Obama: New Orleans Not Forgotten
NEW ORLEANS - President Obama praised the resiliency of this city's residents in rebuilding their flood-wrecked homes and promised to continue funneling federal dollars to the effort.
"It is always an inspiration to spend time with the men and women who have reminded the rest of us what it means to persevere in the face of tragedy and rebuild in the face of ruin," Obama said during a town-hall-style meeting Thursday at the University of New Orleans.
Obama's visit to New Orleans - his first as president and his sixth since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005 - was eagerly awaited by residents and leaders throughout the Gulf Coast, who still rely on federal resources to rebuild from the floods.
Obama brought along members of his Cabinet, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
His first stop was the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School - the first school to reopen in the Lower 9th Ward since Katrina - where he met with students in the cafeteria.
From there, he traveled to the University of New Orleans' lakefront campus, a few blocks from where intake canal levees busted during Katrina, unleashing floods that crushed homes and helped destroy 80% of the city.
As Obama walked into the Recreation and Fitness Center, the crowd roared in approval, reminiscent of his concertlike campaign appear-ances last year.
"It's more than significant that he's here," said state Rep. Barbara Norton, who was in attendance. "He's concerned, and he wants to help get Louisiana back on its feet."
Obama lost Louisiana to presidential rival John McCain during last year elections, but he remains highly popular in New Orleans, a majority Democratic city.
The event drew local leaders from both parties, including Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and Gov. Bobby Jindal, also a Republican, who met Obama at Louis Armstrong International Airport and escorted him most of the day.
When Obama publicly thanked Jindal, the overwhelmingly Democratic crowd booed.
"Bobby, if it makes you feel any better, I get that all the time," Obama said, drawing laughs. He added, "This person's working hard on behalf of the state."
In his 20-minute speech, Obama praised innovations in the city's public schools, pledged to keep rebuilding levees and wetlands to protect the area from future storms and promised to improve government assistance.
"As we continue this recovery effort, I've made it clear that we're not going to tolerate the usual turf wars between agencies," he said.
"I promise you this . . . we will never forget about New Orleans. We will never forget about the Gulf Coast."