20,000 in Lafayette, La., challenge city to provide services

A town hall meeting of Katrina survivors stranded in FEMA trailer camps just outside Lafayette, La., took place April 19. The 20,000 displaced now make up 20 percent of the town’s population, yet have no access to transportation, decent education, health care, jobs or civic participation. Lafayette received federal funds as a “diaspora city,” but has earmarked the funds for building roads, not addressing survivors’ needs. The trailer camp residents come from numerous towns and parishes in South Louisiana and Texas, including Lake Charles, New Iberia and Grand Isle. Some 3,500 trailer camp residents are now registered to vote in Lafayette.

Elections roll on amid protests

Despite protests from the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, the Urban League and scores of grassroots organizations, the New Orleans April 22 municipal elections are under way. This local election has national attention and implications.

There are voters in all 50 states eligible to vote for mayor of one city, said Susan Howell, a University of New Orleans pollster. “This is the most unusual mayoral election in American history.”

In the mayor’s race, Mayor Ray Nagin has 22 challengers. Of that group, seven were considered serious enough to participate in a nationally televised debate on the CNBC “Chris Matthews Show.” Although elections are nonpartisan, a clear split occurred during the debate when Matthews asked the candidates their assessment of President Bush’s response to the disaster. Three candidates approved Bush’s performance, while the remaining four, including Nagin, sharply condemned the administration.

FEMA will not pay for the New Orleans elections, although following 9/11, The agency paid $7.9 million to reschedule and organize New York City’s elections. The cost associated with replacing destroyed voting machines, setting up polling locations, making nationwide voter contacts, handling increased absentee ballots, training new election judges and tackling other infrastructure issues is estimated to be $4 million.

“Does President Bush care about the democratic process in New Orleans?” asked Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater. Alter vowed to become “obsessive-compulsive” to force FEMA to treat New Orleans the same as New York.

Gov’s plan lacks affordable housing

Gov. Kathleen Blanco presented a plan April 18 to “rebuild” New Orleans. But it only provides 6,000 affordable rental housing units. It also reduces assistance to homeowners who used their insurance settlements to make mortgage payments on their property even though the property was unlivable.

“The plan ‘as is’ is not going to give residents back their city,” a coalition of groups said in a joint press release. “It undermines the right to return by denying residents access to the resources needed to rebuild their lives,” the New Orleans Survivor Council, Advancement Project and the Lower Ninth Ward Homeowners Association said.