Better to know now . . .
Louisiana and the city of New Orleans got a feel for how local hurricane response might go the next time around as state and local officials did a dry run last week. A two-day series of drills focused on sheltering and evacuation procedures and emergency response by a range of personnel. The outcome of the practice earned “fair” grade by some measures. The flow of traffic and management of people — who actually were persons who had agreed to play roles of evacuees, including persons whose disabilities might hamper their response — went well, according to observers. Some 6,000 National Guard troops participated in the exercise, which focused on moving people out of the city toward shelters that will be located well out of a storm’s anticipated path.
What didn’t work so well were the communications. The “interoperable” systems, designed to work when a storm puts normal communications out of operation, apparently still need some work. Officials expressed confidence that the bugs in the system will be eradicated soon.
Insert foot and . . . bite
He stopped well short of thumbing his nose at them, but local business leaders were nonetheless perturbed at comments made by Mayor Ray Nagin a few days after his re-election victory. Speaking to a reporter early in the week, Nagin said he hoped local business owners would support his second-term efforts to turn the city around and that they will keep their operations in New Orleans. He added, however, that if businesses choose to leave the city, “I’ll send them a postcard.”
Several business owners suggested the mayor will need to get a new attitude if he wants their support. At the least, said a few, he needs to surround himself with the kind of staff who will not only help guide his policies but also help keep his foot out of his mouth.
Feel the love
Ray Nagin’s re-election elicited more positive responses at both the state and federal levels last week. Following a meeting with the mayor, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco declared she’s ready to work cooperatively with Nagin for the good of New Orleans in the months and years to come. And even some federal officials, who might have been expected to write Nagin off after his ill-considered remarks a few months ago about making New Orleans a more “chocolate” city, last week seemed willing to let the comments slide. Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, for one, suggested that what counts is not what the mayor has said in the past, but what he does for the city in the months to come.
Feeling the heat
The summery air around Louisiana Congressman Bill Jefferson got still warmer last week as a federal investigation continued into allegations that he participated in a bribery scheme aimed at funneling profits from a private business to members of his family. In the wake of an FBI raid on Jefferson’s Washington, D.C., home and congressional office, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi asked Jefferson, D-New Orleans, to resign his membership on the House Ways and Means Committee. Jefferson, however, not only said declined, but went on to accuse the U.S. Justice Department of discriminating against him by mounting an embarrassing raid that, Jefferson says, no other sitting congressman has previously endured.
Right or wrong, Jefferson’s protest did not fall on deaf ears. Even some Republicans, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., suggested that the Justice Department had gone too far.
Also feeling the heat . . .
A separate, two-year federal investigation turned hotter as U.S. Attorney Jim Letten announced that New Orleans businessman Glenn Haydel had admitted to defrauding a federally funded program to the tune of more than $500,000. The juicy part of the announcement was the part left unsaid: that Haydel is the uncle of former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, and that Haydel perpetrated the theft while managing the Regional Transit Authority during Morial’s term in office.
Letten termed the development “significant” in the ongoing probe of public corruption in New Orleans, though no connection with Morial was implied.
Haydel is an investment banker and the brother of Morial’s mother. In 2004, Haydel’s wife, insurance broker Lillian Smith Haydel, pleaded guilty to federal charges of paying kickbacks to an Orleans Parish school official. She also agreed to cooperate with the government.