“Time won’t leave me as I am, but time won’t take the boy out of this man”--”City of Blinding Lights”, U2

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Leadership during Catastrophe

Catastrophe often reveals great leadership in people who keep their heads and provide a calm, cool presence that can be reassuring to others (what Rabbi Edwin Friedman calls a “non-anxious presence” in his book Generation to Generation.), e.g. Mayor Rudy Giuliani, during the 9/11 aftermath. Others respond somewhat less greatly. Consider New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin who waited until SUNDAY to issue a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans, despite warnings that Hurricane Katrina would be catastrophic for the city as early as Saturday. N. Z. Bear thinks he should be prosecuted for negligent homicide.

I was prepared not to second-guess Mayor Nagin. After all, anyone can arm-chair quarterback. But then he fumed at failed attempts to repair the breached levees. From CNN:

"There is way too many fricking ... cooks in the kitchen," Nagin said in a phone interview with WAPT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi, fuming over what he said were scuttled plans to plug a 200-yard breach near the 17th Street Canal, allowing Lake Pontchartrain to spill into the central business district. An earlier breach occurred along the Industrial Canal in the city's Lower 9th War.


But Nagin said a repair attempt was supposed to have been made Tuesday.

According to the mayor, Black Hawk helicopters were scheduled to pick up and drop massive 3,000-pound sandbags in the 17th Street Canal breach, but were diverted on rescue missions. Nagin said neglecting to fix the problem has set the city behind by at least a month.

"I had laid out like an eight-week to ten-week timeline where we could get the city back in semblance of order. It's probably been pushed back another four weeks as a result of this," Nagin said.

(Hat tip: Neal Boortz).

Brady Westwater (LA Cowboy) is not impressed with Mayor Nagin’s decision making skills:

Person at Tulane hospital gave an interview to WDSU describing a fishing boat filled with looters armed with guns patroling the streets and then she describing how looters were breaking into the doctor's cars in the hospital parking garage while they are trying to save lives.

But, Mayor Nagin still needs another night before he decides if it is appropriate to call for martial law citywide rather than in just some areas.

(Hat tip: Mickey Kaus)

Louisiana Governor Blanco understands that relief efforts are a “logistical nightmare”. But her constant repetition of it makes for a cliched response. However, it is clear she is genuinely moved by the plight of the victims. In times of catastrophe, calm (non-frustrated), empathic leadership that points toward a hopeful future will do more than frustrated, overly-critical leadership that pensively makes decisions.

Update: A reader of The Corner emails JPod:

The mayor of NOLA is in complete denial (he spoke last night of the refugees in the Superdome "waiting it out") except when he's angry (publicly blaming others for the levee break not being fixed) ; the governor of LA is emotionally broken. She keeps speaking of "trying to figure out" how to evacuate people; "trying to figure out" how to put refugees somewhere else, etc. As you noted, she can't even say that looting is wrong; the most outrage she can muster is "where are they taking the loot to, anyway?" She can't even see that her brokenness demonstrates that no one is in charge, and the more that people see that, the more utter chaos and lawlessness are spread. Honestly, I think it is clear that the state and local authorities *cannot* do this. The federal govt needs to come in Right Now. FEMA waiting on the outside isn't the issue. Getting command authority into the hands of people who can make decisions and take action is the point. It's time for us to demand the feds to take control before this nightmare of anarchy swallows all of Louisiana.
Update: After reading John's comments, I want to make clear that I don't endorse N. Z. Bear's suggestion to arrest NO's mayor. I'm not sure even N. Z. Bear is seriously advocating it. But I'm hoping the Lousisiana leadership will step up better than they seem to thus far.

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