I'll give you 10,000 reasons why not only will New Orleans recover from Katrina (and whatever else Mother Nature has in store for it this year), but also why our country is in good hands for the future. As you may remember from last week's update, Janis and I are in Florida. We started last Friday in Tampa, visited the Mouse on Saturday and Sunday and have been in Miami for the past six days. The big news here is how Spring Break is not as big this year. That the crowds of kids that normally clog the highways and cover the beaches with a giant blanket of hormones and pheromones are fewer this year. Some attribute this to less advertising, others to the rising cost of gas. Both are probably true. But I can tell you where 10,000 kids spent their Spring Break: New Orleans. And they didn't spend it on Bourbon Street either.
As much as the "sliver by the river" is doing pretty well, the rest of the city and its outlying areas are not. Even areas that were not hit as hard, such as Metairie and Kenner are now feeling the pain as their population swells from people who want to be closer to their homes in New Orleans. But the devastated areas of the city, as well as St. Bernard Parish to the southeast, are big places and it was easy for 10,000 newcomers to be swallowed up in mile after mile of empty homes and debris. But they were there. They were helping people gut their homes, clean their yards, put up new walls. In general, they were making a difference.
Celebrities are still making a difference, too. This past week Denzel Washington talked about New Orleans on the David Letterman show and Harry Shearer did the same on Craig Ferguson's show. Each talked about how the "sliver by the river" is pretty much back up and running, but how the other 80% of the city just sits there, with very little life in it. Every little bit helps. If you do not live in New Orleans, please keep people aware that the story is not over yet.
Our travels in Florida have taken us to Mac User Groups and Apple stores all over the state. During our travels we were able to travel through Punta Gorda, which was hit with Hurricane Charlie in August of 2004, and Homestead, which was pretty much wiped off the map in 1992 by Andrew. We really don't know how much we can apply of what we saw to how New Orleans might look in 2 years, let alone a decade or so, but we did notice a few things that were interesting.
Scars remain. While there was new construction all around, the scars of these events were evident, especially in the case of Punta Gorda, but even in Homestead, where there are still empty lots and streets grown over with weeds where homes once stood. In Punta Gorda there were still fast food restaurants such as McDonald's and Arbee's that have not opened up. Some even still had posters or writing on the windows of whatever the special was on the day the storm hit. Many signs for businesses have yet to be repaired. Strangest of all was the seemingly random green space in between houses that didn't seem to belong there. The lot has been manicured and the grass is well kept, but the driveway at the curb left a tell-tale sign that a home was once there.
There were also lots of FEMA trailers, but most were outside the city. We saw one huge lot with what had to be over 500 trailers! BTW, their FEMA trailers are at least 1/3 larger than the ones New Orleans is getting.
We didn't get to see as much of Homestead, but it was clear that scars remain there as well. The good news is the economy seems to be booming all over Florida. The two big signs of a booming economy and population growth? Construction of new homes and public buildings (such as hospitals and hotels) and the widening of roads. This is similar to what is happening on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain right now, but it is artificially induced by the number of displaced New Orleanians who are living there. There is an excellent article from the December 9, 2005 Times-Picayune called Rising from Rubble about how Homestead recovered from Andrew.
It is also interesting to note that Katrina hit virtually the same area as Andrew. Only a category 1 storm when it hit Florida, it nonetheless did over $2 billion in damage to an area that was still receovering from Andrew. You can read more about it in this article from the Palm Beach Post.
There is one big difference between New Orleans and communities in Florida, however: Florida gets hit by storm surge, but then the waters recede. In New Orleans, the water stays in "the bowl" until it can be pumped out, making the damage far more widespread and extensive. Nonetheless, New Orleans will recover and as we look back on it from the perspective of 2, 10, and 20 years, the scars will remain, but new life and prosperity will also sprout.
Bill Cosby has been in trouble with "his people" before. Instead of rallying the troops in protest to march against the injustices forced upon the black man, he holds up a mirror and suggests maybe they could do better. He appeared at a rally in New Orleans which was intended to stop the elections on April 22nd (I won't belabor that issue again here, look back in the last couple of updates for more on what I think on that subject). But when it was his turn to speak, instead of pulling the race card as the Reverends Jackson and Sharpton had done, he told the assembled audience (mostly black) that they had a problem. He told them that before Katrina the city was mostly black and that it had the highest per-capita murder rate in the country. He told them that before Katrina the city was mostly black and they had one of the highest crime rates in the country.
He then told them that right after Katrina the city was mostly white and had hardly any crime. He then told them that after the storm, as more and more black people came back into the city the crime rate went up. He told them that after the storm, as more black people come back, the murder rate is creeping back up to its pre-Katrina rate. Then he pointed something else out: he said our government in New Orleans was made up of mostly black people. He said our police force was made up of mostly black people. He said our schools were made up of mostly black teachers and administrators. He then told them to stop blaming others for their problems, take charge of things, educate the children, and stop killing each other. For my money, it sounded a whole lot like Brother Bill was doing most of the preaching while the real "Reverends" were just trying to shift the blame. For what its worth, many black people cried "foul" and claimed Cosby just doesn't understand. That he doesn't get it.
Everything Bill Cosby said is true, but let's stop seeing colors. If we are going to rebuild this city, we need to stop thinking in terms of black and white. Mayoral Candidate Ron Forman, when asked about how he will deal with Race Relations, said he thought it was time we all work together. Gee, that sounds great, but unfortunately that turned out to be his answer to all the other questions as well.
Any of the Mayoral candidates that really want to help this city rebuild needs to do the following: ignore race. Any time it comes up, we need to emphasize that New Orleans doesn't need more of this or less of that. What it needs is people. People who are willing to work and live in the city. People who are willing to make New Orleans a better place than it was. If you are willing to do that, it doesn't matter what color your skin is. If you are not, it still doesn't matter just get the hell out of Dodge.
I am really tired of all this race crap. I don't see black people or hispanic people or asian people or disabled people. I see people. Each one unique, but each a contributor in some way to the diversity of one race the human race. There can be no escaping that the human race is better off without the contributions of some. But hopefully the majority of us can rise above the actions of the few and make New Orleans and therefore the world a better place in which to live.
- Not having been in New Orleans for the past week, I don't have much juicy gossip to share with you. Except for one really juicy tidbit. It seems that our friend (and Mayoral Candidate) Johnny Adriani was minding his own business up in Baton Rouge last week when he stumbled on some important looking papers. I'll let him tell you the rest, from this email I received earlier this week:
The odds for winning the Powerball are 146 million to one. I would suppose that finding the winning ticket lying on the street would be a million times the 146 million to one. But I do propose to you the question of how likely it would be for a mayoral candidate of New Orleans to be walking in downtown Baton Rouge eighty miles away from his opposition and stumbling upon said competitor’s schedule for the day?
And yet, there is was. Letters to be mailed to supporters and an opening speech for this evening’s debates. Where is Mr. Landrieu at this very moment? Well until 4:30 CDT he is preparing for a debate. At 4:30 he will be in the Magnolia room at the Hilton Riverside then off to the Royal Sonesta Grand Ballroom for the debate. Mr. Landrieu will then cap his evening off at the Windsor Court to raise funds.
What does the small guy do with such material? Well if he is an honest man, and yes a fool, he calls the person who lost the material and returns it. And that is what I did. Nonetheless it did occur to me to redraft tonight’s speech for him to see how he could handle himself unscripted for a moment. It would have been fun but what would such an act prove?
Meanwhile, Candidate Adriani is on foot in Baton Rouge while more nails are removed from his tires. I should have bought a couple of pin cushions to ride upon. There is one thing for certain: Mitch Landrieu does not worry about flat tires and moreover he does not know that the little guy who runs against him would have loved to use the schedule he found against his opponent.
I received another email from Johnny with some very enlightening thoughts, but I'll save that for another week.
- In last week's Mayoral Debate Candidate Peggy Wilson took her mantra about a tax free zone to a new level by actually whining about it. When pressed rather relentlessly for an answer to how she intended to run a broke city with no tax revenue coming in, she finally said the money would come from federally guaranteed bonds -- a giant loan. Yeah, right.
- It's been awhile since we last tuned in to "Adventures of Kimbo," so let's see what City Clerk, Mayoral Candidate, and contempt-of-court jailbird Kimberly "Kimbo" Williamson-Butler is up to now. In our last episode, she was running for both Clerk of Courts and Mayor, and had just served a three day jail sentence for contempt of court. She has since dropped out of the race for Clerk of Court to concentrate full time on her bid for Mayor. new.neworleans.com had this to say about her:
Comedians love Louisiana politicians because they provide so much material. No one has been more accommodating to the comics in recent weeks than Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal District Court Kimberly Williamson Butler, who has displayed unusual arrogance, stupidity and paranoia.
Butler has now become written a new chapter is the book of wacky Louisiana politicians. She is the African-American female version of crazy Earl Long. The only thing missing is the mental hospital, but of course there is still time. Over the next six weeks, she will not be able to resist the temptation of making a fool of herself in the mayor’s race.
Oh, oh that wacky, yet lovable (not) Kimbo. What will she do next? I can't hardly wait for the next episode of "Adventures of Kimbo."
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