Louisiana Governor Vows to Rebuild
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
Louisiana's governor, Kathleen Blanco, is vowing that New Orleans will be rebuilt, and she says she wants everyone to come home. Nearly one million people from the city and its surroundings were forced to flee Hurricane Katrina. Some have already begun putting down roots in other areas, and there are already questions about whether all will come home, and whether New Orleans can, or even should, be rebuilt the way that it once was. We have two reports this morning, and NPR's Martin Kaste begins our reporting from Baton Rouge.
MARTIN KASTE reporting:
Governor Blanco addressed a joint session of the Louisiana House and Senate last night inside the art deco splendor of the capitol building that Huey Long built during the depth of the Depression. Seventy years later, Blanco is calling for an even more ambitious project.
Governor KATHLEEN BLANCO (Louisiana): To anyone who even suggests that this great city should not be rebuilt, hear this and hear it well: We will rebuild.
(Soundbite of applause)
KASTE: Blanco called on the federal government to cover 100 percent of what the state spends recovering from this disaster, presumably including much of the costs of rebuilding New Orleans. She promised the American taxpayer that the money would be properly spent, but she followed with this applause line for the local audience.
Gov. BLANCO: We must first put Louisiana people and Louisiana firms to work rebuilding Louisiana. I've told FEMA.
(Soundbite of applause)
KASTE: Blanco says she's called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to give priority to local firms when awarding contracts.
(Soundbite of crowd talking)
Unidentified Man: Hey, buddy. How you doing, man?
KASTE: With billions of dollars in federal money headed this way, the lobbying has already begun in the lobby right outside the House chamber. Adam Irving(ph), a construction contractor from New Orleans' flooded Ninth Ward, has cornered his state representative, Charmaine Marchand.
Mr. ADAM IRVING (Construction Contractor): We want to be a part of that rebuilding process and we want to get back into the Ninth Ward as fast as we can. That's our neighborhood.
State Representative CHARMAINE MARCHAND (Louisiana): That's right.
Mr. IRVING: So we'd like to be there as fast as we can and start working and help clean it up and start rebuilding it.
State Rep. MARCHAND: We'd like to work, help clean it up. We'd like to work, rebuild it up. You know, there's several contracts that have been let out. But those that are right here that have the equipment and the wherewithal to actually be a part of the cleanup is not being privy to any information to be a part of that.
KASTE: Marchand says she's not happy that so far, most of the biggest contracts have gone to national companies. FEMA's point man in the region, Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen, say he's heard the requests for local spending, but he's not about to make any promises.
(Soundbite of crowd)
Vice Admiral THAD ALLEN (Coast Guard): Well, I think there's always a desire to do that if you can. There are procurement rules that you have to follow. What I've asked the folks in FEMA, the Corps of Engineers, to come back and tell me what the art of the possible is, and we're looking at it right now.
(Soundbite of crowd)
KASTE: There's a growing sense among state politicians here that federal spending will be key to bringing New Orleanians back to their city. Willie Gable is a Baptist pastor whose ministry focuses on low-income housing and whose own home was flooded in New Orleans.
Reverend WILLIE GABLE (Baptist Pastor, New Orleans): There will have to be a major master plan and concerted effort to get many of the poor people back in.
KASTE: And no matter how many jobs are created by the federal spending, Gable says he's not so sure that Governor Blanco can count on all of those million or so people to return.
Rev. GABLE: It's going to be a new New Orleans. Sixty-three percent of the citizens of New Orleans were renters, not home owners. And 37 percent were home owners and the majority were not, you know, of color. So I don't think the racial mix will be the same.
KASTE: For the moment, Louisiana politicians seem to have put aside their regional differences and they've united behind Governor Blanco's broad pledge to rebuild New Orleans. But there's hardly a consensus about what kind of city they have in mind. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Baton Rouge.