“Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., urged President Bush to appoint former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani or two former military officials to run the ground response in the Gulf Coast, saying local authorities are not up to the task.”
– WNBC, Sept. 2, 2005
“How could this happen in America?” is perhaps the No. 1 question virtually everyone in the thinking world is asking today about what is – or is not – going on in the city of New Orleans’ in response to Hurricane Katrina.
Already in the aftermath of a natural disaster, like hurricane Katrina, finger pointing becomes a blood sport as everyone looks for guilty parties. Yet during such times, it is true leadership that illuminates the way to recovery – not political hyperbole.
We all remember Sept. 11, 2001. And we’ll again be reminded next Sunday of our silent horror as we watched one of the greatest examples of American enterprise, the Twin Towers, reduced to rubble in minutes before our eyes. With shock, then outrage, we wondered what would become of the greatest city in the world.
We must never forget that right after the WTC came down, there arose a very visible and dynamic man, Rudy Giuliani. He gave New Yorkers, and indeed the rest of the country, a sense of calm in the midst of the chaos. This outstanding mayor was able to sooth our shattered nerves and provide outstanding leadership by bringing people together.
Rudy didn’t grab the microphone to berate or blame the president, governor or government – he took control of the city that elected him to lead. And lead he did, in both the good times and bad. You could hardly turn on a television or radio and not see or hear the reassuring words of a leader encouraging everyone that all is well and that we would get through this crisis.
Instantly, Metro New York and the whole country pulled together. Partisanship disappeared and the rebuilding began. There was no looting, rape or murder. No people wandering around directionless, like Third World residents – for New Yorkers had a real leader.
New Orleans and the Gulf Coasts of Mississippi and Alabama have witnessed devastation of biblical proportion. We’ve watched hour after hour of TV coverage showing the horrific human suffering, the disgusting behavior of criminal thugs, and the outright hopelessness of thousands of people. But one thing that has been starkly missing has been the leadership of the hardest hit area – New Orleans. Where is Mayor Ray Nagin?
I watched wall-to-wall coverage this last week and have yet to see his face, except once immediately after the storm. The people of New Orleans elected him for such a time as this and yet he is AWOL while his citizens perish in the streets. Take a moment to contrast New Orleans leadership to that of New York during the 9-11 aftermath and ask yourself why are the people of New Orleans suffering so much?
During times like these, people need to know who to follow and who to listen to for hope, encouragement and direction. A voice of calm and stability in the moment of crisis that sparks the human spirit to overcome adversity. Sadly, that voice was not to be heard in New Orleans. We heard from the governor, senators, congressmen, FEMA, as well as the head of Homeland Security, the Red Cross and even a few local officials, but not the mayor. Why?
I have my suspicions, but the fact remains that one man who could have brought calm in the midst of calamity was absent. Some will suggest he was as terrified as the rest, paralyzed by the shock of what had just occurred. Or perhaps he had no clue how to handle something this enormous. Others may say this is a perfect example of the liberal Democratic creed: “Welfare is the job of the federal government, which is ultimately responsible to provide all with cradle-to-grave food, clothing and shelter – especially in a disaster.”
So when the “welfare-minded” mayor of New Orleans, Mr. Nagin, finally did come forward, what did he offer? A very predictable response: It’s the president’s fault. “They don’t have a clue what’s going on down here,” he said in a TV interview Thursday night – four days after the disaster! He then continued to offer these words of encouragement and leadership: “They flew down here one time two days after the doggoned event was over with TV cameras, AP reporters, all kinds of goddxxx – excuse my French everybody in America – but I am pissed!” Does that sound like the voice of reason and calm coming from the mayor of New Orleans?
Keep in mind that President Bush had already approved Katrina relief while the storm was still out at sea – only the second president in history to do so. Mr. Bush addressed the crisis and was mobilizing aid, while Mr. Nagin was hiding somewhere in a safe, dry location that is still “undetermined.”
Now of course if this were Dick Cheney, the media would crucify him. Why? Because he is a Republican. We have seen such a lack of leadership from the mayor of New Orleans that if he were anyone else, we would have non-stop coverage by reporters of his failures.
So why the free pass by the liberal media on the lack of performance of the mayor in this trying time? I offer for your consideration two explanations. One is his political affiliation and the other I leave to your imagination. You seldom see the press criticize a liberal Democrat for poor leadership skills. Call it “silent media affirmative action.”
Mr. Nagin has let his people down big-time with his lack of a preparedness strategy for this type of emergency.
Remember Mr. Nagin, it was the people in the streets of your city who elected you to lead during a time such as this – yet all you can do is to hope and demand that others – like the governor or president – perform the job you were elected to do.
Should the state and federal government respond? Absolutely, and they have. But everyone knows that leadership must begin at a personal and local level and then trickle upward – not vice versa.
Mayor Nagin should have assessed the crisis, taken the bully pulpit, offered words of calm and encouragement, and then called upon the governor and the president to provide the tools to deliver his city from this horrible crisis. Instead, Mr. Nagin choose to hide – and when he finally emerged, it was with a very predictable indictment on everyone other than the one who is truly responsibility. You see Mr. Nagin, the buck stops with you. Ask Rudy.
Has government response been too little, too late? Perhaps. Isn’t it usually? The state and federal government are playing catch up, spending billions to do the job that Mayor Nagin should have spearheaded.
I can only imagine what the response of the mayor will be when the “shoot to kill” orders produce the death of one of the thugs who look like a “Mad Max” character. Assure yourself that then Mayor Nagin will be joined by the Reverends Jackson and Sharpton to condemn the excessive force used by Bush to secure the city Mr. Nagin is supposed to be leading.
As the lessons of Hurricane Katrina come into focus this Labor Day, let us all remember the importance of disaster preparedness. One year ago was the kickoff for National Preparedness Month. Federal, state and local governments all partnered to help the 70 percent of Americans who were clueless about what to do in an emergency – remember?
So, as God-fearing Americans, let’s offer our prayers and financial support to Katrina’s victims. I say it’s also a good time to refresh our minds about what type of leadership we need during a crisis – before the next one hits!
When the damaging waters of this flood subside, power is restored and life gets back to something resembling normal – there will be blame and finger-pointing in epic proportions. I just hope the critics allocate an ample share for the mayor. We know FEMA will be blamed. Mr. Bush will be held accountable for the hurricane itself, no less the lack of response to the needs of the thirsty and starving people. But will there be mention of the lack of leadership we witnessed by Mayor Ray Nagin? It would not surprise me. You?