Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Most Important Person in New Orleans

The Most Important Person in New Orleans
May 9, 2007

New Orleans
, La.

Family and Friends--

Ed Blakely strides into places quickly with never much more than a quick shake and a glance.

Magazines have called him the “Master of Disaster.” Others refer to him as the New Orleans’ recovery czar. And after controversial comments of his were printed in an April edition of the New York Times, some called City Hall and asked that the guy take a hike.

He’s Dr. Edward Blakely to be exact--the most important man in the Big Easy.

When he walks by you quickly, perhaps the 70-year-0ld is envisioning what New Orleans could look like 20 years from now. Or maybe he’s thinking about a grand plan to raise $1.1 billion by June. But he might just be human, searching for the coffee pot or a lavatory.

If he is a mere mortal though, many New Orleanians hope Blakely has a dash of magic hidden somewhere.

What the New York Times called an ace up his sleeves, Dr. Blakely began his mutual courtship tonight with Tulane University, one of New Orleans Universities, which are a huge asset to the City, he says.

Unlike neighborhood meetings where emotions and tempers flare and end in occasional tears, the crowd of about 3o academics seemed unusually calm. In neighborhood meetings, the residents ask for his help.

But tonight, “I need you” he said to Tulane deans and professors. “Especially, law, architecture and environmental programs.”

Blakely says that the City of New Orleans is receiving no money from the state and federal government for his efforts. When he said that, the breath of the room slowed, almost halted.

When asked if the future of New Orleans should be a 2008 Presidential issue, Blakely said. “Absolutely.”

No one running for President in 2008 can afford not to come to New Orleans he said. But, “we won’t let a politician in here without writing a check first.”

Poltico-photo-ops in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have gone on long enough he says.

Blakely has been at the center of many major American disaster rebuilds. Most notably 9/11.

“Mr. President, we don’t want you here without your money,” he said to George W. Bush in Post-9/11 New York.

The same will go for Post-KATRINA New Orleans and the 2008 winner.

But will Tulane step up in these fragile and infant rebuilding days? Will professors and deans band together with Dr. Blakely or make decisions with only Tulane in mind?

Rumors and water cooler speak at Tulane generally carry the tone that the belatedly appointed Dr. Blakely is recreating the past. President Scott Cowen was chairman of the first rebuilding plan proposed by Mayor Nagin’s “Bring New Orleans Back” commission.

“Are those documents collecting dust?” Cowen probably wonders. When I asked Dr. Cowen if he was coming to the meeting with Dr. Blakely, he politely responded that he’d be out of town. If I remember correctly, he ended the interaction with,

“I’ll call him (Blakely) when I need him.”

Dr. Blakely, influential in the rebuilding after 9/11, the San Francisco World Series Earthquake and the 1991 Oakland fire may have the soothsayer vision of a 2027 version of New Orleans swirling in his central lobes.

Critics say he’s late.

But in the Crescent City, the clocks are always a little slow.



If you are a member of a University who would like to participate in the rebuilding of New Orleans email me at The Office of Recovery Management would like to see many American higher-education institutions aid the local Universities in the recovery effort.

Photos Courtesy of Rebecca Mann, City of New Orleans.