Obama May Be Met By Frustration in New Orleans Visit

Even before Air Force One touches down in New Orleans on Thursday afternoon, President Obama is discovering the burdens of rebuilding a city that feels abandoned by the federal government. Four years after Hurricane Katrina, swaths of New Orleans remain devastated by the winds and floods that tore through. More than 65,000 homes remain abandoned. There is no public hospital. The levees that keep back the Gulf of Mexico are still vulnerable.

The responsibility for getting more federal help to New Orleans has now passed from President George W. Bush to Obama, and with it the impatience of the city's residents.

"The people that I talk to are frustrated with the setbacks that they have had to endure, are frustrated with the nature of the bureaucracy that allows decisions to be unmade for long periods of time," said Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The frustration, she said, is a reflection of "the pent-up need . . . for a sense of serious attention from the federal government."

Obama has repeatedly sent Cabinet secretaries into New Orleans, often with money to jump-start stalled projects. White House officials say they have cut red tape and loosened $1.5 billion in assistance that was stuck in the federal pipeline. They say more than 3,500 people have been moved to permanent housing.

But civic leaders are grumbling that the president's scheduled five-hour visit to the hurricane- and flood-damaged area -- his first since taking office -- is not sufficient to communicate his concern.

"A town hall event and a mystery stop? That's it?" the Times-Picayune newspaper editorialized last week before the trip was finalized and a school tour was added. "The White House plan for President Barack Obama's first post-election visit to New Orleans seems to be lacking in substance and fun."

Criticism is also coming from Mississippi and southwest Louisiana, where storm-weary residents are asking why New Orleans is the only visit on Obama's schedule before a quick stop in San Francisco for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser.

The White House calls the criticism unfounded, noting that as a candidate and a senator, Obama visited the Gulf Coast repeatedly.

"The president has been to New Orleans five times since Katrina and has done most of the things people are saying they want him to do," spokesman Nick Shapiro said. "What he hasn't done is hold a public event where he can hear directly from the people."

As a candidate, Obama used the plight of the city as a rallying cry for change, often citing what he said was an inadequate response by the Bush administration to the needs of the people there.


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