Burns, Thomas / THE FAILURE OF THE NONREGIME 10.1177/1078087405284888 URBAN AFFAIRS REVIEW / March 2006 THE FAILURE OF THE NONREGIME How Katrina Exposed New Orleans as a Regimeless City PETER BURNS Loyola University–New Orleans MATTHEW O. THOMAS California State University, Chico Hurricane Katrina’s effect on New Orleans raised serious questions about governmental preparedness and response. New Orleans operates without a stable and long-lasting partnership among resource providers, and the absence of a regime greatly affected how it readied for and reacted to Hurricane Katrina. We employ regime analysis to identify how three key differences between regimes and nonregimes impeded New Orleans’s ability to respond to this event. New Orleans lacks an understood agenda; it depends on issue-based coalitions rather than more permanent governing arrangements; and it ineffectively targets resources in the absence of a scheme of cooperation. These characteristics place New Orleans and other nonregime cities in a much more precarious position than urban areas with regimes, and this crisis exacerbated the negative effects of this nonregime environment. Keywords: regime; New Orleans; Hurricane Katrina; nonregime In their efforts to understand how New Orleans reacted to Hurricane Katrina, the media focused upon the decisions and nondecisions made by state, local, and federal officials before, during, and after this disaster struck (for examples, see Carney et al. 2005; The New York Times 2005). While informative, this attention to how government handles crisis situations misses a central part of the story: New Orleans is a nonregime city. The lack of a regime, which predates the Katrina crisis, explains many failures that surround governmental reaction to this hurricane. AUTHORS’ NOTE: The authors thank the reviewers and editors for their helpful comments. URBAN AFFAIRS REVIEW, Vol. 41, No. 4, March 2006 517-527 DOI: 10.1177/1078087405284888 © 2006 Sage Publications 517 518 URBAN AFFAIRS REVIEW / March 2006 New Orleans’s response to, and preparation for, Hurricane Katrina exemplifies three severe problems of nonregime politics. First, in New Orleans and other nonregime cities, public and private actors do not agree on an overall agenda for the future, and they lack consensus on the rules of the game that characterize effective regimes. Next, the issue-based coalitions that govern New Orleans and other nonregimes lead to temporary networks of stakeholders that rise and fall in response to specific crises or problems, negating the formation of a long-lasting governing coalition. Finally, nonregimes lack the capacity to effectively implement disaster policy because the speed at which disaster strikes limits nonregimes from appropriately coordinating and targeting resources. These three problems are intimately tied to what Stone (2005) calls the key nodes in urban regime analysis, and they suggest areas for New Orleans to concentrate in the rebuilding process. Regimes and Nonregimes As a political-economy approach to the study of cities, regime analysis contains four key nodes: agenda, governing coalition, resources, and a scheme of cooperation (Stone 2005). A broad-based, future-oriented agenda links members of the governing coalition, providing structure to their cooperative activity and the allocation of resources. The scarcity of resources in American cities means that public officials, namely mayors, cannot make and execute decisions on their own (Elkin 1987; Mossberger and Stoker 2001; Stone 1989, 1993, 2005). Consequently, the public sector and private resource providers, usually the business community, create governance arrangements that are mutually beneficial (Stone and Sanders 1987). Among the requirements for regime status is what Stone (2005) calls the scheme of cooperation, or what Mossberger and Stoker (2001) label longstanding patterns of communication. In a well-developed regime, this regular communication allows members of the governing coalition to understand each other, to calculate the resources each commands, and to learn how their partners will react to policy problems. In essence, regime actors reach a general agreement on the rules of the game. This knowledge facilitates the effective coordination of their activities. A shared understanding of city problems and appropriate solutions, also known as the agenda, serves as a guide to regime members’long-term actions and responses. Cooperation and a common agenda facilitate governance in the context of scarce resources. Under the social production model, regime members properly target resources to further their agenda. Despite the prominence of regime theory as the dominant approach to the study of urban governance, scholars conclude that some cities lack regimes Burns, Thomas / THE FAILURE OF THE NONREGIME 519 (DeLeon 1992; Mossberger and Stoker 2001). Despite this acknowledgement that nonregimes exist, little is known about how these cities compare to those with regimes.1 The use of regime analysis allows for systematic understandings of the deficiencies of nonregimes. In nonregime cities, temporary networks of stakeholders rise and fall in response to specific threats and issues, not to an overall, forward-looking agenda. The defining relationships in the nonregime are normally shallow, thin, and unstable. The governing arrangements in nonregime cities resemble Heclo’s issue networks: “a shared-knowledge group having to do with some aspect (or, as defined by the network, some problem) of public policy” (Heclo 1978, 103). At the local level, issue-based coalitions, which mimic these issue networks, form around their particular issue. Without a stable and long-lasting partnership of public and private resource providers, haphazard governance characterizes nonregime cities, with issue-based coalitions placed in the untenable position of attempting to govern. In such an environment, various stakeholders, including neighborhood groups, local banks, the mayor, and governmental agencies, may coalesce to address a particular issue, such as redevelopment, but they do not possess the resources that allow them to serve as permanent leaders of the city. These issue-based coalitions take a long time to form and make policy, and responsiveness to their issues is slow at best. Issue-based coalitions mobilize necessary resources for a particular matter, and they dissolve once they settle their issues. The temporary governing arrangements in nonregime cities prevent stakeholders from either reaching shared understandings of policy problems and solutions, or recognizing and forming a larger, more systemic community agenda. Lack of capacity or the perceived inability to move on many fronts in governance is an inevitable result of the nonregime’s impermanent issue networks. The Nonregime in New Orleans New Orleans typifies a nonregime, but various regimes ruled the city in the past (Whelan, Young, and Lauria 1994). In the 1950s and 1960s, New Orleans’s elected officials partnered with business and executed redevelopment projects that resulted in downtown revitalization (Whelan 1987, 1989). Over time, however, businesses left New Orleans for other cities, including Houston and Miami. Today, New Orleans lacks a vibrant corporate community, and it has only one Fortune 500 company. While a number of businesses, including the Audubon Institute and the chamber of commerce, influence public policy from time to time, New Orleans is devoid of a business 520 URBAN AFFAIRS REVIEW / March 2006 community that regularly provides leadership, money, and other vital resources to urban governance.2 Slow-growing, issue-based coalitions dominate governance in presentday New Orleans. In the absence of stable ties among regime partners, each successive policy initiative is subject to a negotiation among relevant parties, with the process starting from square one in each instance. Over the last 15 years, several issue-based coalitions created public policies in New Orleans; they used policy-specific guideposts to target select resources; and their temporary nature prevented them from developing an agreed-upon systemic agenda. A coalition of the mayor, two governors, and the state legislature built an arena in downtown New Orleans, and another coalition consisting of the chamber of commerce, two mayors, two governors, and businessmen from Charlotte brought a professional basketball team to New Orleans in 2002 (Burns and Thomas 2004). Neighborhood groups, city government, and the police attempted to address New Orleans’s high crime and murder rates in the 1990s, but achieved little success.3 In these recent examples, government developed temporary relations with those who helped it accomplish particular public policy goals. These temporary alliances negatively affected New Orleans’s capacity to coordinate action among those who controlled the city’s resources. The mayors involved relied greatly upon others to create the capacity to govern. Community-based organizations used their resources of information, access to people, and assistance in service provision. Private-business owners supplied financial resources. But these various actors maintained only enough resources to govern within the issues of their interest. The lack of common interests among these groups and the nonexistence of shared understandings of city problems and appropriate solutions prevent consensus on an agenda. The short-term partnerships evident in New Orleans are a distant relative of the long-term coalitions in typical regimes. The New Orleans of today does not have the requisite characteristics of a common agenda, a governing coalition, resources, and a scheme of cooperation, to be properly labeled a regime (Stone 2005). Hurricane Katrina and the Nonregime in New Orleans The nonregime in New Orleans hindered coordination among federal, state, and local actors. New Orleans officials possessed neither the kinds of governing partners nor the resources necessary to plan and carry out a largescale evacuation of the city. Without a regime, chaos marked the governing response to the hurricane. As Katrina approached New Orleans, the state, Burns, Thomas / THE FAILURE OF THE NONREGIME 521 represented primarily by Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D), and the city, led in principal by Mayor C. Ray Nagin (D), could not create an issuebased coalition capable of evacuating the city and reacting successfully to a Category 4 hurricane. The slow-forming nature of issue-based coalitions and the lack of intimacy among government officials at local, state, and federal levels greatly obstructed state and local efforts to build a temporary partnership to deal with a hurricane. Illustrating the absence of a scheme of cooperation among federal, state, and local officials, the mayor of New Orleans, the director of FEMA, and the Governor of Louisiana complained that communication breakdowns among them impaired their ability to react effectively. Mayor Nagin recognized that neither the state nor federal levels established clear lines of command responsibility (Zucchino 2005). In congressional testimony, former FEMA Director Michael Brown regretted his inability “to persuade Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences and work together” (Alpert 2005). In describing her difficulties with FEMA, Governor Blanco stated, “No one, even those at the highest level, seems to be able to break through the bureaucracy to get this important mission done. I am angry and outraged” (Riccardi 2005). This absence of a history of multidimensional collaborative action led to problematic decision making during the crisis. For instance, Amtrak offered to transport evacuees out of the city, but the New Orleans government never reacted to the offer (Roberts 2005). For two years prior to the hurricane, the city, the Red Cross, and the University of New Orleans tried unsuccessfully to create a ride-sharing program in the event of a major hurricane (Russell 2005). These incidents illustrate the importance of communications networks. Even though resource-rich actors made assets available to New Orleans, the lack of open and regular channels among these groups made it impossible to execute this plan. FEMA Director Brown blamed state and local officials for the inefficient and ineffective evacuation of the entire city. He referred to governance in Louisiana as dysfunctional. Brown really described the absence of a regime in New Orleans capable of executing an evacuation plan. In the months leading up to Hurricane Katrina, state and local officials acknowledged that they lacked the capacity to evacuate the city in general, and people in the poorer areas in particular. At the start of the 2005 hurricane season in late May, the New Orleans Emergency Preparedness Director said, “It’s important to emphasize that we just don’t have the resources to take everybody out” (Nolan 2005). At the beginning of August 2005, the mayor, the president of the city council, state legislators, officials from the state 522 URBAN AFFAIRS REVIEW / March 2006 police and the local Red Cross, and others participated in a public service video to warn residents in low-income areas that they must fend for themselves in the event of a hurricane (Nolan 2005). That tape, made by Total Community Action antipoverty agency, was intended for distribution to churches in the area eventually hit by Hurricane Katrina in September (Nolan 2005). The video never made it to its intended audiences, but rather remains in a Los Angeles warehouse awaiting distribution (Riccardi and Rainey 2005). Furthermore, in an effort to create a hurricane-response partnership as the storm approached New Orleans, Mayor Nagin faxed ministers to ask them to supply congregants with transportation (Russell 2005). The planning attempts of these issue-based disaster coalitions resemble Weick’s (1976) loosely coupled systems. A few stakeholders, such as the Red Cross and Total Community Action, formed a disconnected issue-based coalition prior to this event. They shared a common goal of disaster mitigation, but without closer coupling on a regular basis, these actors could not effectively distribute evacuation information or coordinate transportation. To worsen matters, the necessity of more diverse actors at different governmental levels, such as FEMA, made the disaster prevention coalition even more loosely coupled and more difficult to form than other issue-based groups. In addition to the limitations of government and the lack of a regime capable of governing, these examples reveal that churches, nonprofit organizations, and other community-based groups endeavor to assume the governing slack in the city, and that they try to create issue-based coalitions to deal with specific problems. It also suggests that this issue-based-oriented approach to governance insufficiently addressed the needs of the citizenry. Attention to the inadequacies or dearth of evacuation plans neglects the importance of regimes. The lack of regime arrangements hinders governmental capacity to carry out plans effectively. Hurricanes and other crises produce problems that exceed governmental capability, but regime arrangements possess more governing capacity than nonregime constellations. Hurricane Rita created some of the same problems in Houston that Hurricane Katrina produced in New Orleans. For instance, traffic in both regions left motorists waiting on highways for hours. However, the Houston regime allowed public and private actors in that city to respond quickly to problems. Houston’s mayor, a county judge, and two power companies exchanged information and coordinated swiftly to make certain that the city’s water supply continued to flow (Mack 2005). In New Orleans, by contrast, the absence of stable and long-lasting partnerships prevented the development of such rapid collaboration. Burns, Thomas / THE FAILURE OF THE NONREGIME 523 Nonregime Cities: The Risk and Opportunities That Mayor Nagin lacked regime partners necessary to carry out a quick and full-scale evacuation of New Orleans was not a surprise. A regime would have been in a much better position to plan and execute an evacuation policy. Regime actors would have worked together on a permanent basis and they could have allocated the kinds of resources necessary to develop and implement policy.4 The nonregime environment created an almost untenable governing situation in New Orleans. A lack of any kind of stable governing arrangement and the issue-based nature of responsiveness to this hurricane resulted in an evacuation that required citizens to fend for themselves. To blame any one individual for the failures related to Hurricane Katrina misses the broader context in which New Orleans actors operate. The nonregime context in which New Orleans exists limits the degree to which the mayor could have ameliorated the negative effects of a missing governing coalition. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, local actors started a process of potential regime formation, and the critical factors of agenda, scheme of cooperation, and resources will strongly affect this course of action. These dynamics shape regime development, but their current absence potentially thwarts regime establishment. Governor Blanco, Mayor Nagin, and the New Orleans city council attempted to form a regime capable of governing the city. Each established a commission or task force made up of various public and private resource providers. Governor Blanco’s 23-member Louisiana Recovery Authority concentrates on job creation, home building, and neighborhood revitalization (Millhollon 2005). This authority, chaired by the president of Xavier University in New Orleans and directed by the governor’s former chief of staff, includes at least 13 business leaders and AfricanAmericans, attorneys, and representatives from state universities, labor, education, health care, and the Democratic and Republican parties (Millhollon 2005). Mayor Nagin’s 17-member Bring New Orleans Back Commission includes biracial equal representation of the members (8 White, 8 African-American, 1 Latino) and features at least 10 business leaders, two representatives from the New Orleans religious community, and some members who maintain close ties to the Bush Administration. A business executive in the health-care field and a community organizer serve as cochairs of the commission, whose mission is to “finalize a master plan to advise, assist, and plan the direct funding on the rebuilding of New Orleans culturally, socially, economically, and uniquely for every citizen” (Bring New Orleans Back Commission 2005). 524 URBAN AFFAIRS REVIEW / March 2006 The Commission emphasizes the important role that cooperation and coordination play in renewing the city. On its Web site, it stresses, “Together, we will become stronger and smarter, bringing a diverse group of talent to the table to plan for our future. Together, we will take the lead on our tremendous rebuilding effort, with help from federal, state, and other officials” (Bring New Orleans Back Commission n.d.). Created by a New Orleans City Council resolution, the Advisory Committee on Hurricane Recovery is responsible for “zoning, land use, franchises, taxes and regulation of utility and communications companies” (Donze 2005). The committee will also make recommendations regarding how state, federal, and local agencies should coordinate efforts to fund and execute rebuilding strategies, and it will advise the city council on a variety of other revitalization topics, including housing and business incentives (Donze 2005). As of November 11, 2005, the council had yet to make its seven selections for the council whereas Louisiana’s two United States senators and the two members of congress who serve parts of New Orleans form the rest of the committee. These government-sponsored groups represent efforts to establish governing capacity in New Orleans. They recognize the need to create permanent linkages among various and sundry stakeholders in the New Orleans region. The commissions’work leads to relationships, and these partnerships among local, regional, state, and federal actors may mean the development of a shared understanding of an agenda for the city. Potential regime members also acknowledge the necessity of a systemic agenda that receives significant resource allocation among stakeholders who potentially govern New Orleans. The formation of these various committees holds out hope that a more stable, deeper regime can form in New Orleans. Amidst recent city employee lay-offs and the possibility of the abandonment of the 9th Ward, these commissions will place key stakeholders in frequent and meaningful interactions. Out of those negotiations, a true New Orleans governing regime could emerge. Despite the promise that these commissions hold, significant obstacles have already formed. The establishment of three taskforces decreases the likelihood that various stakeholders will reach a shared agenda or develop collaborative and collective solutions. Furthermore, fighting among the various commissions and taskforces hinders the degree to which various stakeholders can create a systemic agenda, a shared understanding about the solutions for the city, and the capacity to execute urban public policy. One example of the potential fissures among the commissions occurred when the city council expressed dismay that the mayor appointed only one of its Burns, Thomas / THE FAILURE OF THE NONREGIME 525 members to the Bring New Orleans Back Commission (Eggler 2005). According to members of the city council, the mayor selected Council President Oliver Thomas only after he received significant pressure from the council (Eggler 2005). According to news accounts, divisions in the Bring New Orleans Back Commission may distract its members from forming an overarching agenda for the city. Some of the commission members dine together before the Monday afternoon commission meeting, excluding others, including the president of City Council and a small-business owner (Rivlin 2005). The fault lines in the commission, and the perception that the commission ignores more difficult questions, may end up being insurmountable. The existence of three parallel commissions, each acting independently, could confuse rather than clarify issues. These commissions provide some measure of hope, but serve to remind us of the challenges in a nonregime city. New Orleans diverges from regime cities in three important ways. Critical actors in New Orleans lack agreement on a common, community agenda to direct action. Issue-based coalitions, not a governing coalition, address policy problems. The lack of consensus on an agenda and the absence of cooperation among critical actors limit capacity to appropriately target resources. This nonregime city faces a crossroads in many senses. Whether a regime can form and coordinate the recovery remains to be seen. NOTES 1. According to Rast (2005) and others, at various parts during the mid- to late-twentieth century, regimes either failed to form or they broke down completely in several cities, including Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Miami (for each city, see Rast 2005; Orr and Stoker 1994; Adams 1991; and Vogel and Stowers 1991, respectively). 2. One small sign of the city’s lack of a corporate community occurred when the state tried to sell the naming rights of the Superdome in 2001. In most other cities, corporations, such as banks, airlines, or local businesses, buy the right to name arenas and stadiums. In New Orleans, by contrast, no business came forward to purchase the naming rights for the Superdome or the New Orleans Arena. The state and two marketing companies could not sell the naming rights even though the Superbowl, the Final Four of men’s and women’s collegiate basketball, and the NCAA Division I championship football game were to be played in New Orleans from 2002 to 2004. New Orleans simply does not have the kind of corporate presence that can perform the functions that businesses provide in other major urban areas. 3. In mid-2005, then Police Chief Compass indicated that the New Orleans Police Department would move away from an enforcement stance, to a service orientation (Lee 2005). 4. For example, see New York City’s ability to reestablish a command center and direct rescue/recovery operations after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. 526 URBAN AFFAIRS REVIEW / March 2006 REFERENCES Adams, C. T. 1991. 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Urban Affairs Review 36(3): 810–835. The New York Times. 2005. Blame game. The New York Times, October 2, p. 4-1. Nolan, B. 2005. In storm, N.O. wants no one left behind: Number of people without cars makes evacuation difficult. Times-Picayune, July 24, p. A1. Orr, M. E., and G. Stoker. 1994. Urban regimes and leadership in Detroit. Urban Affairs Quarterly. 30(1): 48–73. Rast, J. 2005. Governing the regimeless city: The Frank Zeidler Administration in Milwaukee, 1948–1960. Paper presented at the 2005 Urban Affairs Association Meeting, Salt Lake City, Utah, April 13–16. Riccardi, N. 2005. Katrina’s aftermath: Bush accepts blame for slow hurricane response. Los Angeles Times, September 14, p. A1. Riccardi, N., and J. Rainey. 2005. Katrina’s aftermath: Save yourself. Los Angeles Times, September 13, p. A1. Rivlin, G. 2005. Divisions appear within a storm recovery commission. The New York Times. October 29, p. 29. Roberts, P. B. 2005. Locals join criticism of tardy response. The Advocate, September 12, p. A-1. Russell, G. 2005. Nagin gets mixed reviews: Evacuation plans, Superdome use criticized. TimesPicayune, October 23, p. 1. Burns, Thomas / THE FAILURE OF THE NONREGIME 527 Stone, C. N. 1989. Regime politics: Governing Atlanta, 1946–1988. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. ———. 1993. Urban regimes and the capacity to govern: A political economy approach. Journal of Urban Affairs 15(1): 1–28. ———. 2005. Now what? The continuing evolution of urban regime analysis. Paper prepared for presentation at Tilburg University, October 28. Stone, C. N., and H. T. Sanders. 1987. The politics of urban development. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. Vogel, R. K. and G. Stowers. 1991. Miami: Minority empowerment and regime change. In Big city politics in transition, edited by H. V. Savitch and J.C. Thomas, 115–131. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Weick, K. E. 1976. Educational organizations as loosely couples systems. Administrative Science Quarterly 21(1): 1–19. Whelan, R. K. 1987. New Orleans: Mayoral politics and economic-development policies in the postwar years, 1945–86. In The politics of urban development, edited by C. N. Stone and H. T. Sanders, 216–29. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. ———. 1989. New Orleans: Public-private partnerships and uneven development. In Unequal partnerships, edited by G. D. Squires, 222–239. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press. Whelan, R. K., A. H. Young, and M. Lauria. 1994. Urban regimes and racial politics in New Orleans. Journal of Urban Affairs 16(1): 1–21. Zucchino, D. 2005. Katrina’s aftermath: New Orleans mayor backs off criticism. Los Angeles Times, September 3, p. A19. Peter Burns, an associate professor of political science at Loyola University–New Orleans, studies urban governance, public policy, and racial and ethnic relations. His book, Electoral Politics Is Not Enough (SUNY Press 2006), examines the conditions under which White leaders identify and respond to racial and ethnic minority interests in nonreform, Northeastern cities. Burns’s current research examines the effect of Hurricane Katrina on governance in New Orleans. Matthew O. Thomas is an assistant professor of political science at California State University, Chico. His research interests include urban politics and policy, police administration, and community policing. He previously served as a research consultant for the Urban Institute, where he participated in an analysis of reform and reorganization in the Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, D.C. and authored several reports for the National Institute of Justice and published work in political science and criminal justice journals.
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