Published October 03, 2012
It's the Obama speech on race you probably haven't heard.
In June 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama told a mostly black audience of ministers that the country's leaders "don't care about" New Orleans residents, suggesting the city was neglected in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina because of institutional racism, according to an unedited video reported on by The Daily Caller.
In the address, delivered during the upswing of the Democratic presidential primary season, candidate Obama specifically criticizes in outspoken terms the decision not to waive a federal law known as the Stafford Act that requires communities hit by disasters to match 10 percent of federal aid.
“When 9/11 happened in New York City, they waived the Stafford Act. … And that was the right thing to do,” he tells the crowd at Hampton University in Virginia. “When Hurricane Andrew struck in Florida, people said, 'Look at this devastation. We don't expect you to come up with your own money. Here, here's the money to rebuild. We're not going wait for you to scratch it together, because you're part of the American family.' "
Obama, echoing rapper Kanye West's infamous anti-Bush remarks a couple years earlier, then argues that New Orleans was treated differently, suggesting the reason was that the city is mostly black.
"What's happening down in New Orleans? Where's your dollar? Where's your Stafford Act money?" Obama says. "Makes no sense. ... Tells me that somehow the people down in New Orleans they don't care about as much."
The Obama campaign, in response to the resurfacing of the video, noted that the speech was covered in 2007 and claimed the fresh attention was an attempt to change the subject away from Mitt Romney's own controversial comments about the "47 percent" of Americans who don't pay taxes.
"In a transparent attempt to change the subject from his comments attacking half of the American people, Mitt Romney's allies recirculated video of a 2007 event that was open to and extensively covered by the press at the time," spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement. "The only thing shocking about this is that they apparently think it's wrong to suggest that we should help returning veterans, children leaving foster care and other members of Mitt Romney's 47 percent get training that will allow them to find the best available jobs. If the Romney campaign believes that Americans will accept these desperate attacks tonight in place of specific plans for the middle class, it's they who are in for a surprise."
Media organizations covered the speech at the time, but the Daily Caller said the video it obtained showed parts of the speech that had never been publicized. It posted what it said was the complete speech on the website.
By January 2007, nearly a year and a half after Hurricane Katrina hit, the federal government had committed $110 billion to relief efforts in areas hit by Katrina through a variety of programs, including Community Development Block Grants, funding for the Corps of Engineers and Small Business Administration loans, according to a report that May by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic and Statistics Administration.
But at the time of Obama's speech, there were still concerns about federal response to the disaster under the Stafford Act, which governs relief efforts. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was unwilling to waive the law’s 10 percent local match provision for aid, like it did after the Sept. 11 attacks and other hurricanes.
“One reason cited for FEMA’s reluctance to waive the 10 percent match in New Orleans is concern about corruption,” the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies said in a 2008 report on the relief efforts.
That report also noted that then-Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco was pushing in early 2007 for a federal law eliminating the 10 percent match. The House passed the bill, but it stalled in the Senate and President Bush had threatened to veto it.
The complete video of Obama’s 2007 speech, surfacing barely a month before the presidential election and the night before Obama’s first debate with Romney, could complicate Obama’s efforts to avoid a politically risky debate over race that partly ensnared him during the 2008 race. Four years ago, his fiery pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, became a political liability over videos that showed Wright making controversial statements.
Obama, after initially defending him, eventually was forced to condemn Wright publicly, and the controversy prompted Obama to deliver his much-heralded 2008 address on race in Philadelphia.
Wright reportedly attended the 2007 speech, and in the video obtained by the Daily Caller, Obama is heard calling Wright "my pastor, the guy who puts up with me, counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me. He's a friend and a great leader. Not just in Chicago, but all across the country."
The Daily Caller also highlighted a segment in which Obama questions federal priorities in transportation spending.
"We need additional federal public transportation dollars flowing to the highest-need communities. We don’t need to build more highways out in the suburbs. If we have people in the cities right now who want to work but have no way to get into those jobs, we've got to help connect them to the jobs that exist,” Obama said. “We should be investing in minority-owned businesses, in our neighborhoods, so people don’t have to travel from miles away.”