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Hope and Pragmatism

New Orleanians more than any other people in the world can look to the new year as a time of hope and resolution. Sixteen months after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, despite all that has happened and all that has not yet happened, we still have a tremendous opportunity to build a better, stronger, smarter and more caring city. As we noted at this time last year, New Orleans is getting a citywide "do-over" after Katrina. We must not pass up this opportunity to do better as well. In that spirit, and with equal measures of hope and pragmatism, we offer our suggestions for New Year's Resolutions.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco should forget about getting re-elected and concentrate on long-term planning, investing and infrastructure building for Louisiana's future. Her ill-fated December special session should have taught her that voters and lawmakers have wised up to the old game of throwing money at a problem to make it go away (temporarily). Besides, long-term planning and investing might just be her best campaign strategy. Spend the windfall wisely, governor. Make that your legacy -- regardless of whether you get re-elected -- and you'll be remembered as a great governor.

Mayor Ray Nagin should resolve to be more visible and more willing to make tough decisions. He still has a lot of residual good will with New Orleanians, and he can put it to good use by communicating with citizens more frequently. Also, he should quit whining and pointing fingers at everyone else when things don't go right. He has appointed internationally recognized recovery expert Ed Blakely to lead New Orleans' comeback. Let's hope hizzoner steps aside and lets Dr. Blakely do what he knows how to do.

The City Council, Mayor Nagin and the City Planning Commission should take the Unified New Orleans Plan later this month and make it even better. A good first step will be to address the "footprint" issue head-on. Let's deal with the reality of our situation and build upon our strengths. Don't look at this tough decision as one of dooming low-lying neighborhoods, but rather one of playing to our collective strengths. The plan offers us a chance to make our oldest neighborhoods better and stronger than ever. It also offers us all, as a people, a chance to get to know one another unlike we ever have before. In time, as New Orleans rebounds -- and grows -- many of our outlying neighborhoods will come back. Don't pass up this opportunity to write a plan that is reasonable, with goals that are achievable, as well as one that is fair.

Congress should spend more money on infrastructure, housing, schools, flood control and wetlands. Invest in south Louisiana. It will pay handsome dividends.

Insurance companies must not abandon south Louisiana. They have a moral obligation not to turn their backs on a state that has helped give them the most profitable years in their history. We urge the insurance industry to work with state officials not only to solve the private-market issues that appear to chase them away but also to shore up the state-sponsored Citizens plan so that all Louisianans can have readily available property insurance.

Sheriff Harry Lee and Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson should reach out to black leaders in Jefferson and Orleans parishes to re-examine the events that transpired on the bridge shortly after Katrina. Metaphorically, they should build a new bridge -- one grounded in empathy and understanding and one that leads to better preparations for future disasters.

Recovery Chief Ed Blakely should try to be a catalyst for the mayor, the council, city department heads, the LRA and the state to work more closely together -- and to make the tough decisions that need to be made in order for New Orleans to get moving again.

The Orleans Parish School Board and Recovery School District should resolve to work toward establishing a unified local school district. Local civic leaders and lawmakers may need to take the lead in this effort. Without a sound public education system, there will be no recovery.

As you read these resolutions, you may be tempted to shrug and say, "Be realistic. None of that will ever happen." Before turning the page and giving up hope, consider the resolutions we suggested last year, and what has transpired since then. We urged lawmakers and Gov. Blanco to give southeast Louisiana one levee board, and they did. We asked Mayor Nagin and the City Council to work together to resolve the FEMA trailer controversy, and they did. We asked Saints owner Tom Benson to quit bad-mouthing Louisiana and start promoting the local recovery, and he did. We exhorted state elections officials to give New Orleans a mayor's race by April, and they did.

We also asked FEMA and other federal agencies to "resolve to work faster and more efficiently to process citizens' applications and requests for disaster relief." And we told Congress to "rebuild hurricane-ravaged American communities with the same levels of generosity accorded to foreign countries that have been ravaged by our nation's military actions." Some progress has been made on those fronts, but more remains to be done.

Above all, it's clear that New Orleans has made significant progress since this time last year. That should give us all hope that things can and will get better. Happy New Year!

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