Candidates visit New Orleans

The Baltimore Sun

The presidential candidates returned to New Orleans yesterday to press for the rebuilding of the city, using the coming second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to attack the Bush administration while highlighting their initiatives to aid the people there.

Saying that New Orleans "occupies a central place in my campaign," John Edwards offered a variety of proposals - from getting more police officers into the city to improving health care - at a forum there that also featured one of his main Democratic rivals, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Such visits to New Orleans have become a regular part of the campaign circuit for candidates in both parties, but especially for Democrats seeking to capitalize on the Katrina-related failures of the Bush administration.

Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, kicked off his presidential campaign in New Orleans in December and started his much-publicized anti-poverty campaign last month with a walk through the devastated Lower Ninth Ward.

In addition to her visit last night, Clinton toured the city in May, focusing on areas that benefited from the fundraising efforts of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and the first President George Bush. And Sen. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat, went on a walking tour of a New Orleans neighborhood Sunday and called for streamlining the bureaucracy to funnel aid to the city and strengthen law enforcement there.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a Republican, echoed Obama's sentiments at yesterday's forum at the University of New Orleans, saying that bureaucracy has stalled the recovery of the city. Huckabee said the government needs to put "people first, paperwork next in a disaster the size of Katrina."

But no candidate is trying to associate himself more with New Orleans than Edwards, who has used the city as a microcosm for larger issues of poverty, one of his core campaign themes.

"Katrina was one of the moments where the curtain is pulled away and we can all see the problems of poverty and racial discrimination for what they are," Edwards said in remarks prepared for delivery last night, "and how far we have to go for equal rights and economic justice."

Nearly every candidate has called for more police officers, better health care and an elimination of the corruption and red tape that has slowed recovery.

New Orleans' recovery from the storm has been hampered as officials try to ensure that billions of federal dollars being sent to the area are spent properly. But critics have complained that the accountability procedures are keeping money from getting to individuals and neighborhoods that need it most.

The city's population continues to grow - now estimated at about 270,000, compared with a pre-Katrina level of 455,000.

But Huckabee said about half of the 75,000 Louisiana residents who fled to Arkansas are still there, and that he thinks they will stay there because of job opportunities, stability and the need to get away from the storm's trauma.

Edwards said he supports efforts to reduce a nursing shortage and to build a proposed biomedical corridor. He said he would prosecute cronyism among private contractors and use the settlement money to pay for more police officers.

He said he would also appoint an inspector-general to examine potential misuse of federal recovery funds and pick someone to oversee the rebuilding who would report directly to the president.

Clinton, in her tour of New Orleans in May, had proposed streamlining federal rules to speed the distribution of federal relief money and has also proposed legislation to make the Federal Emergency Management Agency an independent, Cabinet-level department.

The visits came as the Republican presidential field awaited the expected entry into the race of former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee. On a visit to Minnesota yesterday, Thompson, who has not formally declared his candidacy, signaled that an announcement would be made soon.

"I'll have a statement to make on that in the near future," he said. "It's not part of a campaign strategy or being cute or anything like that. We've been working hard for a long time. We've been doing in a few months what others have taken years to do, in some cases."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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