- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin said yesterday that the presidential candidates have not seriously addressed the remaining economic and human needs of his city, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

  • TWT Videos:New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin

  • “I think they are, I won’t say afraid, but a little hesitant to tackle the issues” that still confront the city “and the lack of preparedness to deal with future natural disasters,” Mr. Nagin told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

    “The candidates are a little hesitant about fully embracing our dilemma. I would like to hear more about what they would do to bring about the full recovery of our infrastructure, which is in deplorable shape,” he said.

    The mayor also said the heavy influx of Hispanics that have come to New Orleans since Katrina will change the city’s demographics for many years to come.

    “My gut tells me we’ll have a New Orleans somewhat similar racially to what we had before. But we’re adding a lot of Hispanics. That’s going to change the demographics of New Orleans for the long term,” he said. “Too many of our citizens are not coming back.”

    The mayor gave the Bush administration a “C” in dealing with the city’s infrastructure needs, but blamed the federal bureaucracy, especially the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), for not doing enough to deal with “the people side” — the city’s human needs in housing, health care and other social services.

    But he had high praise for the private sector and the volunteer community.

    “The number of volunteers has been mind-boggling — the churches and schools that came down to help. That’s the only reason that we are where we are now,” he said.

    “The private sector and the volunteers have come into the city in a big way. If that had been balanced by the federal government, we would have been in better shape,” he said.

    Mr. Nagin said the city needs millions of dollars more in assistance, but that FEMA and other agencies have not provided enough financial aid outside of government loans. “We’ve been financially starved.”

    The mayor, accompanied by a large contingent of city officials, was in Washington yesterday for meetings with federal officials about obtaining additional funding and services for New Orleans.

    “Our best opportunities are with the Democratic-controlled Congress right now. That is who we have been talking with to see if we can get some things in these upcoming appropriations bill to fill the gap,” he said.

    “There’s lots of talk, but the actions have not caught up with the talk,” he said of Washington’s response to his city’s needs. “We’ll probably have to await the next administration.”

    Thus far, the Louisiana Democrat has not endorsed either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama, but when asked whether he would endorse one of the candidates, he joked, “Maybe [Mike] Huckabee,” the Republican and former Arkansas governor who has abandoned the race.

    Mr. Nagin, who narrowly won a second term in 2006 with 52.3 percent of the vote despite severe criticism of the way he handled the city’s response to Katrina, gave a mixed review of New Orleans after the storm that claimed nearly 2,000 lives.

    “The recovery is coming along. We’re back to 71 percent of population. The economy is strong. It’s still a tale of two cities. We’ve made some progress but there’s still a lot of work to do,” he said.

    Asked what he wished he had done before Katrina struck, Mr. Nagin said, “In hindsight, if we could have gotten the buses out,” a reference to the large fleet of school buses that were never used in the evacuation effort.

    “I came into this job hoping to improve the city and diversify the economy and ride off into the sunset. This is the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’m ready for another chapter. I need a break,” the former cable-television executive said.

    Asked what advice he would have for the mayor who comes after him, Mr. Nagin said, “Start planning now.”

    New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said March 12 that the presidential candidates have not tackled the remaining economic and human needs of his city in the aftermath of the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

    New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin had high praise for the private sector and the charitable and volunteer community. “The number of volunteers has been mind-boggling the churches and schools that came down to help. That’s the only reason that we are where we are now,” he said.

    New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin discusses how far the city has come since Hurricane Katrina, and what is still needed for a complete recovery.

    Videos by Christian Fuchs

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