New Orleans Update: Ronald Lewis, Clancy Dubos
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
We turn now to another in our series of conversations with people helping to rebuild New Orleans.
Unidentified Man #1: We don't know what they're going to do yet. Nobody tells you nothing.
Unidentified Man #2: I think the communication challenges of this, you know, are awesome.
Unidentified Man #3: This city is up against some very difficult issues, and hard decisions are going to have to be made.
Mr. DONALD POWELL (White House Appointee for Reconstruction): The levee system will be better and stronger than it ever has been in the history of New Orleans.
MONTAGNE: That last voice is Donald Powell, appointed by the White House to oversee reconstruction in the Gulf Coast. Yesterday he spoke of a plan to rebuild the New Orleans levees by next summer. He did not say whether they will withstand Category 3, 4 or 5 storms. This week congressional leaders continued to criticize the Small Business Administration for a slow response to Katrina loan requests.
INSKEEP: Many officials have a voice in the future of the Gulf Coast, but some residents wonder if they do. And this morning, we're going to check back in with one of many residents who want to return home but face an uncertain future. Ronald Lewis(ph) was first on our air in October as he tried to stay connected with scattered friends and family.
(Soundbite of telephone ringing)
Mr. RONALD LEWIS: Hello? Yeah. I'm right here at ...(unintelligible) and Johnson Street by.
INSKEEP: Not long ago, Ronald Lewis' telephone rang again. It was us calling him, and he's on the line.
Mr. Lewis, welcome to the program once again.
Mr. LEWIS: Oh, how are you today?
INSKEEP: I'm doing fine, but the question on my mind is how you're holding up.
Mr. LEWIS: I'm holding up fine. You know, when you're at the top of the family food chain, you have to carry the weight whether you want it or not, you know, for the family to survive.
INSKEEP: Now you--let's mention, you're a New Orleans evacuee. You're from the Lower Ninth Ward, which was devastated. You're living now about an hour outside. When you say you're at the top of the family food chain, what do you mean?
Mr. LEWIS: That means I'm the head of the Lewis clan. You know, I have a wife, two sons, four grandkids, a sister. She's in Lafayette. And I have a brother that's in Baton Rouge. And everybody's scattered near and far, but our line of communication is consistent. We basically speak to each other on a daily basis.
INSKEEP: And what's everybody's mood?
Mr. LEWIS: Everybody's mood--they'll be glad when they can really do something. And people's lives are on the hold, even though I moved forward and went and gutted out my house, to have some initiative so when they do come forward and give us real specifics, then I really would be able to forge ahead, because I have lined up electricians and Sheetrock people and everything. So when they ring the bell to come out swinging, I'll be there.
INSKEEP: I want to remind you of something that you said when we last spoke in October. We were asking what it was going to take for your neighborhood to have a voice in the city's future and the neighborhood's future, given that people were scattered all over the place, and this is what you said.
(Soundbite of previous interview)
Mr. LEWIS: It going to take all the ...(unintelligible) within the black community, from our leaders, our church leaders, our civic leaders and everything, and under those circumstances, we might be OK.
INSKEEP: Now that a couple more months have passed, has that happened?
Mr. LEWIS: No, it hasn't happened because the voices is still quiet. The same people who ask for our vote, now it's time for them to stand up and be accountable.
INSKEEP: Now the mayor, Ray Nagin, has done a lot of Town Hall meetings, met with a lot of people. The governor, Kathleen Blanco, has made a lot of announcements. The president, the administration have made a lot of statements.
Mr. LEWIS: Yes.
INSKEEP: You're not satisfied with anything you've heard?
Mr. LEWIS: You know why I'm not satisfied? Because announcements, announcements, announcements and no movement. Provide the action that's needed so we can get our city back up and running.
INSKEEP: Ronald Lewis, stay on the line with us, if you will.
Mr. LEWIS: OK.
INSKEEP: We're going to try to broaden out this discussion about displaced communities organizing, and we've contacted Clacy DuBos. He's editor and a columnist for the Gambit Weekly...
Mr. LEWIS: Yes, I've watched him...
INSKEEP: ...and he's been writing about politics since 1973.
Mr. LEWIS: ...on TV on numerous times.
INSKEEP: Well, now you get to talk to him on the phone.
Mr. DuBos, welcome to the program.
Mr. CLACY DuBOS (Gambit Weekly): Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: How, if at all, are displaced residents getting a voice in the decisions being made now about New Orleans?
Mr. DuBOS: Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I'm not sure that displaced New Orleanians, or even some of us who are still fortunate enough to have returned home part-time during the week to go to work, are having much of a voice. I find that in dealing with insurance companies, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. The more I call my adjuster, the faster I get a settlement check. I think the same is going to happen with neighborhoods that want to rebuild and rebound.
We have elections coming up in New Orleans. They've been postponed indefinitely, but they're probably going to be held either in April or September. And people are saying, you know, if we can have Mardi Gras, which is eight days of partying and people getting drunk, why can't we have an election which is only one day when people presumably do it stone-cold sober?
INSKEEP: What do you think the answer to that question is? Why has it been necessary to take that step?
Mr. DuBOS: Well, there are valid reasons for delaying the election. Lots of neighborhoods have been uprooted, displaced. We have to have poll commissioners in place to conduct the election. We have to give the voters a reasonable opportunity to cast their ballots. But the people in New Orleans, whether they are here now or in Thibodaux, as Mr. Lewis is, or in Houston or Atlanta or Birmingham, they're upset. They're angry, and I don't think any kind of machination on the part of the politicians is going to work in favor of any of the incumbents.
INSKEEP: Let's go back to Ronald Lewis, who's continued listening to us here.
Mr. Lewis, what's your next step?
Mr. LEWIS: Well, try to get some movement back in my community. You know, I thought that by going to my house to show a form of leadership--I spoke with several of my neighbors and encouraged them to come and get the debris out of their house, 'cause I feel the more those piles of debris that sit on the street sends the message that this is your home and we're going to stay in and fight for it.
INSKEEP: Well, Ronald Lewis, thanks very much for speaking with us again.
Mr. LEWIS: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: And Clacy DuBos of the Gambit Weekly, thank you as well.
Mr. DuBOS: Glad to be here.