Times-Picayune: Mayor Landrieu thanks America for helping New Orleans rebuild after Katrina

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu offered up thanks to everyone from four American presidents to “the American taxpayer” for helping transform New Orleans from “literally being underwater” to become “one of the world’s most remarkable stories of tragedy and triumph, resurrection and redemption.”

His remarks came in a upbeat speech Tuesday to a National Press Club luncheon, an address Landrieu said was intended to send three messages as the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina nears: to remember the 1,833 lives lost, that the disaster was man-made because of the failed federal levees, and finally that the city has rebounded, though significant challenges remain.

Landrieu drew laughter when he told his audience that he has time and time again had to defend his city from those who continue to peddle “the myth” that New Orleans was nearly destroyed 10 years ago because you can get a “go cup” from the French Quarter 24 hours a day.

“The storm just didn’t hit us because we’re bad people,” Landrieu said.

Landrieu spent a good deal of his speech thanking people, “the American taxpayer, the federal government, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and volunteers from throughout the world. And he thanked President Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush for organizing fund-raising efforts to hurricane devastated communities.

“Thank you for caring for us during our time of need,” Landrieu said.

He reminded people, including those watching on C-SPAN and listening on National Public Radio, that what they saw on their TV sets from New Orleans 10 years ago truly was indeed a nightmare.

“In a moment, everything was gone — homes, roads, schools, hospitals, police and fire stations, grocery stories, parks, playgrounds,” Landrieu said. “Our lives as we knew them, gone. And as the floodwaters swallowed our neighborhoods, it became a life or death struggle for thousands who were stuck in our city. The stories are seared into our souls forever.”

Though the initial response was painfully slow, Landrieu talked about those who decided to do something — not just watch the disaster play out on CNN.

“In came the National Guard, and military along with police, fire, medics and other relief volunteers from coast to coast,” the mayor said.

“Within days, the Canadian Mounties had boots on the ground in the small city of Gretna. Israeli relief workers followed and counties from Australia to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates gave millions and sent supplies. The Red Cross, Second Harvest, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, United Way, Habitat for Humanity and so many others united by faith and civic purpose rushed to our side.”

“Together, we started to clean up, sweating in the heat clearing away the devastation, and putting our lives back together,” Landrieu said. “Together, crying over family photos that somehow escaped the deluge.”

Landrieu said that today visitors to the city are impressed with what they see, though he conceded major problems remain, including a rising homicide rate, financial challenges and an ongoing fight with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over funding for the city’s crippled sewerage system.

One audience member told Landrieu he enjoys visiting New Orleans but asked why his car loses hubcaps whenever he visits the city’s “potholed” filled streets.

Landrieu singled out the city’s schools as an example of real progress, saying 10 years ago, they were “considered some of the worst in the country.” New Orleans schools, he said, are now defined “by choice, equity and accountability,” with fewer dropouts, more kids going to college and fewer failing schools.

The Democratic mayor said crime and racial divisions remain, not only in New Orleans but other communities, too, and that America needs to find a way to talk about those challenges.

“This year, unfortunately across, the nation and in New Orleans murder is ticking up,” Landrieu said. “And with nearly 15,000 Americans lost every year to murder in this nation, a disproportionate number young African-American men; it is clear that this crisis goes well beyond New Orleans. It is a national disgrace and stopping murder should be a national priority. Black lives matter.”

That line brought the mayor applause from the several hundred people at the luncheon.

Donna Brazile, the veteran Democratic political consultant from Kenner who once ran Al Gore’s presidential campaign, said she’s glad that Landrieu has made it a point to tell New Orleans story nationally. He recently spoke to the Chicago Tribune editorial board, and has visits scheduled later this week to Houston and Atlanta — to thank those cities for taking in so many displaced New Orleanians after Katrina.

“I think the best thing we can all do is say thank you,” said Brazile, who sat on the dais to watch the mayor’s speech. “It has been a long difficult recovery and we’re still recovering. Not every neighborhood has come back. There’s still more that needs to be done. But I believe the worst is over.”

Washington, being a political town, Landrieu was asked about the presidential race and front-running Republican candidate Donald Trump. Landrieu agreed with a questioner that Trump could fit in well with some of Louisiana’s most colorful politicians such as Edwin Edwards and Huey Long.