MIAMI – Race was a factor in the death toll from Hurricane Katrina (search), Howard Dean (search) told members of the National Baptist Convention of America (search) on Wednesday at the group's annual meeting.
Dean, chairman of the Democratic party, made the comments to the Baptists' Political and Social Justice Commission. The Baptist Convention, with an estimated 3.5 million members, is one of the largest black religious groups in the country.
"We must ... come to terms with the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a deadly role in who survived and who did not," Dean said.
Dean said Americans have a moral responsibility to not ignore the devastating damage caused by Hurricane Katrina when it struck the Gulf Coast.
The former presidential candidate said the government will be judged by how it treats the old, the young and the poor.
"People are poor in different parts of the country. They are not refugees. They are Americans," he said.
Dean said that instead of considering proposed estate tax breaks, the Senate should channel the money into disaster relief.
"Shall we give that to the wealthiest people in the country, or should we rebuild New Orleans?" Dean said.
Dean also urged the government to exempt victims of Hurricane Katrina from a stricter new bankruptcy law for one year.
Ken Mehlman, Dean's counterpart at the Republican National Committee, said he hoped Dean "will match his rhetoric with his support for reforms that replace bureaucracy and entitlement with hope and opportunity."
Stephen J. Thurston, president of the Baptist Convention, said there was a lack of response and sensitivity by the government following the Gulf Coast disaster.