Aides to Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco fretted over her not appearing in charge after Hurricane Katrina hit, including worrying about her clothing, documents released yesterday show.
Thirteen pages of e-mail sent in the immediate days after the Aug. 29 storm also reflect the Blanco administration’s concerns over race relations — specifically, the number of black victims leaving Louisiana to find shelter.
“You send that many black folks out of state, we will have a perception problem,” Blanco assistant chief of staff Johnny Anderson wrote in a Sept. 2 e-mail.
“Word is already that we are only sending blacks out of this state,” Mr. Anderson wrote. “We are make [sic] a strategic error. FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] will not have to answer to the people, we will.”
A Blanco spokeswoman did not have an immediate comment on the documents. The e-mail was released by Republican aides to a special House committee investigating the government’s response to Katrina.
In a Sept. 4 e-mail exchange, top Blanco aides bristled at Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s remark that the federal government “is in control of New Orleans.”
“Our answer is the National Guard is in charge of security under her direction,” Blanco chief of staff Andy Kopplin wrote. “The mayor is in charge of the city. The governor is in charge of the state and the guard and security. The federal government is now meeting important missions that it has.”
The next day, two Blanco press staffers appealed to other senior aides to stop the governor from leaving the state on a day when President Bush was scheduled to be there.
“Reinforces the notion that she’s not in charge and LA (Louisiana) needs to be federalized,” wrote Blanco Press Secretary Denise Bottcher in a Sept. 5 e-mail.
Agreed Blanco Communications Director Bob Mann: “White House will be thrilled that she left the state. They will eat us for lunch. She cannot snub potus [POTUS is an acronym for “president of the United States.”]
Aides also had concerns about Mrs. Blanco’s physical appearance and discussed ways to make her look strong but compassionate. Their ideas, according to the e-mail, included having Mrs. Blanco “put a few bags of ice in the hands of the citizens who need it.”
“Gov. Blanco might dress down a bit and look like she has rolled up her sleeves,” press consultant Kim Fuller of Witt Associates wrote in Sept. 4 e-mail to aides including Miss Bottcher, Mr. Mann and Mr. Kopplin. “I have some great Liz Claiborne sports clothes that look kind of Eddie Bauer, but with class, but would bring her down to level of getting to work.”
“She would look like a woman, but show she is MOVING MOUNTAINS,” Miss Fuller wrote.
Former FEMA Director Michael Brown also was criticized for e-mail that showed him discussing his wardrobe during the crisis created by Katrina. Mr. Brown resigned amid questions about his disaster management experience.
Mrs. Blanco and New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin are scheduled to testify tomorrow to a U.S. House panel looking into Katrina preparedness and response.