A quick thank you to those of who have been looking (but not finding) my posts the last few weeks. I've just returned from a brief assignment in Atlanta. And I thought I'd share with you some of the stories from New Orleans that you might have missed.
DIVISION AMONG DEMOCRATS
Understandably, most of the attention on the upcoming midterm elections has been on closely contested races where the winners may ultimately determine which party controls the House of Representatives. Here in Louisiana, that's not the case. The majority of the candidates in the 2nd congressional district are Democrats. However, there is a belief that a "balance of power" may turn on this race's outcome. Incumbent William Jefferson has been the focus of an FBI probe into an alleged bribery scheme. His supporters worry that if a first-term Democrat replaces Jefferson, they won't wield the same influence needed to push through important legislation for Louisiana's recovery. His critics worry that Jefferson's problems have already made him less powerful and influential in Congress. And so, on Saturday, the Louisiana Democratic Party made an unprecedented move by backing State Representative Karen Carter in the race instead of incumbent Jefferson. (This despite the fact that Jefferson has raised almost twice as much in this race as Carter.) But the state endorsement was probably less surprising than one a few days earlier when New Orleans most prominent Democrat, Mayor Ray Nagin, announced he will campaign for Jefferson. Why? Perhaps it comes back to the balance of power and who wields it. New Orleans CityBusiness has a fascinating commentary examining whether we could all be writing next spring about Congressman Nagin instead of Mayor Nagin.
FINDING THEIR WAY
In the first weeks and months after Katrina, I'm told that New Orleans was akin to a one-stoplight town. The storm twisted, mangled and blew away traffic lights, stop signs and street names. New Orleans residents, being the contrarians they are, set up their own traffic systems; sometimes turning one-way streets into two-ways or re-directing traffic with their home-made signs that they felt were more descriptive than the ones placed by the city. Now, a year later, the city has received the first set of monies from FEMA in order to begin replacing traffic signs. City officials guess that they'll have to replace up to 20,000 of them throughout the city. Our tremendous NBC affiliate here, WDSU, is even asking viewers to help city workers find each and every one of those missing or damaged signs. It's quite an undertaking. It's estimated the sign project will take at least until next spring.
ANOTHER SIGN OF THE TIMES
We've reported a great deal about the crime problem here. Police believe many of the deadly shootings are either between rival groups who are fighting for control of neighborhoods and the corresponding drug trade or between individuals who carry out revenge shootings for real or imagined slights against members of their families or friends. But two of the most recent incidents involved innocent victims. Both happened in the trendy art/club district known as the Marigny. Monday's shooting happened outside a popular restaurant, and a tourist couple from California got caught in the crossfire. The husband pushed his wife to the ground out of the line of fire, but he was grazed. A day later, another innocent couple was held at gunpoint while walking through the area. But this time, the ROBBER was shot. Seems as though the woman's companion took out his own concealed weapon (yes, he had a permit) and shot the robber dead, according to the Times-Picayune. It looks like it will be considered a legal case of self-defense. Long-time residents are wondering what would be worse: That tourists become too afraid to visit or they start to come to the city, armed.
This Sunday, the Norwegian Sun came home to New Orleans, marking the first time cruise ships have departed from this port since Katrina. All told, four ships will sail from the ports here at least through next spring. Bringing cruise ships back has been one thing, bringing tourists back, another. All the cruise lines are waiting to see if they can attract enough passengers willing to use New Orleans as a base for their cruises to the Caribbean or Mexico. The industry is no small part of the city's economic recovery. Downtown hotels, the French Quarter and the Riverwalk retail center have all been waiting on the cruise ships and conventions to help jump start their recovery. Check out this article on MSNBC.com for a great explanation of what the industry means to New Orleans.
IF I HAD A HAMMER...
What will it take to rebuild the Mississippi Gulf Coast? Thousands of workers, according to Gov. Haley Barbour. As the SunHerald reports, the state has announced an innovative new program to train 20,000 workers in basic construction over the next three years. The training is free. I researched a similar program in Mississippi a few weeks ago and found that these programs are not only attracting folks who want to make a good living. They're also luring in just plain folks who want to use their newfound skills to rebuild their own homes. I guess you might consider that the ultimate DIY project.
SAINTS ARE HEAVENLY
And finally, if you were busy this weekend catching your favorite team play, you might have missed another great game. On Sunday, the New Orleans Saints defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 27-24 in a stunning fourth quarter comeback. No one wants to get ahead of themselves, but there's cautious talk of what might happen if their spectacular start continues the entire season. This week, talk radio has been filled with people who talk emotionally about how the team has come to represent their hopes for a better future. And it's not just the victories that have given residents hope. Rookie running back Reggie Bush and head coach Sean Payton have lent their time, money and names to rebuilding efforts across the city. Even if this is not the Saints' "Cinderella season," the team has already given the city so much. Go to the official Saints site and click on multimedia, if you missed the game and would like to see and hear some of the highlights and interviews.
Thanks for bearing with me. It's nice to be back. I promise to post frequently from here on out, and we'll bring back our "Faces from the Gulf" feature soon, too.