COVINGTON, La. (BP)–With a tool belt around his waist and a hard hat close by, President Bush said Oct. 11 that the federal government will not dictate terms for rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina but will support the key decisions made by local leaders.
“I don’t think Washington ought to dictate to New Orleans how to rebuild,” Bush said during an interview alongside his wife, Laura, on NBC’s “Today” show. The president, standing on a Habitat for Humanity building site in Covington, La., added that he told New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin that “we will support the plan that you develop.”
During his eighth visit to the coast since Katrina hit, Bush met with a group of local civic leaders chosen to lead rebuilding efforts in New Orleans in order to hear their concerns and ideas. The group, along with Nagin, dined with the president and first lady at the Italian-Creole restaurant Bacco in the French Quarter Oct. 10, according to The Washington Post.
Bush’s meal with local leaders was partly meant to display a sense of revival in the devastated city, and later he spent the night at the Windsor Court hotel as opposed to bunking on the USS Iwo Jima military ship as he did on his previous overnight trip to the region several weeks ago.
“I think we’ve seen the spirits change,” Bush said on NBC. “The storm hit and it was an overwhelming moment for a lot of people, and then they’re beginning to realize there’s hope. There’s a chance to rebuild lives, and a lot of people care about them. I’ve seen some infrastructure change — debris has been cleared and roads are being rebuilt. It’s a remarkable spirit here in this part of the world. People have said, ‘We want to rebuild our lives,’ and they’ve realized a lot of people from around the country want to help them.”
Laura Bush expressed concern about the youngest victims of the hurricane continuing their education.
“I’m worried about the schools. I’m really interested in that,” she said. “But I’m also proud that so many people have gone to school — so many parents have put their kids in school wherever they are, if they’re in Houston or Fort Worth or Baton Rouge, and I think that’s really important.”
The president countered questions that his trips to the region were photo opportunities in an effort to make up for what some say was a less than ideal government response in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.
“One of the things that I suggested was we keep the politics out of New Orleans and Mississippi as we all work together to rebuild these communities,” he said. “And we’ve got people here who volunteered their time from all over the country and they didn’t say, ‘I’m a Democrat and I’m going to work here’ or ‘I’m a Republican and I’m going to come and work here.’ They said, ‘I’m an American that wants to contribute.’
“And the reason why Laura and I are here is because we want to encourage other Americans to help somebody find shelter or help somebody find food or to continue to express the incredible compassion that the country saw when displaced persons moved from this part of the world to scatter around the country,” he added.
The first lady said the visit also was meant to express gratitude to those Americans who are reaching out to those in need.
“[T]his gives us a chance to thank the people who do this all the time, not just in a crisis situation, but who volunteer with Habitat in their towns wherever they are across the country,” Laura Bush said. “… It’s very American to step out and help.”
After leaving Covington, the president and first lady traveled to Pass Christian, Miss., to celebrate the reopening of Delisle Elementary School there, which Bush said was “a sign that out of the rubble in Mississippi is a spirit of rebuilding.”