Mobile's New Mayor Walks into a Disaster
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
One of the local officials coping with Hurricane Katrina will be the newly elected mayor of Mobile, Alabama. Sam Jones, the first African-American to hold the city's top seat, will take office next month. Mobile is one of the Gulf Coast cities that not only felt the initial effects of Hurricane Katrina, but is also coping with an influx of storm victims from neighboring states. Sam Jones joins me now on the phone from Mobile.
Hello, sir. Congratulations on your victory Tuesday.
Mayor-elect SAM JONES (Mobile, Alabama): Thank you very much. Thank you.
ELLIOTT: So you're taking office with a lot of new residents in your city. Do you have any idea how many evacuees may be in the Mobile area?
Mayor-elect JONES: There are several hundred as of today, but there will be another influx coming in today. There is a cruise ship that's docked here that evacuees will be on that cruise ship, probably some 6 to 700.
ELLIOTT: I'm interested in particular in how you are able to meet the needs of the new people who are in your city. I had seen the mayor of Dallas quoted as being a bit critical that Congress has passed all this aid money--some $12 billion--yet none of it is getting to cities who are trying to deal with this influx of evacuees.
Mayor-elect JONES: The influx of evacuees is a real problem because there is no specific service for communities. Communities actually spend a lot of money trying to accommodate evacuees, as well as trying to provide law enforcement services, trying to provide services to people. And at the same time--for instance, Mobile has a cruise ship that really is--it provides an economic base for the city. It is not being used for that purpose. That being the case, we are really taking a substantial loss in revenue as a result of it being used by FEMA at this point.
ELLIOTT: What about the economy there? Will you be able to help some of these people find jobs? Is there enough work in the Mobile area for new people?
Mayor-elect JONES: I don't think there's enough work to absorb all of the people that's coming in. Unless some of the storm debris provides additional employment for people coming in, there's certainly not enough jobs to accommodate all the evacuees that come to Mobile.
ELLIOTT: I'd like to know if, in the aftermath of this storm, has your agenda changed? Does this make your first year as mayor completely different than you envisioned it?
Mayor-elect JONES: It certainly changes the economics of the city, and it also changes the dynamics of what we have to do now. A lot of things that we were planning to do will actually take a back seat to hurricane relief, and a lot of the things that confront the city--such as law enforcement issues, public safety issues, the funding for those sources--will certainly be strained a lot more and could really cause us some major problems.
ELLIOTT: Have you had any contact with other cities who are in similar situations, and is there any sort of plan to go to the government and say, `Hey, here's what we need'?
Mayor-elect JONES: We had a meeting of Gulf Coast mayors on Friday in Gulfport, Mississippi--and just about all the mayors were represented, all the way to Pass Christian, Mississippi. And that was actually a meeting that was put together to try to coordinate a request to the federal government that they would understand the problems that cities are confronted with and mayors specifically be able to tell them what kind of problems they're having. Most of those mayors have lost their entire revenue base. On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, one city in particular, Biloxi, has lost about 70 percent of its city's revenue base as a result of the storm. So what they actually need right now is funding to maintain operations, and most of us are in that same position.
ELLIOTT: Sam Jones takes office as mayor of Mobile, Alabama, next month.
Thanks for speaking with us, sir.
Mayor-elect JONES: Thank you.