Obama, Cabinet members coming to New Orleans

Published 12:17 am Sunday, October 11, 2009

President Barack Obama and at least three members of his Cabinet will visit New Orleans on Thursday to hold a town meeting and view progress in the city’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

It will be Obama’s first trip to the area since he took office, fulfilling a promise he made Aug. 29, the fourth anniversary of Katrina, to visit the area before year’s end.

The White House said late Friday in a news release that Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also will review recovery progress at events around the area.

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Obama toured the city five times between Katrina and his inauguration. The town meeting will be his first such event open to the public.

Seating will be limited, and information about how to get tickets will be released soon, the announcement said.

Both of Louisiana’s U.S. senators said they were pleased the president is coming but concerned that his visit would be too brief.

“If the town hall is the only major event of the visit, I truly think it will be deeply disappointing to most citizens,” David Vitter, a Republican, said in a letter which he released Friday. He urged Obama to visit several sites and take helicopter tours of areas affected by coastal erosion.

Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, said, “I cannot overstate the importance of the president seeing Louisiana’s challenges in four critical areas — flood protection and coastal restoration, housing, education, and health care. Through his visit, President Obama can offer hope and witness seeds of progress in a region that desperately needs a committed federal partner.”

After the Cabinet members’ participation was announced, Vitter said, “I would simply reiterate my letter to the president. He needs a full day’s visit, including several site tours, focused discussion with community leaders and an aerial tour of surrounding parishes.”

Landrieu said she welcomed the Cabinet members but did not say whether their participation would ease her concern.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office said Friday that he did not have details of the visit but planned to participate.

The White House announcement said Obama’s administration is committed to “cutting through the bureaucratic red tape that has delayed assistance and improving coordination among federal agencies and with state and local partners who have too often failed to collaborate over the past four years.”

It said the administration has freed up “more than $1 billion in public assistance projects that had been stuck for years.”