- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco has been critical of the Bush administration’s response to the disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but, according to the mayor of New Orleans, her indecision when President Bush offered help delayed rescue efforts and cost lives.

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin told CNN’s “American Morning” Monday that he met with Mr. Bush and Mrs. Blanco on Air Force One on Friday and implored the two to “get in sync.”

“If you don’t get in sync, more people are going to die,” Mr. Nagin said.

Mr. Bush met privately first with Mrs. Blanco, then called Mr. Nagin in for a meeting.

“He called me in that office,” Mr. Nagin said. “And he said, ‘Mr. Mayor, I offered two options to the governor.’ I was ready to move. The governor said she needed 24 hours to make a decision.”

That decision was a request by Mr. Bush to allow the federal government to take over the evacuation of New Orleans, which had been marked by chaos for days. The Democratic governor, who has clashed behind the scenes with the Bush administration since the storm hit, refused.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan confirmed the Air Force One meeting with Mrs. Blanco and the governor’s decision not to cede her authority over the Louisiana National Guard, but added that he didn’t think “it helps any situation to get into all those internal discussions.”

“This isn’t a time when people are trying to look at who’s to blame or try to shift responsibility,” Mr. McClellan said. “This is a time when we’re all trying to work together to get things done.”

Mr. Bush, at the request of Mrs. Blanco, declared the entire state of Louisiana a disaster area 48 hours before the hurricane made landfall. He also asked Mrs. Blanco to order a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans on Aug. 27 — two days before the hurricane hit — but she did not make the order until Aug. 28.

Mr. Bush and federal officials have come under harsh criticism for what some see as a slow reaction to a humanitarian crisis that unfolded last week.

“Instead of unconscionably blaming others, President Bush must take charge and take responsibility, and must get it right, and that is my concern and the message that I will bring to the president,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “Mr. President, you should have taken charge and you should have taken responsibility.”

When the levees broke Aug. 30 and flooded New Orleans, the city descended into violence, looting and confusion. Hundreds of New Orleans police officers walked off the job, and some survivors housed in the Superdome and the city’s convention center described rapes, robberies and killings in and around the facilities.

Mrs. Blanco yesterday complained on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the federal government didn’t act fast enough as the crisis grew.

“We didn’t have enough resources,” Mrs. Blanco said. “We were begging for resources, too. We needed helicopters because of all the water, we needed helicopters that could actually do this rescue mission, and we needed boats.

“We brought in everything we had, and we were begging for more, and nothing came as quickly as we needed it,” she said.

Supporters of the president, however, say Mrs. Blanco and Mr. Nagin, who left New Orleans for the safety of Baton Rouge before the storm hit, also should share some blame.

“Kathleen Blanco and Ray Nagin weren’t exactly Pataki and Guiliani,” said a political adviser with close ties to the White House, referring to the New York governor and mayor praised for their response to the September 11 attacks. “They’ll have their own problems when this crisis abates.”

Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, said, “Hindsight is 20/20,” but added that Mrs. Blanco was too slow in calling out the National Guard to keep order in New Orleans and save lives.

“We needed to make this a full-scale military operation starting with the National Guard immediately,” Mr. Vitter said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Paul Simpson, a political blogger who lives in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, La., said he and other locals are puzzled by the governor’s refusal to let the federal government temporarily command the state’s National Guard.

“I thought it was as standard as sunshine in California that the governor would tell the president, ‘You have the Guard.’ I thought that was a given,” Mr. Simpson said. “She absolutely has no clue.”

Critics have long derided Mrs. Blanco for her tendency to call for studies and special commissions to find solutions for the state’s biggest problems.

In 2003, the Shreveport Times, in endorsing her Republican opponent for governor, Bobby Jindal, called Mrs. Blanco “indecisive” and “unprepared” for the rigors of the job.

But defenders say that this merely reflects Mrs. Blanco’s deliberative temperament. Shortly after Mrs. Blanco took office, Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, defended her as a woman who “likes to accumulate as much information as possible before finalizing a major decision.”

“She would rather be criticized for taking her time in finding the right approach than for shooting from the hip and moving in the wrong direction,” Mr. Juneau wrote.

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