described by business leaders as overwhelmed. His disorganization
was reflected when neither the mayor nor his representative attended
the first planning meeting last week for next year's Mardi Gras,
an event essential for reviving the city. Nagin at least is trying.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco is seen as a total embarrassment. The state's
two senators, Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican David Vitter,
are laughed at for begging open-ended multibillion-dollar expenditures.
After a slow start, President Bush is intimately engaged. But
out of 2,520 small business loan applications, only six have survived
the Washington bureaucracy.
leaders want most is restored government services and police protection
so that businesses can reopen. After that, they feel, the magic
of commerce will do its work. Business also wants a property tax
holiday to begin building a smaller, better New Orleans. That
is a long way from the post-Katrina talk about a new nationwide
war on poverty.
visit here reveals the scope of the problem. Only about 5 percent
of the city's 460,000 residents have returned or never left. The
devastation is complete in the predominantly African-American
Lower 9th Ward, 36 percent of whose residents live below the poverty
level. Their houses, in poor condition before the floodwaters,
are not worth replacing.
takes seriously $250 billion proposed for disaster relief by Landrieu
and Vitter. Rep. Richard Baker, a senior member of the House Financial
Services Committee who represents Baton Rouge, told me that "we're
not just going to dump a lot of money on Louisiana." He proposes
a Louisiana Recovery Corp. to acquire real estate, retire mortgages
and restore bank solvency.
early chaos of looting, law and order has returned (including
an enforced midnight curfew). Police are augmented by 2,500 National
Guardsmen from around the country who man checkpoints monitoring
the slim vehicular traffic into devastated areas.
government services are inadequate. Hundreds of refrigerators,
filled with rotting food and posing a health hazard, remain uncollected
on sidewalks. Electric power has not been restored fully, and
many traffic lights do not work. There is no public transportation,
and I did not see one taxi during two days in the city.
at the Soniat, a small French Quarter hotel that reopened the
day before I registered. I saw no other guests and sometimes no
staff present (I was given a key to let myself into the hotel's
front door). Management said all workers lost their homes, and
most would have no place to go if they returned.
here is that New Orleans will downsize to a city of around 250,000.
The Lower 9th Ward can only improve. A second gambling casino
probably will be added to Harrah's present monopoly, but there
will be no replicating Las Vegas. Developer Jimmy Riess, a member
of the mayor's commission, calls New Orleans public schools the
worst in the country and wants them totally reformed. Educational
philanthropist Eli Broad is helping establish a landmark charter
school system here.
poor black people are expected never to return to New Orleans
that the Rev. Jesse Jackson claims a sinister plot by Bush adviser
Karl Rove to send African-American voters into "perpetual
exile." More than the poor are leaving forever. Ruth's Chris
Steakhouse is moving its permanent corporate headquarters to Orlando,
Fla., and New Orleans may never again see its Saints football
real story concerns those who are staying. John Besh, owner of
Restaurant August and the hottest young chef in town, has turned
down offers from New York and Florida to stay. He sees a New Orleans
rebuilt by the people who live here, not by the politicians who
make the headlines and hog the television cameras.