Obama Makes His First Presidential Trip to New Orleans
Friday, October 16, 2009
NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 15 -- In his first visit here since taking office, President Obama sought Thursday to reassure frustrated residents that his administration is working aggressively to repair the hurricane-damaged city and return people to their jobs and homes.
Speaking at a town hall meeting near the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, Obama recounted what he said was "good progress" during the first nine months of his administration. But he was quickly put on the defensive by one resident who said he was still frustrated by the slow pace of the economic and physical recovery around him.
"I expected as much from the Bush administration," said Gabriel Bordenave, 29. "But why are we still being nickel-and-dimed?"
Obama responded that his government is "working as hard as we can as quickly as we can," but he complained about "complications" in working with state and local governments to speed resources to rebuild hospitals, schools and other facilities.
"I wish I could just write a check," he said. "You say, why not? There's this whole thing about the Constitution." He added that in Washington, "everyone will attack you for spending money, unless you are spending it on them."
Obama acknowledged to the crowd that a lot of work remains, and he promised that he would never "tolerate the usual turf wars between agencies."
"The damage from Katrina was not just caused by a disaster of nature but by a failure of government -- a government that wasn't adequately prepared and didn't adequately respond," he told the audience of more than 1,000 people at the University of New Orleans.
"And so I promise you this," he added. "Whether it's me coming down here or my Cabinet or other members of my administration -- we will not forget about New Orleans. We will not forget about the Gulf Coast. Together, we will rebuild this region and we will build it stronger than before."
After the town hall, freshman Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao (R-La.) praised the administration's efforts to help the residents of his district.
"They have been very responsive to our requests," Cao said. "The years before that, there were just frustrations upon frustrations. Since the new administration came . . . FEMA has been in lock step with us."
Obama received a warm and raucous welcome from the crowd, which booed loudly when the president introduced Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and again when he introduced the city's mayor, C. Ray Nagin (D).
"You guys are a feisty crowd," the president cracked.