- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

NEW ORLEANS, La. - It’s late as the “mayor” of Vincennes Place rakes the nails, rocks and other debris from his bumpy street in the Broadmoor neighborhood. The yellow streetlight above casts his shadow across the potholed pavement. The street is quiet and empty, save the scraping sound of the rake.

Alone, raking, sweeping, and washing the sidewalks with hose and water, he makes his way, picking up the trash in front of houses left behind by neighbors who live somewhere else now. He’s got enough to do with rebuilding his own house — he had almost four feet of water inside after Katrina — but this is where pride comes in. Making the best of what you have left. Making it possible to exist in an insane situation.

He’s Bill Schultz, 64. Former principal cellist for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

On Vincennes Place, they call him the mayor. They call his neighbor and my friend Cecile Tebo “the City Council.” Lots of clout on Vincennes.

People like Bill and Cecile and her family are reasons why this city still shines, why New Orleans is so special. They don’t give in. They don’t give up. They roll up their sleeves and reach out to help.

I asked Bill why he spends so much time out here cleaning up the streets, hunched over picking up nails, so that others won’t get flat tires. “Seeing the looks on neighbors’ faces when they come home,” he says.

Bill was the first on his street to move back in: Nov. 15, 2005. Inspecting the damage, it “just didn’t seem like my place at all,” he said. The front door was stuck solid. He had to kick in the back door. It seemed hopeless at first, but “the more I stayed, the more I salvaged,” he said, pointing to an old rocking chair that his mother nursed him in as a baby.

He remembers FEMA inspecting the home two days later, but his FEMA camper didn’t show up for two months. Even then, they would not give him the keys because he didn’t have electrical or plumbing hookups.

The Cavalier model FEMA trailer that Bill has been living in has problems of its own: formaldehyde.

In a May 18, 2006, story, The Sun Herald in Gulfport, Miss., reported on a study that uncovered dangerous levels of the chemical formaldehyde in 30 of 32 trailers tested in Mississippi and Louisiana.

I had firsthand experience with this phenomenon while visiting my friend Grace Wilson, also living in a Cavalier model FEMA trailer.

When I started rubbing my eyes, she asked if they burned. I said yes and went to the sink to wash them out, but the irritation didn’t end until I got out of that trailer. That tomb. I use the word tomb because they also use formaldehyde to embalm bodies at funeral parlors.

Can someone give these people a break? Their worlds have been destroyed. Lives turned upside down. Now they have to live with formaldehyde coming out of their pores? C’mon FEMA. Who wants to eat, sleep and bathe in that stuff? Maybe if those responsible for choosing these trailers were forced to live in them too, things would be different for people like Bill and Grace.

Bill says he smells the chemical when he turns the air conditioning on. But the mayor of Vincennes Place isn’t going to let it slow him down.

Following the lead of their unofficial mayor, Broadmoor rebuilds. Residents repair their homes. Good strong coffee in hand, they read the morning paper on the porch. In the evenings, they stroll along the freshly swept sidewalks. And always — always — they keep a watchful eye on the Gulf.

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