A NEW NEW ORLEANS? UNDERSTANDING THE ROLE OF HISTORY AND THE STATE–LOCAL RELATIONSHIP IN THE RECOVERY PROCESS
PETER F. BURNS Loyola University, New Orleans MATTHEW O. THOMAS California State University, Chico
ABSTRACT: Two years after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the city still struggles to rebuild and recover. In this article, we examine how deeply rooted historical patterns of state–local conflict reasserted themselves even after the terrible destruction of Katrina and the redemptive promise of a new beginning. We also explain how state government, some city leaders, and most New Orleanians took advantage of the opportunities presented by Hurricane Katrina to change certain aspects of governance in New Orleans. This research highlights the importance of the state–local relationship in understanding urban affairs and the critical nature of historical patterns and their persistence. State–local conflicts over finances, control of local politics, and cultural differences have plagued New Orleans for decades, and they continue to do so in the post-Katrina era.
A new New Orleans. That’s what many thought, and even more hoped, would emerge after
Hurricane Katrina attacked New Orleans. Local, state, and national figures thought that Katrina provided an opportunity for the city to start anew. In public, they advocated a new city, one that kept the New Orleans’ charm, attractions, and culture but lost the area’s negative aspects. In reality, much, but not all, of the new New Orleans resembled the old New Orleans. In particular, schisms between the public and private sector, whites and African Americans, and state and city government persisted in post-Katrina New Orleans. By contrast, a newer New Orleans appeared, particularly in the realm of governance. Why, given such huge trauma, physical damage, and social disruptions, was there a reversion to some old patterns? Most stories on the friction between the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans attribute at least some of the tension to Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s endorsement of two other gubernatorial candidates, one of whom was a Republican, instead of Kathleen Blanco, a fellow Democrat, in the 2003 gubernatorial primary and runoff. Certainly, personal animosity and political differences between the mayor and the governor complicated the relationship between Louisiana and New Orleans, but factors beyond personal politics also explain the endurance of state–local tensions.
Direct Correspondence to: Matthew O. Thomas, Department of Political Science, California State University, Chico, Chico, CA 95929-0455. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. JOURNAL OF URBAN AFFAIRS, Volume 30, Number 3, pages 259–271. Copyright C 2008 Urban Affairs Association All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. ISSN: 0735-2166.
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Why did governance change while other policy areas remained stagnant? In this article, we examine how deeply rooted historical patterns of state–local conflict reasserted themselves even after the terrible destruction of Katrina and the redemptive promise of a new beginning. We also explain how state government, some city leaders, and some New Orleanians took advantage of the opportunities presented by Hurricane Katrina to change certain aspects of governance in New Orleans. To better understand how and why state government affects urban affairs, this article specifies those dimensions of the state–local relationship that influence how New Orleans rebuilds. It uses an historical analysis to identify the most important ways in which pre-catastrophe relations affect the recovery process. This article’s broader implications illustrate the effect of state government on urban affairs and the influence of aspects of history on present conditions. NEW ORLEANS: THEN AND NOW In July of 2005, the population of New Orleans stood at 452,170.1 One month later, after the Katrina-breached levees flooded the city, the population all but disappeared. Essential city services, such as police and fire, barely operated, and all other governmental services halted. In essence, the city shut down. Prior to Katrina, tourists flocked to New Orleans, feasting on its food, architecture, nightlife, and especially its music. The city’s port, although diminished from its heyday, remained an important hub. A number of universities, including Tulane, Loyola, the University of New Orleans, Xavier, and Dillard, as well as the LSU Medical School, provided significant intellectual capital. These assets offered some promise for improvement after Katrina but New Orleans also needed to face the negative aspects of its past. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the city struggled with issues of corruption; and city services, especially public schools, lagged far behind other jurisdictions. In the wake of Katrina, the city faced unfathomable challenges to recovery. By July of 2006, a year after Katrina, the population of New Orleans had rebounded to 223,388, making the population about half of the pre-Katrina population. But other critical measures of capacity illustrate the challenges faced by the city. In that same month, only 22% of the child care centers, only 39% of the city’s hospitals (9 of 23), and only 45% of the public transportation routes were open or operational. By August of 2006, only 41% of the city’s public schools welcomed students. Two years after Katrina, the population continued to increase, rising to almost 70% of the preKatrina population. Estimates in November 2007, indicate that blacks made up 58% of the city (The Associated Press, 2007). Prior to Hurricane Katrina, African Americans constituted slightly more than 66% of the city’s population. Approximately 80% of New Orleans flooded as a result of the breached levees. The Uptown section of New Orleans, buffered by the city’s natural levee, received the least amount of damage. Whites in Uptown New Orleans lost some power and many elected positions, as the city’s racial demographics changes over time, but they continued to exert considerable influence over public policy. They use campaign contributions, a good-government agency called the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR), and access to the media, especially The Times-Picayune, to exercise power. One example of this influence occurred in 2004 when whites formed coalitions with some African Americans to stop the school board from firing Superintendent of Schools Anthony Amato. Of the five members who opposed Amato, three lost their seats and two did not seek reelection in the school board election of 2004. The city’s demographic shifts affected election results in post-Katrina New Orleans (Krupa, 2007b). In 2007, the New Orleans City Council became majority-white for the first time in 22 years. Throughout New Orleans, elected positions, including judges, city council members,
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and state legislators, which were held by blacks for years, have switched to white-officeholders in the post-Katrina period. At the time of the November 17, 2007, special election to fill a vacant, citywide council seat, black registered voters outnumbered white registered voters by more than 92,000, but turnout in majority-white districts was higher than turnout in majority-black districts (Krupa, 2007b). Because of increases in the population, tax revenues, which plummeted in the immediate aftermath of the storm, continue to grow, reaching 94% of the pre-Katrina revenues. This positive sign is tempered by the city’s continuing infrastructure dilemma. After two years, only 57% of hospitals, 62% of schools, and 38% of day care centers were in operation. When those within and outside New Orleans look at these figures and others like them, they characterize the rebuilding as slow. Many displaced New Orleanians face the choice of returning to a city that cannot provide adequate healthcare, and those former residents with children must wrestle with the decreased capacity of the child care system and the limited number of public schools. Adding to those concerns, the city still struggles to adopt a comprehensive rebuilding plan, and the Road Home Program has a poor track record at issuing payments (see below). These two New Orleans, preand poststorm, are very different, but may in fact be influenced by similar trends. One of these historical patterns that continues to influence politics in the city is the character of state–local relations.
THE IMPORTANCE OF STATE–CITY RELATIONS An investigation of the state–local dimension of the recovery is important because cities are creatures of the state (Burns & Gamm, 1997). Cities look increasingly toward state government for financial assistance in this era of devolution. Absent private leadership in cities, governors and state legislators have the potential to champion certain projects and policies in cities (Burns & Thomas, 2004). An analysis of the effect of state–local relations on rebuilding New Orleans also provides insight into other areas—race, culture, income, and class—that may affect how the city recovers from this disaster. The Louisiana governor and legislature play important roles in the rebuilding of New Orleans. Because of devolution, the Louisiana governor maintains the authority to disperse federal recovery funds to New Orleans. The governor and state legislature propose and pass policies on how the city will not only govern itself but also execute police powers—including the education of New Orleans school children—in the aftermath of Katrina. The focus on how state–city relations influence New Orleans’ recovery does not indicate that this relationship is the only aspect of the recovery process. Clearly, other relationships, including those between races, public and private leaders, and community groups and government, also affect the manner in which New Orleans rebuilds after Hurricane Katrina. In addition to the aforementioned effects that state government exerts on city politics and policy, we also focus upon the role of state government because many critics argue that the study of urban affairs pays too little attention to extra-local actors, namely governors, state legislatures, and state bureaucracies (for example, see Burns, 2002; Burns & Thomas, 2004; Harding, 1995; Kantor, Savitch, & Haddock, 1997; Lauria, 1996; Sites, 1997).
HISTORICAL TENSIONS BETWEEN CITIES AND STATES Historically, states and large cities have had an antagonistic relationship (Berman, 2003). As Berman (2003) notes, “One of the most persistent themes in state–local relations has been the
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conflict between state legislatures and the largest cities in the states” (p. 53). Louisiana versus New Orleans, New York State versus New York City, Illinois versus Chicago, Michigan versus Detroit, Missouri versus Kansas City and St. Louis, Maryland versus Baltimore, among many other places, typify the conflict between state–level actors and big cities (for example, see Stonecash, 1989). But what are the sources of tensions between these levels of government? Money An overview of the history of state–city relations in the United States in general, and the interactions between the state of Louisiana and New Orleans in particular, suggests several potential explanations for prolonged conflict between these levels of government (Berman, 2003). Money, control, and differences between urban and rural areas constitute deeply rooted historical patterns that influence city–state relations (Berman, 2003). Historically, cities and state government fight over money. The battle over finances intensified in the 1980s when state government’s involvement in urban and local affairs increased mainly because of three factors: A large federal deficit, President Ronald Reagan’s view that the federal government failed to achieve victories in the war on poverty and other social problems, and the federal government’s decision to devolve policy responsibilities to the states (Liner, 1989; Pagano, 1990; Stonecash, 1998). In this devolution period, cities wanted more money from the state government with fewer strings while states sought greater control and oversight over the dollars they allocated to urban governments. Finances traditionally divide the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans. The rest of Louisiana argues that New Orleans receives a greater share of the state’s resources than it contributes to Louisiana’s coffers. Among other things, legislators from outside New Orleans opposed special state subsidies for the New Orleans Saints NFL team, the Superdome, a downtown arena in the city, an amusement park, and the state’s only land-based casino. In lobbying for mandatory crossing arms at all railroad crossings in the vicinity of schools, for example, a state senator from the northwestern corner of Louisiana, argued, “There’s a lot of people for giving millions and millions to the Superdome. But to save a child’s life . . . we say it costs too much” (McGill, 2001). This kind of rhetoric has characterized state politics and relations between Louisiana and New Orleans for decades. Editorials by The Advocate, a major newspaper in the state that is based in Baton Rouge, echoed what many outside New Orleans felt (and continue to feel) about state assistance to the city. After the state’s bond commission approved millions for special projects in New Orleans in 1997, The Advocate concluded, “It’s become an unfortunate and unpleasant fact of life: The New Orleans area grabs off the bulk of the state capital outlay money, and the rest of the state is left holding the bag” (The Advocate, 1997). More than seven years later and in the midst of debates about state funding for a new football stadium in New Orleans, The Advocate (2004) argued, “We are delighted that the governor [Kathleen Blanco] explained the political reality to the New Orleans community: The rest of the state is not interested in paying $400 million-plus for a football stadium. And the existing state subsidy to the New Orleans Saints is widely resented” (The Advocate, 2004, p. 6). A longstanding conflict exists over whether the state can trust New Orleanians to spend the aid it allocates to the city. Corruption and mismanagement afflict New Orleans’ public bureaucracy, especially its school system. In 2003, for example, an audit revealed that the school system paid more than $31 million to former and even deceased workers (McGill, 2003). Less than a year later, a federal court indicted eleven people for this fraud and theft (Simpson, 2004). The federal government also charged two insurance brokers for receiving money in exchange for favorable treatment on school contracts (Simpson, 2004). In 2004, the federal government blocked the New Orleans’ school board’s attempt to fire Superintendent Anthony Amato, who by most accounts was succeeding in improving city schools. Most recently, Ellenese Brooks-Simms, the former
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president of the New Orleans School Board, pled guilty to federal bribery charges, further tainting the legacy of the school system (Maloney, 2007). Control Control over urban affairs traditionally divides state government and cities. State governments have attempted to control city politics and policy for several reasons. Some try to dictate urban politics for political and personal gains. In the mid 19th century, state legislators and political parties used patronage in the cities to gain electoral support in urban areas (Berman, 2003). State intervention into urban affairs has increased when governors and legislators either believed that cities could not handle the problems that confronted them or attempted to address corruption in city government. To say the least, urban actors, especially those in control, resent the assertiveness of state government. In 2003, the state legislature and voters across Louisiana proposed and ratified a constitutional amendment to allow the state to take over failing schools. This amendment applied mainly to New Orleans. Proponents of the takeover amendment argued that the continual failure to improve the quality of education in some districts in general, and in New Orleans in particular, led them to support this policy reform. The president of the Louisiana Senate, a Republican who represented part of New Orleans, referred to the low quality of education in the city as tantamount to “intellectual slavery” (McGill, 2003). In the vote on the amendment, three-fifths of the Louisiana electorate ratified the takeover amendment. New Orleans supported the takeover measure with 56% of the vote. The amendment received high support, 60–70%, among parishes in the New Orleans Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Part of the reason for the support for the amendment in New Orleans was the city’s dismal view of the Orleans Parish School District. At the time, New Orleans’ residents held negative views of the city’s public schools. In a 2000 survey, half of the New Orleans’ residents who were surveyed characterized the city’s elementary schools as poor whereas 61% held this view four years later (University of New Orleans Survey Research Center, 2000). Only 1% of respondents characterized these schools as excellent in 2004. In that year, New Orleans’ residents regarded education as the city’s second biggest problem behind crime. Despite these perceptions, 44% of the New Orleans electorate opposed the move to allow the state to assume direct control over schools that performed miserably. The vote on the takeover amendment split along racial lines within the city of New Orleans. Voters in predominantly white districts overwhelmingly supported the amendment (see Table 1). Majority African-American districts strongly opposed state takeovers of failing schools (see Table 1).
TABLE 1 Percent for and Against the 2003 Takeover Amendment in the New Orleans Voting Precincts in Which African Americans or Whites Make Up More Than 90% of the Electorate Percent in favor of the takeover amendment Predominantly African-American voting districts N = 123 Predominantly White voting districts N = 35
Source: Louisiana’s Secretary of State’s Ofﬁce.
Percent against the takeover amendment 59% (15,592) 18% (1,700)
41% (11,004) 82% (7,764)
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In the pre-Katrina period, governors and state legislators were hesitant to provide exorbitant sums to the city because of New Orleans’ reputation for corruption and patronage. They wanted a way to control the outcomes, and avoid sending good money after bad. In 2001, Louisiana Senator John Hainkel, who represented part of New Orleans, advocated the dissolution of the New Orleans Board of Education. He cited corruption, poor test scores, and overall mismanagement for his position, in response, a white member of the New Orleans school board regarded Hainkel’s position as one dominated by a “plantation mentality,” in which the senator assumed that the people of New Orleans could not govern themselves adequately (Gray, 2001).
New Orleans Versus the Rest of the State Cultural and racial divides between central cities and other areas throughout the state also heighten tensions between urban areas and state government (Gimpel & Schuknecht, 2002). Over time, a clear division existed between rural areas and cities. One source of this conflict involves which entities will control city politics. Another concerns stark differences in policy preferences. People outside of the cities, especially those in rural areas, were anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, and anti-alcohol, among other things (Berman, 2003). By contrast, cities had high percentages of immigrants and Catholics and tolerant views on alcohol consumption. State legislatures translated these views into an anti-urban bias. Stark differences between New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana, especially, but not exclusively, the northern part of the state, explain some of the tensions between the city and the state. Louisiana is a rural state; New Orleans is urban. Catholicism dominated New Orleans; Protestantism was the prominent religion in north Louisiana. Over time, various governors, legislators, mayors, and other actors played out the animosity and even hatred that Louisianans in general, and those in northern portion of the state in particular, felt toward New Orleans. Huey Long (governor from 1928–1932) and Earl Long (governor from 1939–1940; 1948–1952; 1956–1960 and lieutenant governor from 1937–1939) typified north Louisiana’s disdain for all things New Orleans, namely its religion, racial composition, and culture. Debates over control of the city and race continued to divide Louisiana governors and state legislatures against New Orleans after the Longs left office. Along with the Louisiana legislature, Governor Jimmie Davis (1944–1948; 1956–1960) opposed the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the integration of New Orleans public schools. In a special session of the legislature, the governor and state legislature passed a series of segregationist laws to circumvent the Brown decision (Garvey & Widmer, 2001). Governor Davis went so far as to take over the New Orleans schools to prevent desegregation. When that failed, he worked with the legislature to pass rigorous anti-integration laws (Crain, 1968; Parent, 2004, pp. 108–109). Davis and the state legislature “abolished the Orleans Parish School Board, forbade all transfers, ordered the closing of any school under a desegregation order, and revoked the accreditation of integrated schools and the certification of any teachers at those schools” (Parent, 2004, p. 108). These actions to oppose racial integration illustrate the lengths state leaders went to in order to exert power over New Orleans. They also highlight the differences between the state and the city. Edwin Edwards’ (1972–1980; 1984–1988; 1992–1996) fourth and final gubernatorial election highlighted the enduring racial and religious tensions between the rest of Louisiana and New Orleans. David Duke, Edwards’ opponent in the 1992 gubernatorial election and former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, received his strongest support from white Protestants and those in the rural parishes in north Louisiana (Robertson, 1991). In campaign speeches for the U.S. Senate in 1990, Duke “preached that the poor and minorities received too much assistance
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from the government and that the middle class did not get enough, instead being forced to pay for programs to assist the poor” (Renwick, Parent, & Wardlaw, 1999, p. 288). New Orleans and Louisiana traditionally battle over the importance of the city to the rest of the state. Most actors in New Orleans claim that as New Orleans goes economically, so goes the rest of the state. Consequently, they argue that the state should provide financial resources to New Orleans because of the city’s ability to generate revenue to state coffers. Prior to his inauguration in 2002, Mayor-elect Ray Nagin told reporters, “Around the state, people understand that if New Orleans really gets going, it’s good for the rest of the state” (Gyan, 2002). A year later, Nagin told the legislature, “We thank you for not hurting us yet” (The TimesPicayune, 2003). This statement clearly indicated that Nagin understood that legislators from around the state did not understand that what is good for New Orleans is good for the rest of the state. In 2003, Governor Mike Foster’s (1996–2004) former chief of staff, who served as president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau at the time, argued, “The reality is that wherever you’re from and whatever political bias you have, cultural orientation or background, if the city of New Orleans fails as an enterprise, so does the state. If New Orleans prospers, the state prospers” (Sayre, 2003).
LOUISIANA–NEW ORLEANS RELATIONS IN THE POST-KATRINA ERA How have these dimensions of the Louisiana–New Orleans historical-conflict played out in postKatrina New Orleans? Which elements of the predisaster relationship affected the interactions between these levels of government and the manner in which New Orleans recovered after Katrina, and why? Which dimensions didn’t have much of an impact at all, perhaps even when they were thought to possibly have such potential, and why? An historical overview suggests that financial assistance, control over urban policies, programs, and bureaucracies, and cultural, socioeconomic, and racial differences will be the greatest sources of conflict between New Orleans and Louisiana in the post-Katrina period. We trace the interactions between Louisiana state government and New Orleans city government in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in order to determine which dimensions of the state–city relationship set the stage for what transpired after Katrina. Specifically, we examine the extent to which financial aid and funding are correlated with enduring state and local tensions. Then, we address whether attempts by Louisiana’s state government to control governance and policy in post-Katrina New Orleans continued the conflict between the state and the city. Finally, we examine how residents from New Orleans and the rest of the state prioritize policy options in the post-Katrina period in order to determine if significant differences continue to exist between these parts of the state.
Money Typically, urban politics involves struggles over scarce resources, including funding. Ironically, in some instances of post-Katrina New Orleans, it appears that available funding remains unspent. Nearly a year to the day after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Mayor Nagin complained, “No real resources to help us stand up have gotten down to our level. Zero” (Krupa, 2006, p. 1). The object of Nagin’s criticisms was Governor Blanco, who responded that the state allocated $225 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the city (Krupa, 2006). In response to the governor, the mayor’s assistant chief administrative officer noted that Blanco included aid in her $225 million total that FEMA, and not the state, gave directly to city agencies (Krupa, 2006).
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As Blanco and Nagin fought over funding levels for the city, members of Blanco’s Administration insisted that Nagin need only request funds and he would receive them, but the state seemed unwilling or unable to detail the process for these requests (New Orleans CityBusiness, 2007). In a related example, FEMA recently indicated that New Orleans was eligible for hundreds of millions of dollars in road and infrastructure repairs through Public Assistance grants, but that the city’s Department of Public Works had not yet produced a necessary list of storm-damaged streets. The city responded that it was unaware of the grant program, and that it did not want to waste time cataloguing damage when other pressing issues remained (Warner, 2007). In his 2007 State of the City address Nagin touted the city’s success, but he made it clear that the state could be doing much more to help New Orleans. He blamed the state for its repeated failures to issue Road Home monies in a timely manner, and criticized the federal government for not properly compensating the city (Krupa, 2007a). The inability of the state and local governments to work together continued to affect the recovery. Control to Improve Governance The city of New Orleans supported most attempts by the state to control or change governance in post-Katrina New Orleans. Local leaders and citizens tended to either support or not outwardly oppose efforts by the state to improve public institutions and eliminate patronage, mismanagement, and corruption in the city. Hurricane Katrina provided an opportunity for the governor, the state legislature, and New Orleans citizens to attack the city’s corruption and mismanagement. They took advantage of this opportunity by proposing, passing, and ratifying measures to make New Orleans government more efficient and leaner. In the name of relief for New Orleans, the governor and the state legislature altered the structure of New Orleans public schools. According to Governor Blanco, Hurricane Katrina represented “a golden opportunity for rebirth” of New Orleans (Robelen, 2005, p. 1). The state seized the moment and reconfigured the Orleans Parish School system. This moment was met by some resistance but many others in the city either supported the transformation or held a neutral view. In the first special session devoted to rebuilding New Orleans, the Louisiana legislature authorized the state to take over 107 of the 128 schools in the Orleans Parish School District (Ritea, 2006). At the beginning of the first full school year after Katrina, the School Recovery District (RSD), which is the entity created by the state in the takeover amendment in 2003, controlled nearly 90% of the schools in New Orleans (Gewertz, 2006). By August of 2007, the city had three school systems: the Recovery School District, which is operated directly by the state, charter schools, which were authorized by the state, and the old Orleans Parish School District (Simon, 2007). “The [RSD] system serves slightly more than a third of all city public school students, while close to 20,000 students attend the city’s 40 charter schools and five traditional schools are still managed by the Orleans Parish School Board” (Simon, 2007, p. 1). In the second special session, the governor and the state legislature proposed a constitutional amendment to eliminate the New Orleans levee board. More than 80% of voters in the state and 90% of voters in New Orleans ratified this amendment. Another constitutional amendment consolidated the number of assessors in New Orleans from seven to one. In the vote to ratify the assessors amendment in November of 2006, 78% of the voters throughout Louisiana supported this measure and 68% of the New Orleans electorate favored the consolidation. The state legislature also streamlined other offices in New Orleans, including the sheriffs and the clerks of court (Russell, 2006). Control of Rebuilding In the post-Katrina period, issues about how to rebuild, which entities should lead the recovery, and the allocation of federal relief funds deeply divided the state of Louisiana and the city of
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New Orleans. One of Nagin’s initial attempts to provide a revenue stream for the city involved a plan to allow as many as seven new land-based casinos in New Orleans (Mowbray, 2005). Notwithstanding the monopoly state government previously granted to the downtown Harrah’s Casino, Nagin’s plan drew other criticism. Almost immediately, Blanco “urged caution” for the plan (The Times-Picayune, 2005). The idea would have required significant legislation, including the creation of a casino-zone in the city, as well as willing investment from the business community. Blanco’s lack of support, as well as skepticism on the part of the state legislature, caused Nagin to eventually withdraw the plan (Wall Street Journal, 2005). Louisiana and New Orleans created multiple commissions to deal with the city’s recovery. Federal funding requires disbursement agencies, and a recovery commission is an appropriate mechanism to allocate these funds. Both Nagin and Blanco created separate recovery commissions to deal with the aftermath of Katrina. Not to be outdone, New Orleans’ City Council created a third commission, and Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu (the eventual run-off candidate in the 2006 mayoral race in New Orleans) instituted yet another. Of the four, Nagin’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission and Blanco’s Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) proved most consequential. The City Council and Landrieu commissions faded from the start, and while the Bring New Orleans Back Commission provoked significant debate about the character of the reconstruction of the city, its proposed blueprints were marred by the now infamous “green-dot” map, which covered formerly occupied neighborhoods with potential green space. The uproar from the plans of the Bring New Orleans Back Commission forced Nagin to distance himself from his own commission, and left the LRA as the only effective recovery commission in the state. The creation and implementation of the state’s Road Home Program illustrate the ongoing battle over control of programs. Governor Blanco designed this program to award housing funding for those affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. She created the Road Home to disburse federal block grants when the federal government decided against creating a national-level bureaucracy. In a move that appeared politically motivated, the program was initially named Governor Blanco’s Road Home Program. Blanco’s public identification with the program served to promote a possible reelection campaign, and to lessen credit to Nagin, but, as time passed, Blanco decided to drop her name from the program as its performance dwindled. Almost immediately, the Road Home Program faced a variety of difficulties. The LRA put together the proposal for the program without knowing the extent of federal funding for the program, leaving open questions about award sizes, and once the legislation to create the program was finalized, critics questioned the ethics of hiring the same consulting firm that helped draft the plan, to also administer the program (Maggi, 2006). The consulting firm, ICF International, started slowly, processing just a fraction of the applications received in the 2006 calendar year (Grace, 2006). ICF continued to receive blame over the handling of Road Home claims. The firm, awarded a contract worth an estimated $756 million, infuriated the claimants with their plodding pace (Hammer, 2007). ICF blamed Parish offices for the lengthy closing process, and the mammoth tasks facing the LRA led Lt. Governor Landrieu to call for the establishment of a federal oversight committee, modeled after the Tennessee Valley Authority (Hammer, 2007). It turned out that parish government offices were not the only ones to blame for the delays. ICF, based in Virginia, failed to hire local appraisers to determine pre-Katrina home values, and when it recognized this flaw it turned to a subcontractor in California, which hired a subcontractor in Florida to procure a list of local appraisers in Louisiana, diluting the funding for the program while paying the subcontractors’ fees (Gill, 2007). Reacting to the failures of the LRA and the Road Home program, Nagin called for local control of the Road Home within the city limits. While highlighting the accomplishments of his administration in reviving city government, and the fact that his administration remained free of the historical corruption of the city, Nagin testified to a congressional subcommittee visiting
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New Orleans that he should be allowed to administer the funds to local awardees (Filosa, 2007). The state ignored Nagin’s pleas, but the mayor’s desire to control the funding for the rebuilding indicates a continuance of the tension-filled relationship between the state and New Orleans. The state and the city never saw eye-to-eye on how to lead the recovery process. They disagreed about the creation of the recovery commissions, Nagin’s casino plan, and the Road Home program. Recovery from such devastation is never easy, but other states affected by Katrina, such as Mississippi and Alabama, presented more streamlined processes. In previous disasters, states such as Florida proved able to unite to recover from past hurricanes, but New Orleans and Louisiana could not unify to pursue common goals. Differences Between New Orleans and the Rest of the State Public opinion polls illustrate the continuing schisms between New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana. New Orleans residents and people throughout the state hold contrasting views of state government’s spending priorities, the most important issues to the state, and the emphasis on rebuilding New Orleans (The Public Policy Research Lab, 2007). In the spring of 2007, 46% of New Orleans residents regarded rebuilding as one of the state’s three most important problems. By contrast, 30% of the people in the New Orleans metropolitan area excluding New Orleans, 29% of those in Baton Rouge, 20% of citizens in Southwest Louisiana, and just 13% of the residents in north Louisiana held this view (The Public Policy Research Lab, 2007). In the spring of 2007, nearly 70% of New Orleanians agreed that Louisiana should continue to focus on rebuilding New Orleans, even if that effort meant paying less attention to the rest of the state (The Public Policy Research Lab, 2007). By contrast, 47% of residents in Baton Rouge, 36% of those in north Louisiana, 35% of citizens in the New Orleans metropolitan area excluding New Orleans, and 32% in Southwest Louisiana held this opinion. Overall, 51% of Louisiana residents believed that the state paid too much attention to rebuilding New Orleans and that it needed to think about other issues and other areas of Louisiana (The Public Policy Research Lab, 2007). ENDURING TENSIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR COLLABORATION Clearly, battles over finances and which entity allocates those resources constitute one of the most important ways that the pre-catastrophe relations influenced the recovery process. The state of Louisiana hesitated to provide funds directly to New Orleans in the pre-Katrina period and this tendency became amplified in the post-Katrina era. New Orleans and the state also battled over which entity would dictate how the city rebuilds. Residents in the city of New Orleans and those throughout the rest of the state continued to maintain contrasting views about the importance of New Orleans to the rest of the state. By contrast, the city of New Orleans collaborated with the rest of the state in approving the elimination of the levee board and the reduction in the number of assessors in Orleans Parish. Many even accepted major changes to the city’s school system without much resistance. Why did certain state–local tensions continue while others tended to subside? Distrust of public officials in New Orleans explains why friction persisted in some areas but waned in others. Hurricane Katrina did not alter the governor and state legislature’s distrust of the city of New Orleans. Money drives the rebuilding of New Orleans and therefore, it sits at the center of the tensions between the city and state government. The state of Louisiana did not want the city to control hundreds of millions of federal recovery dollars. The city’s continuing problems with corruption and mismanagement led the state to want to account for, oversee, and dictate the terms of the spending of federal funds.
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Hurricane Katrina did not change how the city felt about not receiving aid. The city leaders complained about not getting the money in a timely fashion and the delay frustrated them. In the post-Katrina period, the pattern of state–local battles over money intensified. The state’s motivation for changing the number of assessors and eliminating the levee board also stemmed from a lack of trust in the ways that New Orleans managed its public policies. Hurricane Katrina gave an opportunity to the state and others to attack mismanagement. Many residents in New Orleans supported changes in the number of assessors and the elimination of the levee board because they too wanted an elimination of corruption and mismanagement in the public sector. Hurricane Katrina resulted in key demographic changes in the city. Studies of the 2006 mayoral election indicate key shifts in the New Orleans electorate, with blacks losing 10% of their share of the electorate, while whites gained a 10% share. As noted above, these changes, including a higher percentage of white voters, as well as an upward shift in the income of voters, strongly influenced post-Katrina elections. The constitutional change to the levee boards illustrates this shift. In this instance, the business community also joined in the call for the levee board consolidation (New Orleans CityBusiness, 2006). The change in the racial composition of the electorate, and perhaps more importantly, the shift in class levels of the electorate, lead to the possibility that when the interests of the remaining electorate coincide with the interests of the state—in this example, the desire for increased accountability and a reduction in the possibility of corruption and malfeasance—the city and state can cooperate. Several factors explain the favorable or neutral reactions to the state’s control over so many schools in Orleans Parish. First, as a result of Hurricane Katrina, many residents of predominantly white districts, which strongly supported the takeover measure in 2003, remained in the city after the storm. By contrast, many residents of majority-African American, which opposed the takeover measure in 2003, had yet to return to the city by the start of the 2006 school year. Next, the status of the school system was so awful that proponents of the reform saw the hurricane as an opportunity to improve the beleaguered district. Third, the RSD put the state in control of one-third of the schools, but other reforms increased local control. The creation of charter schools promised to increase local input in the functioning of New Orleans public schools, and many residents supported this change. In areas other than education, elected officials and citizens in New Orleans wanted the city, not the state, to control the rebuilding of the city. Hurricane Katrina did not change how those who remained in New Orleans felt about local autonomy. Throughout time, localities have feared losing autonomy to higher levels of government, and certainly, the state’s efforts to control the rebuilding enflamed New Orleanians’ attitudes that the city was losing autonomy. Hurricane Katrina did not change how the rest of the state felt toward New Orleans. In fact, it intensified the debate over the value of New Orleans to the rest of the state. State legislators from areas outside New Orleans will have to approve funding, policies, and other laws geared toward the recovery of the city. Decisions about how much to spend on New Orleans and whether to facilitate the rebuilding over issue-areas depends upon how these legislators regard the centrality of New Orleans to the state. Survey data indicate that people outside the New Orleans metropolitan area are much less enthusiastic about rebuilding the city than are those within this area. These opinions, which are often filtered through elected representatives, continue to heighten the tension between the city and the state. They influence the recovery because the state legislature will pursue spending and policy priorities that are not linked to the rebuilding of New Orleans. The tendency of those from north Louisiana and other parts of the state to want to focus on areas other than rebuilding New Orleans is a carryover from the pre-Katrina period. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina illustrates the significant role state government plays in urban affairs. The city’s governance structure changed after Katrina and state government led
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this effort. The governor and legislature championed efforts to eliminate the levee board in New Orleans and to cut the number of city assessors to one. The sluggish speed of the recovery, especially in the area of housing rebuilding and payments, is attributable in part to the state’s hesitancy to allocate federal funds to the city. What we find, then, is that even in the face of utter chaos, where there appears to be a strong potential for a wholesale rearrangement of political relationships, historical patterns continue to affect these relationships. Continuing struggles over funding, the direction of the rebuilding, and the operation of key services illustrate the impact of these historical patterns. Critics fault urban scholarship for failing to acknowledge or investigate the role of the state–local relationship, and this research indicates this relationship can play a critical role in the governance of a city.
1 All figures in this section are from The New Orleans Index (November 13, 2007), jointly prepared by The Brookings Institution and the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (available at: http://www.gnocdc.org/).
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