The citizens of New Orleans are close to wrapping up neighborhood recovery plans under the Unified New Orleans Plan process, which is scheduled for completion (at long last) next month. The plan then goes to city leaders, who must turn it into a workable, citywide reality. This is a critical juncture. To keep their end of the bargain, the mayor and the City Council must immediately establish the long-promised Office of Recovery. Given the unprecedented scope and magnitude of New Orleans' rebuilding needs, the Recovery Office must be robust, focused, thoroughly resourced and extremely competent. It also must have overriding authority to coordinate all local recovery activities. Only such an office can ensure that we maximize our share of limited state and federal recovery funds -- and take full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revitalize New Orleans.
The longer Mayor Ray Nagin and City Council members delay establishing and fully funding this office, the greater the risk that limited government funds will be allocated before New Orleans gets in the game. FEMA and the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) have already set funding rules and allocated billions in recovery dollars. Time is therefore of the essence. The council and the mayor must act now to create a recovery office that streamlines the process of securing as many dollars as possible and coordinates the use of those funds to improve our infrastructure and our neighborhoods -- not merely to replace damaged property.
A central recovery office also will be the best means of enabling the "market-driven recovery" that Mayor Nagin so often touts as the key to rebuilding New Orleans. The idea of a strong, centralized office driving a market-based recovery may strike some as contradictory, but the truth is that neither government funds nor private investment alone can finance our neighborhoods' recovery plans. We need both, and we need them both on the same page. That's why an effective Recovery Office is so important. Establishing such an office should have been Mayor Nagin's first act in 2006 -- not his last. It's still not too late, but time is getting short.
This month, the LRA expects to divvy up $200 million among 11 parishes' recovery plans. New Orleans alone has identified more than $3 billion in neighborhood repairs and improvements. Meanwhile, until a more liberal interpretation of the Stafford Act can be forced by Congress, FEMA's funding hurdles will continue to frustrate. To encourage the private sector to step in and close government funding gaps, the city needs a Recovery Office that will lay out our recovery plans, plug in government funds where they are available, and channel private investment to close the gaps. Thankfully, investors and businesses the world over are eager to pour millions into this city. They and the public need an easy entry point into the local recovery -- and that's what a centralized Recovery Office can provide.
This Thursday, Dec. 7, the City Council will begin an important public dialogue on how best to structure the New Orleans Office of Recovery. If you want to expedite your neighborhood's rebuilding plans, this is a conversation you must join. Without an effective, efficient Recovery Office, local recovery plans -- no matter how thorough, equitable and bold -- are mere paper.
The Council's hearing must address how the Recovery Office will be structured to best address New Orleans' overwhelming needs. We suggest an office that can streamline the city's FEMA funding application process, prioritize and schedule infrastructure improvements, connect and coordinate city agencies (including planning and permitting), engage citizens and neighborhoods, and develop a comprehensive financing strategy for public and private recovery efforts. The council also should seek input from recovery offices in other disaster-stricken cities. We have no time to lose.
Karen Carter for Congress
This Saturday, Dec. 9, voters in most of New Orleans and parts of Jefferson Parish will go to the polls to elect a member of Congress. The choice in Louisiana's Second Congressional District is between incumbent William Jefferson and state Rep. Karen Carter. Both are Democrats, but that is where the similarities end. In other parts of the country, this election is under a microscope. Depending on the outcome, it will be seen either as yet another indication of Louisiana's legendary tolerance of public corruption or as a signal that we have finally matured as an electorate. Locally, even more hinges on the results, because New Orleans needs effective, trusted representation in Congress.
For these reasons and more, we endorse Karen Carter for Congress.
Prior to the current federal criminal investigation, the incumbent had a reputation as both a skilled legislator and a money-grubbing opportunist. Now, thanks to FBI surveillance tapes, only the latter applies. His own party leaders have booted him off the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, a clear signal that he no longer has the respect and cooperation of his peers. It's time for a change.
Karen Carter has a record of integrity and independence. Her leadership role in education reforms and economic development programs proves that she can get things done and is not afraid to shake things up. We believe she will do just that if elected to Congress, and we urge our readers to elect Karen Carter.