but with the understanding that he he would honor his promises.

He has only promised to expedite the inadequate funding GWB promised. That's it. He's spending $180 million a day in Afghanistan. In two days of war spending he could fund rebuilding Charity. With five days of war spending he could rebuild every school destroyed by Katrina that FEMA wont' pay for. In two weeks of war spending he could fund the Road Home to rebuild every home to standard--a program that was racially discriminatory. So shift three weeks of your futile war spending, President Obama, to rebuild the city that you used as a stepping stone into the white house.

Where was the commitment to subsidized housing--not the middle class gated communities that will replace public housing? 37,000 people applied for section 8 vouchers and all his secretary is committed to is 3,500? What did Obama say about that? God is Love, but not for the poor. Our congressional district was last in 335 districts for jobs stimulus funds? Where is the federal jobs program so that black folks who are locked out of the building trades can get work? Where is the mental health funds for a city overwhelmed by trauma yet there in no trauma screening program for all the schools.

Obama's campaign promise to never forget New Orleans is like the silver helium balloon: in the end we will find there is nothing inside.

E said...

Obama worship? Please. That is ridiculous. There was none of that in this post or in any comments.

Other than that bit of hyperbole, I share your frustrations. Our country has seriously misplaced priorities just as it always has in some shape or form. Our foreign military entanglements are wasteful; our efforts to extend opportunity are insufficient; the federal retreat from a our rebuilding effort is unjust.

But I'm not going to become disillusioned nine months into a new administration because the problems that have existed in our society and with our government haven't vanished.

What were your expectations when he took office in the midst of two wars and a financial collapse? Did you expect him to immediately end the two wars and redeploy those resources to New Orleans?

I did not.

You're correct that Obama's promise to never forget New Orleans will not yield a bounty of greenbacks funneled into programs for the poor and brand new infrastructure.

Did you EVER have that expectation of the Obama administration or of any administration?

So what does that tell you?

It seems like ultimately you would agree with my assessment that it is incumbent upon us and our local officials to articulate the needs of the city and that Obama is never and was never going to helicopter down with blueprints for us.

Is that totally fair or just? No, I'd argue it is not.

But what was your expectation?

Two wars and plenty of other trouble abroad, the worst economy since the '30s, and thousands of struggling American communities... all solved in nine months? Is that what you had in mind? If you did, I'd love to hear your suggestions as to how any President might have figured it all out. I'd love to campaign for him.

E said...

Or her.

Anonymous said...

Think Roosevelt.

At the height of the depression, he introduced Social Security, NRA, NLRA, CCC, etc. We were broke and the world was on the precipice of war. That's precisely when you act, not when you tread water and say the crisis is the reason for inaction.

Papa Bear said...

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

American Clean Energy and Security Act.

America's Affordable Health Choices Act.

This isn't even counting the future education and immigration reform legislation that will come.

It's fair to say that President Obama has acted in the face of an economic crisis to improve the country.

E said...

Roosevelt is, for my money, the greatest President of all time. He benefited from a different set of political circumstances -- including the cooperation of significant portions of the Republican party -- that made it much easier to pass meaningful legislation quickly. He also benefited from greater and stronger left-leaning social movements - labor - that don't have the same ummph that they used to. He also did some pretty bad stuff. He was silent on segregation. He interned Japanese Americans without probable cause for years.

Anonymous said...

You miss the point. First you say Presidential leadership makes no difference because the conditions don't allow him to drop a couple million on New Orleans. Then when confronted with what Roosevelt did, you say he had support. Which is it? Does the president have a bully pulpit? Roosevelt fought for what he got and the opposition did not roll over. He couldn't even pack the Court after it vetoed most of his first term legislation. He was a leader, not a follower. Obama wakes up every morning and texts Rahm and Axelrod to see what the polls are saying. That's his compass: a calculator. He had no idea of the power of moral leadership because he's always thinking about holding on to a vote he's probably lost.

The question is, why make excuses for him? Maybe this is the only way he can govern, but don't rewrite history to make him out as a moral leader and dismiss the power of moral leadership. Kennedy thought the Civil Rights bill was doomed so he was opposing key elelemts of it. Johnson knew that it was worth the risk to take the high moral ground. Let's leave pragmatism to the liberals and create a pole that puts them in the center where they belong and offers a higher calling that can spark a real social movement.