Here's a part of the transcript from Meet The Press on NBC. Tim Russert and Mayor Nagin:
The following is a transcript from NBC's "Meet the Press" program today featuring host tim Russert and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, discussing Hurricane Katrina.
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TIM RUSSERT: Hurricane Katrina, day 13. How goes the recovery? With us: the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin. How will the lessons of New Orleans affect future disaster planning and evacuations? And has poverty re-emerged as a critical issue in American politics? With us: the author of "Rising Tide," John Barry. And the deputy director of Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, Ivor van Heerden.
Then, tomorrow, Senate hearings begin on the nomination of John Roberts to succeed William Rehnquist as chief justice of the Supreme Court. With us, in an exclusive interview, the man who will preside over those hearings, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
But first, with us now, the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin.
Mr. Mayor, good morning and welcome. We hear some good news coming out of New Orleans this morning that the city may be drained by mid-October. Can you confirm that?
MAYOR RAY NAGIN (New Orleans): I have not gotten a confirmation on that, but I always knew that once we got the pumps up, some of our significant pumps going, that we could accelerate the draining process. The big one is pumping station six, which is our most powerful pump, and I'm understanding that that's just about ready to go.
RUSSERT: Some business leaders are saying they believe the French Quarter could be open in 90 days. Is that overly optimistic?
MAYOR NAGIN: You know, I'm not sure. I mean, the big thing is going to be what happens when the testing comes back, the test results from the water that we sampled. If that comes back with normal levels or just a little bit elevated levels as far as health risk, we will definitely accelerate and make sure that not only the French Quarter but Algiers and some of uptown and our airport comes back on line so that we can get the city going quickly.
RUSSERT: Do you believe that New Orleans could have Mardi Gras in February of 2006?
MAYOR NAGIN: I haven't even thought that far out yet. But it's going to depend upon how much progress we make over the next couple of months. It's not out of the realm of possibilities. It's my understanding they've already had corporations that are willing to kind of sponsor the crews, if you will. I think it would be a huge boost if we could make it happen.
RUSSERT: How about if both major political parties, Democrats and Republicans, pledge to have their conventions in 2008 in New Orleans?
MAYOR NAGIN: I think that would be tremendous, you know, but right now, my sense is that there's such partisan bickering going on right now in the face of this awesome tragedy, that the likelihood of that happening, I'm not very optimistic.
RUSSERT: A few days after the hurricane hit, you gave an interview on the radio talking about President Bush. Let me play a part of that interview and come back and talk about it.
(Audiotape, WWL Radio interview, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005):
MAYOR NAGIN: I basically told him we had an incredible crisis here and that his flying over in Air Force One does not do it justice. Don't tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They're not here. It's too doggone late. Now, get off your (censored) and let's do something and let's fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country.
RUSSERT: That was 10 days ago. Has the president responded?
MAYOR NAGIN: You know, the president and I had a one-on-one about that, and he expressed to me that he wasn't totally sure what I was talking about, but he understood my frustration. I said look, "Mr. President, I don't mean to disrespect you, nor the governor. But if you were in my shoes, what would you do?" And he kind of understood that.
RUSSERT: You had said earlier that you didn't think that race was a factor in the preparation and evacuation, and yet you had given an interview to the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, and let me read it for you and our viewers.
"Definitely class, and the more I think about it, definitely race played into this. If it's race, fine, let's call a spade a spade, a diamond a diamond. We can never let this happen again. Even if you hate black people and you are in a leadership position, this did not help anybody."
Who in the leadership position hates black people?
MAYOR NAGIN: Well, you know, I don't know who hates black people, but I will just tell you this, that I think the imagery that came out across the nation portrayed that this was primarily poor black people that were affected. And I don't know if that affected the response or not. But I got really upset when I heard about some of our residents walking to one of the parish lines and were turned back by attack dogs and armed guys with machine guns. Then the secretary of Homeland Security came and he asked me to meet him at Zephyr Field, which is near the Saints' training facility. And when I walked over there, I just started to pay attention to things and I saw porterlets that we didn't have. I saw ice. To this day, Tim, no one has dropped one piece of ice in the city of New Orleans to give some people relief. I saw lights that we were begging for for the Superdome and for the Convention Center that made that a horrific environment. I saw all of that sitting on the ground and not moving to New Orleans. So someone has to explain that.
RUSSERT: And you think those decisions were based on race?
MAYOR NAGIN: You know, I don't know, but I'm hearing all sorts of weird things right now, like, you know, they're going to build--what is it called?--a huge trailer park somewhere in the woods of mid- Louisiana and they're going to bring all the people back that have been dispersed and they're going to create this tent city, if you will. And, you know, for the most part, that would be a huge mistake because here in Texas, where I am, I have viewed these shelters and our people are getting much better care--hospital care, housing care, support--than they would in some huge tent city or trailer park that they build in the middle of Louisiana.
RUSSERT: A week ago Friday, the president came down to your city and your state and stood with Michael Brown, the director of FEMA, and said this.
(Videotape, Sept. 2, 2005):
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job. The FEMA director's working 24...
RUSSERT: One week later, the director of FEMA was sent back to Washington. Are you pleased with that decision?
MAYOR NAGIN: I just tell you, I'm not a big FEMA fan. I saw some things and some inadequacies, some inefficiencies. Regulations got in the way, promises were made. They weren't delivered on a fairly consistent basis. So I'm not sure if Mr. Brown is at fault, but I just think there needs to be a critical analysis of FEMA, because this cannot happen again. If it happens somewhere else and the same response happens, with a dirty bomb or whatever, we could lose millions of Americans.
RUSSERT: Time magazine has been polling Americans about their attitudes. And let me show you a couple of questions they asked. State and local officials blaming the White House, are they right to do that? Thirty-nine percent say right; wrong, say 55 percent. And then this one, Mr. Mayor: Hurricane Katrina response by state and local government: excellent or good job, 25; fair or poor job--69 percent of Americans think that the state and local government did a poor or a fair job. And your local paper had this article on Wednesday. It began, "Let's be clear: Officials in New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana are hardly blameless in this tragedy." Do you believe you've made mistakes?
MAYOR NAGIN: You know, I'm sure I could have done a lot of things much better, but I will tell you this, Tim: I was there. I was among the people in the Superdome. I knew what was going on every minute. I did not have air conditioning nor shower facilities. I made decisions based upon facts and not what I thought was going to happen. So history will judge me based upon those actions. But I will tell you something: I think I did everything possible known to any mayor in the country as it relates to saving lives. And I think as this continues to unfold, history will say that we did some things to save thousands and thousands of lives. Now, could we have done things better? Absolutely.
RUSSERT: What's the biggest mistake you made?
MAYOR NAGIN: My biggest mistake is having a fundamental assumption that in the state of Louisiana, with an $18 billion budget, in the country of the United States that can move whole fleets of aircraft carriers across the globe in 24 hours, that my fundamental assumption was get as many people to safety as possible, and that the cavalry would be coming within two to three days, and they didn't come.
RUSSERT: Many people point, Mr. Mayor, that on Friday before the hurricane, President Bush declared an impending disaster. And The Houston Chronicle wrote it this way. "[Mayor Nagin's] mandatory evacuation order was issued 20 hours before the storm struck the Louisiana coast, less than half the time researchers determined would be needed to get everyone out. City officials had 550 municipal buses and hundreds of additional school buses at their disposal but made no plans to use them to get people out of New Orleans before the storm, said Chester Wilmot, a civil engineering professor at Louisiana State University and an expert in transportation planning, who helped the city put together its evacuation plan." And we've all see this photograph of these submerged school buses. Why did you not declare, order, a mandatory evacuation on Friday, when the president declared an emergency, and have utilized those buses to get people out?
MAYOR NAGIN: You know, Tim, that's one of the things that will be debated. There has never been a catastrophe in the history of New Orleans like this. There has never been any Category 5 storm of this magnitude that has hit New Orleans directly. We did the things that we thought were best based upon the information that we had. Sure, here was lots of buses out there. But guess what? You can't find drivers that would stay behind with a Category 5 hurricane, you know, pending down on New Orleans. We barely got enough drivers to move people on Sunday, or Saturday and Sunday, to move them to the Superdome. We barely had enough drivers for that. So sure, we had the assets, but the drivers just weren't available.
RUSSERT: But, Mr. Mayor, if you read the city of New Orleans' comprehensive emergency plan-- and I've read it and I'll show it to you and our viewers--it says very clearly, "Conduct of an actual evacuation will be the responsibility of the mayor of New Orleans. The city of New Orleans will utilize all available resources to quickly and safely evacuate threatened areas. Special arrangements will be made to evacuate persons unable to transport themselves or who require specific life-saving assistance. Additional personnel will be recruited to assist in evacuation procedure as needed. Approximately 100,000 citizens of New Orleans do not have means of personal transportation."
It was your responsibility. Where was the planning? Where was the preparation? Where was the execution?
MAYOR NAGIN: The planning was always in getting people to higher ground, getting them to safety. That's what we meant by evacuation. Get them out of their homes, which--most people are under sea level. Get them to a higher ground and then depending upon our state and federal officials to move them out of harm's way after the storm has hit.
RUSSERT: But in July of this year, one month before the hurricane, you cut a public service announcement which said, in effect, "You are on your own." And you have said repeatedly that you never thought an evacuation plan would work. Which is true: whether you would exercise your obligation and duty as mayor or that--and evacuate people, or you believe people were on their own?
MAYOR NAGIN: Well, Tim, you know, we basically wove this incredible tightrope as it is. We were in a position of trying to encourage as many people as possible to leave because we weren't comfortable that we had the resources to move them out of our city. Keep in mind: normal evacuations, we get about 60 percent of the people out of the city of New Orleans. This time we got 80 percent out. We encouraged people to buddy up, churches to take senior citizens and move them to safety, and a lot of them did. And then we would deal with the remaining people that couldn't or wouldn't leave and try and get them to higher ground until safety came.
RUSSERT: Amtrak said they offered to remove people from the city of New Orleans on Saturday night and that the city of New Orleans declined.
MAYOR NAGIN: I don't know where that's coming from. Amtrak never contacted me to make that offer. As a matter of fact, we checked the Amtrak lines for availability, and every available train was booked, as far as the report that I got, through September. So I'd like to see that report.
RUSSERT: They said they were moving equipment out of New Orleans in order to protect it and offered to take evacuees with them.
MAYOR NAGIN: I have never gotten that call, Tim, and I would love to have had that call. But it never happened.
RUSSERT: Since 2002, the federal government has given New Orleans $18 million to plan and prepare for events like this. How was that money spent?
MAYOR NAGIN: It's my understanding that most of the money--I've only been in office about three years. So we've mainly used most of the money that we get from the federal government to try and deal with levee protection and the coordination of getting people to safety. That's primarily what we use the money for.
RUSSERT: The Superdome was established as a safe haven for people who could not evacuate the city to go to. Why wasn't there water and food and cots and security in place at the Superdome from day one? Couldn't you as mayor have guaranteed that?
MAYOR NAGIN: Well, we put in place the resources that we had to provide security. There was running water at the time. There was backup systems. There was food. We encouraged every resident that was coming to the Superdome to at least have perishable food to last them about two to three days and also to have water to last them about that time. Keep in mind, we always assume that after two to three days the cavalry will be coming.
RUSSERT: How would you grade the president's performance thus far, A through F?
MAYOR NAGIN: How would I rate it?
MAYOR NAGIN: Oh, I don't want to get into that, Tim. I mean, I will tell you this: I think the president, for some reason, probably did not understand the full magnitude of this catastrophe on the front end. I think he was probably getting advice from some of his key advisers or some low-level folk that had been on the ground that this was serious, but not as serious as it ended up being. My interactions with the president is, anytime I talked with him and gave him what the real deal was and gave him the truth, he acted and he made things happen.
RUSSERT: How about the governor?
MAYOR NAGIN: Well, you know, I don't know about that one. We fought and held that city together with only 200 state National Guard. That was it. We did not get a lot of other support for three or four days of pure hell on Earth. There were resources that were sitting in other parishes. I just don't know. I mean, and then when a group did come down to review what was happening in New Orleans, it was a big media event. It was followed with cameras and with AP reporters, a little helicopter flyover, and then they had a press conference and it was gone. So I don't have much else to say about that.
RUSSERT: It sounds like you don't think the governor has done a very good job.
MAYOR NAGIN: I think there was an incredible breakdown of coordination, of resources, and decisions were made to move resources and to not move resources that just don't make sense to me. And then there was this incredible dance between the governor and the president about who had final authority, whether this was going to be federalized, who was going to be in charge at the end of the day, and I just don't appreciate that kind of stuff when people were dying in my city.
RUSSERT: As you well know, New Orleans is, in effect, a lost city. We will have the first time in the 21st century to, in effect, rebuild a new American city. Who should participate in designing and building a new New Orleans?
MAYOR NAGIN: New Orleanians, and I will be the leader of that effort, come heck or high water. There are people right now that are planning to circumvent that, and I know it. They're building tent cities and, you know, trailer parks in other parts of the state to basically deal with political issues, to try and get voters back in the state, if you can believe that. They're also trying to hire people, you know, while I'm trying to take care of my family and do those other things. But it won't work, because New Orleanians are the only ones that can rebuild. And then there's this whole debate and discussion about all of this money that's coming down: What percent should go to New Orleans or other cities in Louisiana affected even more because they are housing the survivors of New Orleans? Should we just write New Orleans off? I don't care what they do. We're going to rebuild New Orleans and we're going to make sure that we have the resources to get the job done.
RUSSERT: Mr. Mayor, we thank you very much for joining us.
MAYOR NAGIN: Thank you.