Presidential Candidates Stump in New Orleans

The anniversary of Hurricane Katrina draws attention from the 2008 presidential candidates. Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois spoke at a New Orleans church on Sunday. Some of his rivals attended a forum hosted by Louisiana's Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, the Katrina anniversary that Don mentioned is also drawing attention from the people who want to replace the president.

Democratic Senator Barack Obama spoke at a New Orleans church on Sunday. And last night, some of his rivals attended a forum hosted by Louisiana's Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu.

NPR's David Greene listened in.

DAVID GREENE: As Senator Landrieu got things started yesterday, she said her event was not about placing blame.

Senator MARY LANDRIEU (Democrat, Louisiana): It's an opportunity today to look forward and to press forward on the rebuilding of our great region and great state in Gulf Coast.

GREENE: But the presidential candidates couldn't help themselves. The first to show up was a Republican, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. He said after Katrina hit in 2005, government officials failed their people.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Republican Governor, Arkansas): How do you calculate what it takes to rebuild confidence in a person who has essentially felt that they were abandoned by their own government?

GREENE: Huckabee then went further, saying the Bush administration is neglecting the home front while spending billions in Iraq.

Mr. HUCKABEE: If we have the will to rebuild Iraq, we need to find the resolve and the will to rebuild our own cities and our Gulf Coast.

(Soundbite of applause)

GREENE: One other Republican candidate, Duncan Hunter, came to the forum and there were two Democrats. John Edwards said people are beginning to forget Katrina, and he blamed President Bush.

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Democratic Presidential Candidate): The natural tendency of the American people is to respond and respond emotionally and powerfully when a disaster like this occurs because they feel it. They feel empathy. They feel sympathetic. But having been through on a smaller scale hurricanes in my own city of - my own state of North Carolina, what I know is that as time passes, attention lapses and people stop paying attention. And that's where presidential leadership is absolutely crucial.

GREENE: His rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, came on stage carrying her 10-point recovery plan for the Gulf Coast. CNN's Soledad O'Brien was moderating and Senator Clinton handed her a copy.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): It really starts with the very old-fashioned idea of putting somebody in the federal government in charge directly reporting to the president.

Ms. SOLEDAD O'BRIEN (Reporter, CNN): Do you have a person in mind? It's your number one on your list.

Sen. CLINTON: It is my number one on the list.

Ms. O'BRIEN: Who - that would be your czar. Who would that be?

Sen. CLINTON: Well, you know, I don't know that I can pick someone yet. I won't be there until January 2009.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GREENE: These speeches were taking place in a building at the University of New Orleans along Lake Pontchartrain. Just a block away, a different kind of speech.

Unidentified Man: And we're going to do what we call scoop and score.

GREENE: It was football practice for the Falcons from Benjamin Franklin High School. They're using a field next to a Burger King - only temporarily.

Ms. JASMINE HOLMES (Manager, Benjamin Franklin High School Falcons): Right now, our field is being re-leveled or something so we're practicing out here for right now.

GREENE: That's Jasmine Holmes(ph). She is one the team managers.

Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, all these other presidential candidates are speaking right over there. Did you all know that?

Ms. HOLMES: No, we actually didn't.

GREENE: Jasmine left New Orleans for Houston after Katrina hit. She and her mom came back, but their house in New Orleans East is still uninhabitable so they're living in an apartment. Still, Jasmine said life is slowly coming back. And she said she's worried the high-profile visits this week will just dig up old memories.

Ms. HOLMES: I mean, if you actually put your feelings and your sorrow for us into action and come, you know, help assist the rebuilding process, then that's one thing. But actually just like looking from outside and, you know, just the pity thing is something that gets to me more than anything.

GREENE: Do the speeches like this that are going right here, do they help?

Ms. HOLMES: I think it's more of a publicity spot because none of these politicians were here before the election. So it's kind of like trying to help their campaign more than anything. That's what I see.

GREENE: Her schoolmate, sophomore Lori Ann Lucas(ph), said she agreed.

Ms. LORI ANN LUCAS (Student, Benjamin Franklin High School, New Orleans): The Republicans and Democrats, they need to do more of the things that they say they are going to do, instead of making promises that they don't keep.

GREENE: But Lori Ann had another focus last night - football.

How do you think the team is looking out there?

Ms. LUCAS: Way better than last year. I heard they won a game over the weekend. The score was 34-0.

GREENE: Not bad for a school that was underwater two years ago.

David Greene, NPR News, New Orleans.

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