Transcript: New Orleans' Recovery on 'FNS'

Published December 26, 2005

| FoxNews.com

The following is a transcript from "FOX News Sunday" on Dec. 25, 2005:

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: The holiday spirit alive and well in New Orleans. It's been almost four months since Hurricane Katrina of ravaged the Gulf Coast. Now residents and businesses are slowly returning to New Orleans.

On this Christmas day, we want to discuss how the rebuilding effort is going. Joining us is Louisiana Senator David Vitter and, from our New York studios, Wynton Marsalis, the jazz great who grew up in New Orleans and is now director of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

And, gentlemen, welcome and merry Christmas to both of you.

U.S. SENATOR DAVID VITTER, R-LA.: Merry Christmas, Chris and Wynton.

WYNTON MARSALIS, MUSICIAN: Merry Christmas.

WALLACE: Senator Vitter, I understand that New Year's is the official reopening of the city. How is the holiday season going in New Orleans?

VITTER: It's a real time of rebirth. So many families from Texas and Atlanta and across the country are coming back permanently for the first time since the storm, and so much of our economy and our life and our culture is coming back, a lot of it tied to tourism. So this really is a big start in terms of our continuing recovery.

WALLACE: Mr. Marsalis, any special memories of New Orleans at Christmastime?

MARSALIS: Man, so many memories of playing in various churches, playing the "Messiah," going to midnight mass. There's parades, different things that take place. There's so many, I can't recall them. Of course, the gumbo and the food, going to different people's houses, eating, talking about whose momma cooks the best food, stuff like that.

WALLACE: You know what? You make me hungry and wanting to hear some good music just listening to you.

Senator Vitter, let's get a little serious. Give us an update on how New Orleans is doing. I know that less than a quarter of the half million people who used to live there are now back in New Orleans.

What are living conditions like? How are city services? How's the electricity?

VITTER: Well, it really varies a lot neighborhood by neighborhood. There are many neighborhoods which are back almost to normal. Now, many of those have not flooded. There are others that still have a long ways to go in terms of basic utilities, so it's a very mixed bag.

But I think you're really starting to see activity ramp up now. A lot of activity had been on hold until the Bush administration and the federal government made a much clearer commitment to moving forward with levee protection, hurricane protection.

I think we've got that in place over the last month, and that, I think, is going to free up and spur a lot of activity — individuals, families, businesses, who needed to hear that first.

WALLACE: Mr. Marsalis, I know that you call New Orleans the soul of the country.

MARSALIS: That's right.

WALLACE: Is it possible that the city, New Orleans as we know it, will never come back, that it will basically be a center city that's kind of a Disneyland for adults?

MARSALIS: There's absolutely no possibility of that, because the soul, the feeling of New Orleans lives in its citizens, in all of the meetings we've had. That's the one thing that we all are saying we are not going to do.

And let's not forget that when all of our residents start to come home, they don't want to do that. They're not interested in being that. We like being ourselves. So you know, there's absolutely — I hear speculation about we're going to become like that. There's no way in the world to turn New Orleans into that.

WALLACE: Senator Vitter, we talk about maybe 100,000 people that are there, which means there are several hundred thousand...

VITTER: Sure.

WALLACE: ... who are still displaced, who are still refugees. Where are they and how are they doing?

VITTER: Well, they're all around the country. Some are in communities in Louisiana, like Baton Rouge, which has grown enormously, in other big cities, Houston and Atlanta, and they're all around the country.

But I think beginning this holiday season, a lot more of those families are coming back. Now, will we quickly get back to 450,000 in the city? Probably not. But I agree completely with Wynton. We're going to be the same soul and spirit that New Orleans has always been.

We'll be different in some ways. We'll rebuild differently, and that can be a very good and positive thing if we do it right. But in terms of our soul and spirit, that's not going to change. That's very positive and unique.

WALLACE: Last September, after Katrina, President Bush addressed the nation from Jackson Square in New Orleans.

VITTER: Right.

WALLACE: And he made this pledge. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. And all who question the future of the Crescent City need to know there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans. And this great city will rise again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: I want to ask you both and, Mr. Marsalis, let me start with you, how well do you think the president and Congress have done in keeping that promise to the residents, to the city of New Orleans?

MARSALIS: Well, I think that our residents who are spread all over the country are very angry just because of — bureaucracies exist to feed themselves. And a lot of times when people function in large groups, they lose the human touch.

It still remains to be seen what will actually be done. But many people who are spread all over the country are very skeptical. I'm a believer till I have clear evidence otherwise, but I'd like to say that I would like to see our agencies and our government have a much more personal touch with people who are in a very, very unfortunate, difficult and unusual situation.

WALLACE: Now, I have to ask you, I was looking back at the president's speech this week, Senator Vitter, and he at that time talked about getting everybody out of shelters by October. So that promise certainly hasn't...

VITTER: Clearly, that didn't happen.

WALLACE: So generally speaking, how would you say Congress and the president have done in keeping that pledge to the residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast?

VITTER: Well, I would say before mid-December, a lot of folks were very skeptical and concerned that that pledge fundamentally wouldn't be kept. Then finally, in the last half of this month, we began to keep that pledge with the hurricane relief package that passed through the Congress. So that is extremely important. That is the centerpiece of beginning to keep that pledge.

Do we have further to go? Absolutely, including with coastal restoration, higher levels of hurricane protection. But I think we're on the path to keeping that pledge.

WALLACE: Mr. Marsalis, the president also said in that speech that Katrina had shown to the nation the poverty that comes from racial discrimination, and he pledged to confront that poverty, that discrimination, with what he called bold action. How well do you think he's done in keeping that promise?

MARSALIS: I don't think that the nation has done well since the civil rights movement. He's just the continuation of that. I think that we have to understand we have a long way to go. You know, it starts back in slavery and it continues till today. And we have a long way to go.

We've come a long way, but we have a mighty long way to go. And we have to also understand, if you're out of your home, if you're displaced, think if you couldn't get into your home for a week, regular citizens — there's a tendency to look at people because they're black or because they're poor as being in some way so different from you that hardship is no problem or that they're not a part of the nation, they're not a part of your problem.

This is not the type of — this is not going to make us be a great nation. And until we solve our understanding of how we are all connected and that we are all together, and we look upon our fellow citizens regardless of their class in times of hardship as our brothers and sisters, in the long run, we're going to always struggle with this problem.

WALLACE: Senator Vitter, what about that? The president's saying that he's going to confront poverty with bold action. Do you think he's kept that pledge?

VITTER: I think it's a work in progress. But I tell you what, this recovery in greater New Orleans is a huge opportunity to experiment in a positive way with new ideas, new models, to break through some of those age-old problems.

Give you a perfect example — the Orleans Parish public school system, which was a basket case, a disaster — well, the hurricane wiped the whole slate clean, and we have an opportunity to really build experimental, good, new schools, charter schools, other ideas that can make a dramatic difference. And of course, in our hurricane relief package was a substantial education piece to help us do that.

So the jury is still out, but it's a big opportunity to try some innovation and new ideas that just weren't possible before the storm for the betterment of the whole community, including the poorest among us.

WALLACE: Senator, let me just follow up on that. Do you worry — I mean, at the time the president made that speech, Katrina, New Orleans, was job one.

VITTER: Sure.

WALLACE: The focus of the country was on that, but, understandably, as always happens in politics, and government, and daily life and the news business, we move on.

Do you feel like the country's attention has shifted away somewhat from New Orleans?

VITTER: Clearly, it has somewhat. And clearly, that's a challenge for all of us, but I think it's one we're going to overcome.

WALLACE: Just to wrap up with both of you, is it true — I read a story that both of you used to be in the high school band in New Orleans. And if so — well, let me start with Mr. Marsalis. Tell me about Senator Vitter as a musician.

MARSALIS: Well, we were in the same class in the eighth grade. But I have to tell you that he was one of the most brilliant students I had ever been in a class with. He's also a good clarinet player, excellent. And once we were playing a basketball game and we were playing "The Star-Spangled Banner", and the entire band dropped out and only one person kept playing, the clarinet, and it was him. So I'll never forget that.

WALLACE: And, Senator Vitter?

VITTER: Our recovery at some points has felt like that over the last few months, one person playing alone. But now, finally, all the members of the band are coming back to New Orleans and rejoining us. So it's feeling a lot more positive.

WALLACE: Well, I want to thank you both so much for...

VITTER: Thank you.

WALLACE: ... memories of New Orleans.

VITTER: Wynton, great to be with you.

MARSALIS: Good, man, my pleasure.

WALLACE: Thank you both. We appreciate it. Merry Christmas again to both of you.

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