Playing Politics of With Recovery of New Orleans

So Congress holds a hearing yesterday about the recovery efforts in New Orleans.

Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., went so far as to issue an apology to the residents of Louisiana and Mississippi for what he called “a complete failure of the administration here in Washington to respond to that crisis.”

Pursuing that theme, the committee hammered away at Roy Bernardi, deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for plans to demolish four major New Orleans public housing complexes with 3,900 apartments rather than rehabilitate them.

“Why are we replacing units that sustained minimal damage?” asked Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala. “I’m not sure that there aren’t 1,000 units that could be opened right away.”

Then, there’s a break and Bernardi hears it directly:

“Why are you playing politics with our lives,” said Sharon Sears Jasper, a former resident of the St. Bernard housing complex. “Why are you destroying livable homes? Why do you want to make us homeless?”

Back inside:

“The Road Home program is a joke,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity.

Walter Leger of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the agency charged with overseeing the state’s recovery, defended the program, saying Louisiana got the final installment of its $10 billion in grant money in June, half a year after Mississippi got its full financing.

His defense?

Leger said state officials, including the Legislature, decided it would have been irresponsible to begin spending Road Home money until Congress approved the full amount. Besides, he said, they were worried that Congress, then controlled by Republicans, would shut off the flow of dollars. “We didn’t think it was good public policy, especially with this Congress,” Leger said. “We were afraid they would say: ‘You don’t need any more.’ “

I’ve read that a couple of times. He didn’t help people who were (are) living in shelters, without work or a home, because he was afraid if he spent some money, he might not get more.

If this is a joke, I guess that’s the punchline.

DANIEL WOLFF is a poet and author of the excellent biography of the great Sam Cooke, You Send Me, as well as the recent collection of Ernest Withers’ photographs The Memphis Blues Again. Wolff’s Grammy-nominated essay on Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers is one of the highlights of CounterPunch’s collection on art, music and sex: Serpents in the Garden. Wolff also wrote the text for the collection of Ernest Wither’s photographs in Negro League Baseball. His latest book is 4th of July/Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land (Bloomsbury USA) For the past year, he and director Jonathan Demme have been working on a documentary about post-Katrina New Orleans. He can be reached at:


Daniel Wolff’s most recent books are Grown-Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913 and How to Become an American: a History of Immigration, Assimilation and Loneliness.