Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Critic: Full-time pay, half-time work
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana -- I had heard a lot about Edward Blakely, the so-called "master of disaster" turned New Orleans recovery czar. Mayor Ray Nagin announced his hiring last December, at $150,000 a year. So we figured it was time to see just what he has accomplished since then. After all, he'd earned the name "master of disaster" after helping California recover from the Oakland fires and a major earthquake, so we figured he's gotta be good, right?

Well, that depends on who you ask. People we talked to around the city of New Orleans told us Blakely hasn't done much but embarrass them. Shortly after his hiring, he referred to the people of New Orleans as "buffoons" following a planning meeting. He also promised cranes in the sky by September of this year, part of his $1.1 billion blueprint for recovery. He told us exactly where to look for the cranes he says are there, but we never found them.

So I asked Blakely directly: What have you accomplished since you came on board in December?

"First, we have the plan. Secondly, we have about $500 million we didn't have before," Blakely said. "The LSU complex is another accomplishment. ...Practically every street in the city is being repaired. That didn't happen before I got here. The signs are up. City is running."

To hear Blakely tell it, he's practically rebuilt the city of New Orleans single-handedly. Critics say Blakely doesn't really deserve the credit.

"That is not Dr. Blakely. Those are initiatives that were done by the Louisiana legislature and other bodies. I think what he unfortunately has the tendency to do is take credit for things that are not his doing," said New Orleans talk radio host Jeff Crouere.

Blakely has also been criticized for being absent from New Orleans much of the time. He has also been teaching in Australia at the University of Sydney and travels around the United States giving speeches.

"Being paid $150,000 to do a full-time job and getting half-time commitment was really disappointing to a lot of people," Crouere told us.

How does Blakely feel about the criticism?

"People can say whatever they want. I just have to do my job," he said.

Mayor Nagin says we're all going to be surprised by Blakely's successes. But when -- many others in New Orleans want to know -- is he going to start getting results?

-- By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 2:41 PM ET
  12 Comments
It sounds like the taxpayers in Louisiana and New Orleans are paying the salary of a man that is all talk, and little action. It's not possible for anyone to do all that needs to be done without being in the city a good portion of the time. The city of New Orleans should demand a refund from this guy.
Posted By Amanda, Westfield, NC : 2:50 PM ET
Hi Randi,
It seems to me that the constant chaos of how to rebuild, where to rebuild...should of, would of, could of's...I'd hope that the bottom line reasoning will be, what's good for the real, live, breathing human beings, who call the Gulf Coast their home.
Two years is too long. I'm glad there are successes, but that success has to be felt by many or it's all just words.
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 3:41 PM ET
I'm betting there are others just like Dr. Blakely who are making money at the expense of those who really need it. Will NOLA ever catch a break? Thanks for the reporting.
Posted By Kathy Chicago,Il : 4:43 PM ET
Randi,
Dr. Blakely says he has a plan, but does anyone know what exactly his plan is?

On 9/13/05 (before being hired), Dr. Blakely posted an online opinion "that the first thing to do for New Orleans is to provide the hope and the plan to rebuild it near or almost exactly as it was originally. We will have to build the place with new materials and new local planning rules, but the character will have to look and feel much like it did before" (quote taken from www.onlineopinion.com.au)

Then on 12/08/06, after being appointed by Mayor Nagin, Blakely suggested that "In a Southern port like New Orleans, the future may lie with trade with Latin America. With that goal in mind, the city should rebuild with the right kinds of wharves, warehouses, rail lines and roads", and "perhaps Spanish instruction should be mandatory at early ages in the city's schools", and "some neighborhoods may want to consider concentrating development on high ground, and allowing for more mixed uses, with storefronts at street level and residences above". (quoted taken from www.nola.com)

I'm afraid that Dr. Blakely sold one plan in order to get the job, and now plans to turn New Orleans into an industrialized port city. That would be another true disaster to one of the most enchanting cities in America.
Posted By Jan from Wood Dale, IL : 6:53 PM ET
Hey Randi!

Doesn't Dr. Blakely's plan sound a lot like Chertoff's plan for the border?

You remember: Right time, right place, right cost--Which means nothing has been done and there are no plans for doing anything.

Hope that money is earning interest somewhere.

Thank you for all the hard work you've contributed to Katrina and to 360!

Maggie
Posted By Maggie, Grain Valley, MO : 7:07 PM ET
Sounds like another Nagin to me. I guess though from a Nagin appointment one shouldn't expect much, but the people from NOLA certainly deserve better.
Posted By Annie Kate, Birmingham AL : 7:57 PM ET
This is a message to the rest of the United States. I am a citizen of that city called New Orleans. I personally road through Hurricane Katrina at my home. I have never left since then. This story about Dr. Blakely reminded me of who he is. It has been so long since I have even heard this name. I have forgotten who he was. It is two years since the "worst natural disaster in U.S. history" and all we hear from the government (on all levels) is "we now have a plan". I do agree that we need a plan. Unfortunately, the most important part of any plan has been forgotten. That is enact the plan. Plans do no good if they are never turned into action. H. Verlander, New Orleans, LA.
Posted By Anonymous : 9:17 PM ET
I think New Orleans may be better off if they would build homes and business on stills and then allow the lake to flood the area. I am serious. This would be New orleans' "Venice". Property values would go up, tourims would have a new nitch, and let's not forget about casino boats. People would have boats and canoes rather than cars. A new identify in an old city! I think this provides an ecological solution that allows nature to take its course. Just image!
Posted By Frank Vazquez, Hartsville, SC : 10:59 PM ET
The report on NOLA 2 years after was well done! Both sides of the coin were well revealed. I am an original New Orleans lady, living in Nothern California. I get back to "the city that care forgot" as often as possible. I have driven from Nola to Florida and have seen what Katrina has done to the gulf coast. Thank you for the report, the public needs to be informed. And I agree, NOLA should have a great memorial set up for everything that the great city had lost.

Many Thanks!

~missy
Posted By Anonymous : 12:48 AM ET
On a related point, it was reported yesterday that the US has already distributed $96 billion dollars towards Katrina and its related "fix". This is an unconscionable amount of money, whether it can be accounted for is another issue. Where is it written that the US taxpayers have to pay this amount to restore any community hit by natural disaster. This is bad policy and bad precedence to set.
Posted By Lawrence : 8:15 AM ET
I'd like to know when we can all be surprised with a few Mayor Nagin successes or results. Seems like he has just shut down.
Posted By Gypsy : 12:00 PM ET
I think people would be foolish or naive to believe that it is up to one person (Ed Blakely) to rebuild New Orleans. He can help create the plan and coordinate it but it takes many (not only him) to make it happen.
Posted By Anonymous : 11:40 PM ET
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