Maligned Former FEMA Chief Visits New Orleans
“Put yourself in my shoes,” said Michael Brown. “You’ve just come out of a meeting where you’ve just told your boss that nothing’s working, I can’t make stuff happen, state and local government aren’t doing what they need to do, the federal government isn’t doing what it needs to do, things are bad. And he comes out and tells me I’m doing a heck of a job?”
Yes, that Michael Brown.
Brown, the former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the initial poster child for all that went wrong in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, is here for the fifth anniversary of the event that made him said poster child.
The host of a Denver talk radio show these days, he was delivering his program from a station in downtown New Orleans on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Some of his callers, many of whom refer to him as Brownie and suggest that he is doing a heck of a job, were incredulous.
“You’re doing the show from Louisiana?” asked Mark from Lakewood. “Wow, that’s pretty gutsy.”
The topic of Katrina was addressed, but did not dominate the show on Wednesday night. For a few minutes, Brown discussed a newspaper article about the behavior of the police after the storm, opined on the events of those days and the subsequent lagging recovery, then suggested an America that had lost its mojo, to use his phrasing. He went on to talk about the political news in Colorado.
Harry Shearer was the guest for the third hour, promoting a documentary he recently made about the failure of the levees after Katrina.
The presence of Shearer, a dedicated chronicler of the federal failings that led to—and followed—the flooding of New Orleans, attests to an odd sort of rehabilitation for Brown, who was sent back to Washington within two weeks of the storm and resigned shortly after.
Spike Lee now calls him a scapegoat for the disaster, echoing Brown’s own analysis. The military was slow, Brown said in a brief interview at his hotel in the French Quarter, local and state officials were indecisive and Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, was unresponsive. It is all in his coming book, “Deadly Indifference.”
Still, pretty gutsy, no?
“I don’t know where this is gutsy,” he said. “This is a part of my life. This was a very significant part of my life. Everybody in the world knows it was a part of my life. So I’m going to show up.”