President Obama's Trip to New Orleans Draws Criticism -- Before He Even Arrives

Local residents complain that the four-hour visit is a "glorified flyover."

ByABC News
October 14, 2009, 5:00 PM

Oct. 15, 2009— -- Slightly more than four years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, President Obama is traveling to New Orleans today to fulfill a campaign promise to survey first-hand the city's recovery.

Obama will visit the Martin Luther King Charter School in the city's Lower 9th Ward, a neighborhood devastated by the floodwaters of Katrina after the city's levees were breached. The charter school was the first to be rebuilt following Katrina. On the second anniversary of the hurricane, former President George W. Bush visited the school and met with Louisiana education officials.

Obama will also hold a town hall meeting with members of the New Orleans community.

But before the president even steps foot on the ground in Louisiana, critics in the region have taken aim at the administration on several fronts: They fault him for waiting nine months before going to New Orleans, staying for only four hours and not going to any of the other states affected by the devastating 2005 storm, such as Mississippi and Alabama.

Tommy Longo, the mayor of Waveland, Miss., a town that was leveled by Katrina, said that Obama was "missing the Ground Zero of Katrina."

"We haven't whined. My citizens get up every day and they go to work, rebuilding their city from under the ground up, and it would mean a lot to them if they knew that they were on his mind," Longo said of the president. "It would mean a lot to everyone if he actually put his feet on the ground here in Waveland."

Even Louisiana officials have voiced displeasure with the trip and want more from the president.

"I think the trip could have been longer," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in a television interview Wednesday. "But I want to say that people are not angry. If they're anything, they're just a little disappointed and frustrated, but understanding that the president has a lot on his plate.

The White House said that the trip demonstrates the president's "strong commitment to Gulf Coast rebuilding and recovery."

Administration officials noted that since taking office in January, their measures to speed up federal aid have already freed up more than $1 billion toward public infrastructure for Louisiana.

Others say that the White House deserves credit for the steps it has taken but may be making a public relations mistake with the short visit.

"I fear Obama is mismanaging the political theater of Katrina," Lawrence Powell of Tulane University told ABC News. "Granted, he and his administration deserve plaudits for unblocking recovery funds and cutting needless red tape, but the people down here can't be reassured often enough that the president 'gets' the problem -- the sluggish recovery, the vanishing coastline, the social 'Katrinas' that are making our mean streets even meaner and more dangerous."