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New York Post

 

New Orleans owes W

August 30, 2012

By Nicole Gelinas

PRINTER FRIENDLY

And GOP should tout the news

With Hurricane Isaac menacing New Orleans as Republicans meet in Tampa, the national media are reminding everyone how badly President George W. Bush screwed up the response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But Bush’s real New Orleans legacy isn’t those images of storm survivors desperate for food and water. It’s New Orleans’ spanking-new flood-protection system — which helps protects the city from a catastrophic repeat.

Seven years on, the images from Katrina remain indelible: survivors begging outside the city’s Convention Center and Superdome; rescuers terrified to enter the lawless metropolis without armed guard.

Yet New Orleans has moved on. Visit now, and you won’t find a city wallowing in self-pity, but one whose people have rebuilt.

That’s a small miracle. In 2005, people worried that the floodwaters had washed away the historic city forever. Yet the Big Easy has regained a population of 361,000 — nearly 80 percent of the pre-Katrina level.

And New Orleanians have rebuilt without bitterness. They aren’t angry partly because they know that they can’t blame outsiders — not even Bush — for their woes back then.

The failures of the levees? Yes, the feds were responsible for maintaining them — but local officials were responsible for holding the feds accountable.

Yet New Orleans’s regional levee boards had long been fonts of corruption. Local appointees to the boards were more interested in who was paying the restaurant tab than in making sure the water stayed out of people’s homes and workplaces.

The post-Katrina lawlessness, which slowed rescues and added to Katrina’s death toll of 1,836? The New Orleans Police Department couldn’t keep order after the storm because it couldn’t keep order before the storm.

Even in a good year, New Orleans’s murder rate, per capita, is 11 times New York’s. When people aren’t safe walking dry streets, they certainly won’t be safe once the streets are flooded out.

Both flooding and crime had their roots in the pre-Katrina corruption that infected New Orleans government. Indeed, a federal grand jury has for months been investigating Katrina-era Mayor Ray Nagin for shenanigans related to contractor kickbacks during his tenure.

The reality is that a city that can’t provide basic protection to its citizens in good times can’t do so in a crisis.

Yes, Bush should have responded more quickly once he realized the extent of New Orleans’ failures. But he didn’t cause those failures.

Anyway, this is all history. New Orleanians who returned to rebuild their city after August 2005 didn’t do so only to see it succumb to bad government again.

Since Katrina, they’ve elected a new mayor, Mitch Landrieu (Sen. Mary Landrieu’s brother), who took office in 2010. Voters have also done a sweep of the City Council. And activist citizens have forced the region’s levee boards to reorganize to stamp out corruption.

The city’s even working on its police department, which saw six officers indicted in a post-Katrina murder case.

That’s a tough slog, though — and the city is far from declaring victory. Residents don’t want to come to terms with the fact that even good policing must include the stop-and-frisk procedures to curtail illegal-weapons possession — a technique that still riles more successful cities, including New York.

But New Orleans couldn’t have even started to work on these long-term problems after Katrina without the $14.5 billion that President Bush sent it to build new flood barriers. This gave regular folk the confidence they needed to rebuild their homes, their lives and their local government. They could feel comfortable that they wouldn’t lose everything to floodwaters again.

Now, Isaac — albeit not as strong a storm as Katrina — is testing that new protection. So far, it’s holding up, although heavy rain could persist for days.

Indeed, the resilient post-Katrina New Orleans offers national Republicans gathered in Tampa a powerful message. When government delivers on core public works and on public safety, the citizenry can do the rest of the work.

Yes, seven years ago, Bush may have bungled the crisis. But the money that Washington sent to New Orleans when he was in charge helped prevent future emergencies.

That’s the Republicans’ real post-Katrina story. The GOP shouldn’t be shy about embracing it this week in Tampa.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/new_orleans_owes_Be6qnxIJyarhPH41b1hRYJ#ixzz254BTzd64

 

 
 
 

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