Thursday, February 01, 2007

Presidential Candidate Sen. Chris Dodd Disappoints on New Orleans

Senate Banking Committee Chairman and presidential candidate Chris Dodd (D-CT) recently visited Dartmouth College. On the whole, I was very impressed, but this blog is not about Habeus Corpus or national health care – it is about ongoing Katrina recovery efforts, and unfortunately, the Senator’s answers to questions about New Orleans were appalling.

Senator Dodd’s campus events began with a private reception for SAE brothers and Dartmouth College Democrats at SAE (I’m with DCD). During the reception, one brother from New Orleans asked Dodd about various FEMA mistakes. Dodd gave a non-answer about how wonderful FEMA was under President Bill Clinton and Director James Lee Whit – which is true, but doesn’t address the current mess.

After SAE, Dodd gave a stump speech at the campus’ Rockefeller Center, and opened the floor to comments and questions. I gave/asked the first one, saying essentially:

“More than a year after Katrina, New Orleans remains a third world country, with tens of thousands of homes left to be gutted and half the population still displaced. Bob Herbert recently wrote in the New York Times that New Orleans was brought to its knees by Katrina, and is being kept there by federal neglect and mind-numbing local government incompetence. This is true – as of mid-December, after having been in operation for several months, the Road Home Program, the official rebuilding grant program for homeowners, had received over 100,000 applications but distributed only NINETY SEVEN checks. This may be state administered, but it is federal money. And thousands of residents remain without FEMA trailers.

“My question for you, Senator, is this: what will you do over the coming year in the Senate, and what would you do as President, to fix these programs and help New Orleans? And please don’t talk about Bush’s mistakes or the immediate post-storm problems: I’m asking about the future, and what we do now.”

Just as he did at SAE, Dodd gave a non-answer. He began by saying that Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has called for hearings to investigate those mistakes, “including that program,” (he couldn’t even name Road Home), and that he would monitor those hearings (they have since begun, as regular readers of my blog will know).

Dodd then went on a tangent about the real issue of Katrina is what we can learn from the current mistakes and how we can apply that to other disasters or issues – like terrorism. I asked him how can we rebuild New Orleans, and he said let’s not repeat our mistakes elsewhere.

I can’t blame Dodd for not being on top of the New Orleans issue – he’s not on the relevant committees, so it’s outside his purview and area of expertise. But I can blame him for dodging my question, not being up front with me, and twisting the subject. Senator, if you don’t know the answer, or if you’re going to wait on Landrieu’s investigation before you take a position, JUST SAY SO. There’s nothing wrong with admitting when you don’t know, and believe it or not, I have met politicians who will do just that.

Overall, Chris Dodd, while not my choice for President, is very impressive – but his answers on questions about Iran and predatory lending don’t do a thing for the three million Gulf Coast residents affected by Hurricane Katrina, and they don’t do a thing to help us stop ongoing incompetence.

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