Friday, June 29, 2007

John Edwards would rebuild New Orleans

Several months ago Pete Abel asked his readers to identify five critical, governance-related questions that should be asked of each of the presidential candidates. Rather than ask five, there was one specific question that I felt should be answered by every candidate running:
What should we do about New Orleans?
In particular:
Should we commit to rebuilding New Orleans within its pre-Katrina boundaries?

Should we relocate all or part of the population to higher ground?

Or, should we allow nature and market forces to determine where we build and what we abandon?
This goes straight to one of the fundamental jobs of a national leader. What do you do when entire communities are destroyed and the people left stranded and homeless?

Many have an opinion about New Orleans. It was built largely below sea level in an area prone to hurricanes and the risk was known for years. Some think the government was corrupt or unprepared. Some think the people took a gamble and lost.

But decisions need to be made. New Orleanians have been given neither a commitment that the city will be protected against a future catastrophic flood, nor a warning that they are taking their chances if they return.

Few will invest in rebuilding their homes until they know the answer to these questions. Will we commit to rebuilding a city below sea level, and grant it protection from the elements, like the Dutch or Venicians do? Will we tell the people that we will no longer insure their financial safety if another storm comes? Will we even guarantee that we'll rebuild water and power systems for those who live in the highest risk areas?

This is an issue much bigger than New Orleans. Floods threaten communities all along the coast and up the Mississippi River, earthquakes threaten virtually every city on the west coast, fire and drought threaten more. If we're willing to abandon one city to its fate, are we willing to abandon all of them?

So taking Pete's advice, I fired off an email to each of the major campaigns asking that particular question. Recently, the John Edwards campaign responded.

As John Edwards watched the horrific images of human suffering caused by Katrina, like many of us, he was heart broken. Unfortunately, those images were not the picture of one city, but of our country today. It does not have to be that way. This is a historic moment when the country is ready to act.

To get New Orleans back on its feet John Edwards believes we need to do three big things:

* Free up available money and distribute it to rebuild the housing, schools, and hospitals so that people have something to come back to.

* Create jobs to bring people back - I've called for the federal government to create 50,000 stepping stone jobs for the Gulf Coast.

* Make the city safe - with levees that can withstand another Katrina and safe from crime.

Many of the problems of New Orleans are not unique to the Crescent City. Every day, 37 million Americans wake up in poverty. John Edwards has a plan for us to eliminate poverty in the next 30 years. It's our moral. He has laid out a detailed plan to do it by creating a "Working Society," which builds on what we have learned to create solutions for the future.

While we do it, John Edwards believes we must end the old racial and economic isolation of too many communities, including pre-Katrina New Orleans. We need to build affordable housing in economically integrated communities (while preserving public housing that's livable today until new homes are ready). That way, the poor housing that separated hundreds of thousands of people from good jobs, good schools and good health care - and new isolation of trailer homes - will be a thing of the past.

We are not the country of the Superdome in New Orleans after Katrina. We are not the country where a mother has to choose between providing heat or electricity for her kids. We are Americans, and we are better than that.

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