NEW ORLEANS – Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards blamed President Bush and the federal government for this city's slow recovery from Hurricane Katrina as he launched an eight-state campaign tour focused on alleviating poverty.
"He made the people of New Orleans a very specific promise that has not been met," Edwards said, referring to Bush's promise soon after the August 2005 storm that the city would be rebuilt.
Edwards, who formally kicked off his race for the Democratic nomination in New Orleans in December, returned to the city Sunday for a tour of the Lower 9th Ward, a low-income area that was among the worst-hit by Katrina. On Monday, he took questions at a town hall meeting in the French Quarter then toured Kingsley House, a charitable agency that provides education programs and other services for children in need.
At each appearance he lamented the city's slow recovery -- its population remains down by around 40 percent and vast areas have yet to recover from post-storm blight. He said one of the federal government's priorities should be finding out why billions allocated for storm relief have not reached local governments and storm victims. And he said Bush should exercise more leadership in getting the problems solved.
The Bush administration says it has allocated over $110 billion to Gulf Coast hurricane recovery but local officials and storm victims say they have yet to see much of the money for needed infrastructure repairs.
Local officials have blamed state and federal bureaucracy for tying up federal funds but state and federal officials say they are trying to be responsible with taxpayer money and make sure it is properly spent.
The setting for the town hall meeting broadcast on ABC's "Good Morning America" program was the Cabildo, one of the two 18th century buildings flanking St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter's Jackson Square. As people began gathering for the event, homeless people slept on benches just around the corner from the cathedral.
Inside, Edwards said people living on the streets are only part of the poverty problem in America. "A huge portion of the people who live in poverty in this country work every day, work all the time," he said.
Solving that problem he said involves "making work pay" by raising the minimum wage, perhaps linking periodic minimum wage hikes to inflation, and making it easier for workers to unionize and gain better pay through collective bargaining.
The tour will wind through eight states, with Edwards scheduled to be in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee on Monday.