by Matt Davis
Mayor Mitch Landrieu and representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard and BP faced questions from angry members of the crowd this evening at an "oil spill response open house" at the Pavillion of Two Sisters in the Botanical Gardens of City Park.
Landrieu parrying questions from members of the crowd this evening.
Landrieu was joined by representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard and BP in making opening remarks for the "expo," which was planned to allow citizens to meet one-on-one with experts gathered at stalls around the room to talk about wildlife, safety, fisheries, claims and other matters related to the disaster. But the mayor's introduction rapidly devolved into a series of rapid-fire exchanges with citizens from an activist group called The Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Catastrophe.
"You're saying this is about information but you're shutting people down," said Larry Everest, interrupting Landrieu. "I've been to these where there's a lot of B.S."
Everest said he didn't like the open expo format, and that he wanted citizens to have the opportunity to ask questions of Landrieu, BP, and the U.S. Coast Guard in a press conference format where people could ask questions that the crowd could all hear.
"If everybody will conduct themselves with civility and ask a question, then allow somebody to respond, then I'm sure they'll be happy to do that," Landrieu responded.
Another citizen asked what the mayor thought of a recent pledge by Sen. Mary Landrieu that offshore drilling is safe. "I can't answer questions for Senator Landrieu, she's not here, my name is Mitch Landrieu, she's the United States Senator," the mayor responded, to some applause from the crowd. "Well, obviously, the BP drill rig was not safe. That's fair enough? We agree on that?"
Representatives of the Coast Guard said dispersants like Corexit are the best option available, and faced several follow-up questions on that issue. Then Larry Thomas from BP apologized for the spill on his company's behalf.
"Oh, please don't apologize any more," said another of the crowd. "That's just stupid."
"I apologize on behalf of BP," Thomas repeated.
The citizens' group is making seven demands: Stop oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico; Immediately end the use of dispersants; Allocate resources to compensate those affected; No gag orders on the people cleaning up the spill; Full mobilization of scientists; Provide medical services for those affected.
The back-and-forth continued for about 10 minutes as TV cameras rolled, becoming increasingly chaotic, with nobody seeming entirely sure who was required to answer which questions, and the mayor looking on as another citizen, Lauren Goldfinch, asked whether BP is going to be around in 20 years to deal with possible cancers related to the spill.
BP will be around, said Thomas.
"Now, there are two possibilities," said Landrieu, wrapping up. "Answer questions from five people, or give the people of the city the opportunity to go to one of the 18 booths to get their questions answered."
Landrieu's staff then slowly escorted the mayor to the door, stopping several times to answer more questions from citizens and a bevy of journalists.