What Obama can do next for New Orleans

Obama Tulane 2.jpgPresident Obama's four-hour visit to New Orleans before heading to a fundraiser in San Francisco -- which one city leader compared to speed dating ("next!") -- continues to spark debate, including a flurry of media coverage of our reporting here at Facing South and the Institute on the administration's Katrina recovery policy.Last night on CNN's "Situation Room," Wolf Blitzer pointed to our report that asked 50 Gulf Coast leaders to grade Obama's post-Katrina recovery policy. That capped a string of stories which appeared at Time magazine's Swampland blog, CBS News, The Week and The Washington Times.

Most of the Gulf Coast leaders I've talked to welcome the debate: After going through the worst disaster in U.S. history, they believe they deserve nothing less than an honest appraisal of what's working -- and what's not working -- to rebuild and renew the region.

But it's also true that the discussion easily veers into political jabs and grandstanding. For example, when Gulf leaders see Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) -- who has relentlessly opposed proposals for expanding affordable housing and coastal land protection -- chastise Obama's brief visit, it's quickly dismissed as political hackery.

But the president's visit, of course, isn't the real issue. Far more important is the question, "what's next for Gulf recovery?"

Brentin Mock at The Root lays out a concrete, 6-point agenda which aligns closely with the demands of many faith and community leaders in the Gulf Coast, including:
* Resolving the bitter dispute over New Orleans' historic Charity Hospital, a key step to ensuring access to health care;

* Ensuring that federal funds earmarked for affordable housing aren't diverted for other purposes (as Gov. Haley Barbour did in Mississippi);

* A bold new approach to levee protection and stopping coastal land loss;

* A Gulf Coast Civic Works Act to put thousands of people to work in green jobs to rebuild their communities.
As a group of over 50 faith leaders spelled out in a letter to President Obama upon his arrival in New Orleans:
We are hopeful that after hearing from local leaders and hurricane survivors during your trip, you can return to Washington with a renewed understanding of the significant gaps that remain towards fulfilling the federal government's promises of rebuilding stronger, safer and more equitable Gulf Coast communities. Four years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck and the levees were breached, the slow pace of recovery, persistent poverty, climate change and coastal land loss have created a moral crisis across the region that demands a powerful response.
Photo: President Obama campaigning at Tulane University in New Orleans in February 2008. Photo: Tulane University/Creative Commons