Washington — The necessity created by Hurricane Katrina when it struck New Orleans 10 years ago proved to be the mother of the invention of a better city, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Tuesday in a speech at the National Press Club.
But much work remains to be done — particularly in the area of race relations, Landrieu said.
“We are America’s comeback city,” Landrieu said. “After Katrina, it was do or die. The storm laid down the gauntlet and with huge tragedy came huge responsibility.
“We made the decision to change,” he said. “And what has emerged on the other side is the premier example of urban innovation in America.
“Because we had to, New Orleans has taken on the toughest of challenges, showing the whole nation what it takes to make progress.”
A dysfunctional school system that ranked with the worst in the nation has given way to one “defined by choice, equity and accountability” that is producing improved results for students, Landrieu said.
A network of neighborhood health clinics, initially financed by a federal grant after the storm, continues to provide more responsive care than what was available in the overburdened charity hospital system before 2005, he said.
New Orleans also has taken major strides to improve housing and tackle homelessness; to reduce crime, despite a recent uptick in the murder rate; to upgrade hurricane preparedness; and to turn a stagnant economy into one that attracts new businesses and creates jobs, Landrieu said.
And next week, he said, the city will announce a “long-term resilience strategy” in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation to establish New Orleans as a global model by 2018, the 300th anniversary of the city’s founding.
“Now New Orleans is a beacon of light, the capital of what some have called ‘the New South,’ ” he said.
“So I believe the South will rise again,” Landrieu said — but not the old South of slavery, Confederate flags and monuments.
That means a region strengthened, not weakened, by diversity, wrestling with “the good, the bad and everything in between.”
“We in New Orleans lie at the heart of this struggle,” he said.
“The South has a lot to offer the United States of America,” Landrieu said, “but we have got to put down this issue of race.
“As much as we desire to be in a post-racial world, I don’t think we’re there yet.”
In a question-and-answer session after his speech, Landrieu was asked how flamboyant Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump might get along in a state with a rich political tradition of outsized personalities.
“Donald Trump would fit in real good with Huey Long and with Edwin Edwards,” he said. “One thing we have done in Louisiana is add some color to the word colorful. One thing you’ve got to say about The Donald, he is spicing it up.”
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