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Friday, June 20, 2008

NOLA 1

After an inauspicious start to the day that included sleeping in past my alarm and muttering some obscenities, it has been a good day here in New Orleans.

Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu and Mayor Ray Nagin spoke today, and I was struck by two things. The first was the overwhelming challenge of trying to rebuild a city that was completely shut down by the storm in 2005. While many people have returned, officials are still trying to persuade people displaced by the hurricane to return home. And they're trying to get businesses to come back, too. And crews are still rebuilding broken infrastructure like roads, power lines, and the sewer system. They're talking about decades until the city is made whole again.

But more striking was the anger conveyed by both Nagin and Landrieu. It has been almost three years since the city was flooded, yet officials still find themselves essentially begging for money from the feds. Both men said they felt like the city had been forgotten and disrespected by America.

I was taken by an expression Landrieu used just before ending his remarks. He said the city appreciated, but did not need any more "drive-by empathy" from Americans. Instead, they want solutions.

So I'm left to wonder if I am here engaging in "drive-by empathy." I've been joking that New Orleans is the ideal liberal guilt destination right now. You can come here and take a vacation, and no matter what excess you engage in, you can chalk it all up to "helping out a city that really needs it." Will our consciences be soothed if we all blow a lot of money in this city? I don't know. Every local I've spoken to has said how happy they are that people are returning to the city and holding conventions and spending money.

Tomorrow I'll have a chance for some drive by empathy of my own. We'll be taking a bus tour of the parts of the city that still haven't been rebuilt. I'll let you know how it goes.

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