Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Joe Biden: Strong on New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina

Folks, I can’t tell you how happy I am. I met with Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) earlier tonight. Biden is the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and my candidate for president in 2008. I asked him about rebuilding New Orleans, and am pleased to report that he demonstrated a much better understanding of the issue than any of the other presidential candidates I’ve yet asked (I'm in NH, so get to personally see and meet the candidates). Joe Biden actually understands the ongoing situation and, unlike other candidates, has some policy suggestions about how to deal with those realities. (I've also reviewed Obama, Edwards, and Dodd on the subject.)

Biden made it very clear that he understands where things are in New Orleans today, lamenting houses that are “still literally in the streets” in the Lower Ninth Ward (which isn’t quite true, but I would call houses on top of houses and motorboats in yards close enough!). His family has close ties to Hurricane Katrina, giving him a special understanding of the issue’s importance and magnitude. His daughter graduated from Tulane a few years ago, and helped relocate thousands of storm refugees. One son led a National Guard unit in Gulfport and Pass Christian, Mississippi after Katrina, and the other son went to Thibodeaux immediately after the storm to help with relief efforts.

The Senator demonstrated an excellent grasp of the Gulf Coast big picture. The problem with recovery, he said, is not a lack of federal funding. The problem is bureaucracy, which he called “a rat’s nest.” The money has been allocated, but it isn’t getting to its ultimate destination. I was thrilled to hear him say this – that’s EXACTLY the problem with most Katrina recovery, particularly with the Road Home program.

The Senator had plenty of criticism for local leaders and politicians, including Democrats. The local officials aren’t cooperating with the state or the feds, and the feds aren’t cooperating with the state, he said. As President, he would cut aside the red tape to make sure money reached its destination, and he would tell Mayor Nagin to come up with an actual plan for rebuilding the city (as opposed to the farce that is UNOP), or he would revoke the federal grants. “We need to force decisions!” Biden said. Obviously, Nagin wouldn’t risk losing the money – if faced with that threat, things would get real better, real fast.

Biden brought up the city’s exploding crime, something he’s familiar with as Chairman of a Senate subcommittee on crime. He lamented the pre-storm corruption in the NOPD (which exists post-storm, as well), and said the Bush administration has drastically cut funding for local police departments (he had a figure, but I’ve forgotten it). These funding cuts affected New Orleans, and Biden implied that he would again make law enforcement a budget priority. This makes sense – he was the author of 1994’s Violent Crime Control Act, which put thousands of cops on the street.

The Senator did admit that he is unfamiliar with specific recovery bills currently winding their way through Congress, and with the specific program failures (like FEMA policies or Road Home). I can’t say I blame him – he’s the leader in the fight against Bush’s Iraq troop surge, so he’s a little preoccupied with other issues. I appreciate, however, his willingness to say “I don’t know.” Politicians who will actually choke those words out are a rare and wonderful breed. His honesty was refreshing, as was his grasp of the overall situation and problem and his specific proposals (red tape, crime). Answers like that on this and many other issues are the reason I’m supporting Joe Biden’s candidacy for President in 2008. Yes, he lacked a few specifics and it's outside of his Committee assignments, and yes, I wish he'd make it a higher profile issue on the campaign trail and his website. That's why I don't give him a full A, but an A-/B+ is still a darn good grade.

(UPDATE 3-17: Senator Biden gave a speech to a fire fighters' union this month that touched on a lot of topics, most importantly his long-standing support for fire fighters, police officers, and first responders. Around 30 minutes into the speech, he talks about fire fighters in the wake of Katrina - over 1000 firehalls blown away by the storm, most not yet rebuilt. Watch it here.)

Candidates on NOLA so far (I’ll blog more as I learn more):
Biden: A-/B+ (I call that a good grade!)
Obama: C+
Edwards: C-/D+
Dodd: D-

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From user CPDem81 at DailyKos:

"I graduated with his daughter from Tulane in 2003. Didn't know her at the time, but had mutual friends/acquaintances.

He's gotten to know the city pretty well and has in particular gotten to know Tulane President Scott Cowen. In fact when Cowen fought college football's evil BCS in 2003-4, Biden invited him to testify in front of a senate committee.

I wouldn't be surprised if Biden was using his connections with people like Cowen to get a grasp on what the policy issues are.

Biden sees things as true New Orleanians see them. Nagin and the city pols are allowing people to rebuild foolishly in the ninth ward, ad hoc, with no plan in place for infrastructure or services to be extended to them. Some of the rebuilt houses that people are living in are just not up to par. Its like a shanty town in some places. A brand new house here, a blighted and destroyed house there, an unsoundly rebuilt home across the street -- this is a DISASTER waiting to happen. The New Orleans political machine needs the VOTES of people who want to return to their own homes ASAP. They are not doing due dilligence on what the greater good is. Typical New Orleans short-sightedness. No plan -- just do the politically convenient thing and sit back and let things unfold as they will -- let the next generation worry about it. This is what brought us Katrina.

Problem is Bush has such little political capital on Katrina that the feds are not anxious to hold the city's feet to the fire.

I'm an Obama supporter but he needs to get religion on this issue quick. This is not a simple caricature of the federal government not doing enough for poor blacks in New Orleans. That plays well with liberal audiences around the country, but it is NOT the case. It is LOCAL black elites not making the hard decision to tell residents, "NO you cannot build your home again, the rest of the city cannot afford to support your residency in this area the way it was, and we are buying the whole lot and are going to rebuild the area according to sound planning."