- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Mayor C. Ray Nagin finished work yesterday on a plan to rebuild New Orleans, endorsing a proposal that would allow all residents to rebuild their homes in neighborhoods shattered by Hurricane Katrina.

The mayor’s advisory commission, formed after Katrina struck Aug. 29, recommended in January that some flooded neighborhoods be replaced with parks and that the city move slowly in rebuilding low-lying areas. But that suggestion was greeted with jeers and outrage at public meetings.

Mr. Nagin, who is running for re-election on April 22, distanced himself from that plan, which included a proposed moratorium on building permits in some neighborhoods.

Last night, the mayor offered to let residents rebuild anywhere but warned that homeowners in flood-prone neighborhoods would do so at their own risk.

“I’m confident that the citizens can decide intelligently for themselves,” Mr. Nagin said.

The report also recommended a host of other ideas, from revamping schools to consolidating some city offices. The wish-list of projects included new light-rail systems, new riverfront development and better flood protection.

“We have worked tirelessly,” Mr. Nagin told hundreds of residents who attended a meeting to hear about the plan. “It has been controversial in some respects, but I am pleased by the results.”

Residents lined up to speak against the proposal during a public-comment period.

One of them, an activist named Chui Clark, called the commission “a rotten, racist committee,” echoing criticism by many black residents, who said they are being discouraged from returning.

Babatunji Ahmed, a craftsman, charged that construction contracts were going to major corporations instead of local workers.

The plan has been received warmly in many circles.

Ron Forman, a strong mayoral candidate and prominent businessman, applauded the commission’s work and the breadth of the report, but he said it is still short on specifics.

“The only problem I see with the plan is that I don’t see an implementation plan, an action plan, based on dates on when we can expect to be done,” he said.

Mr. Nagin turned the plan immediately into fodder for his re-election campaign, using the spotlight to make light of missteps he has made.

“I’m going to do something I hate to do: I’m going to read from the script … so that I don’t get caught up in the moment,” said Mr. Nagin, whose off-the-cuff remarks have drawn criticism, such as his infamous “chocolate city” speech in which he said God intended New Orleans to be a majority-black city.

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