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WSJ: White rich elude Orleans chaos, don't want poor blacks back

John Byrne

The Wall Street Journal front-page headline reads, "Old-Line Families / Escape Worst of Flood / And Plot the Future / Mr. O'Dwyer, at His Mansion, / Enjoys Highball With Ice; / Meeting With the Mayor."

That is, however, just the beginning. According to the (paid-restricted) Journal, New Orleans' wealthy white neighborhoods emerged very much intact, while black neighborhoods are swimming in toxic sludge. The Journal piece, by Christopher Cooper, reads as something torn from the pages of Fitzgerald's iconic portrait of the roaring twenties--The Great Gatsby.

"NEW ORLEANS -- On a sultry morning earlier this week," Cooper writes, "Ashton O'Dwyer stepped out of his home on this city's grandest street and made a beeline for his neighbor's pool. Wearing nothing but a pair of blue swim trunks and carrying two milk jugs, he drew enough pool water to flush the toilet in his home."

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He continues: "The mostly African-American neighborhoods of New Orleans are largely underwater, and the people who lived there have scattered across the country. But in many of the predominantly white and more affluent areas, streets are dry and passable. Gracious homes are mostly intact and powered by generators. Yesterday, officials reiterated that all residents must leave New Orleans, but it's still unclear how far they will go to enforce the order."

"The green expanse of Audubon Park, in the city's Uptown area, has doubled in recent days as a heliport for the city's rich -- and a terminus for the small armies of private security guards who have been dispatched to keep the homes there safe and habitable. Mr. O'Dwyer has cellphone service and ice cubes to cool off his highballs in the evening. By yesterday, the city water service even sprang to life, making the daily trips to his neighbor's pool unnecessary. A pair of oil-company engineers, dispatched by his son-in-law, delivered four cases of water, a box of delicacies including herring with mustard sauce and 15 gallons of generator gasoline."

How do they want the city rebuilt?

"The power elite of New Orleans -- whether they are still in the city or have moved temporarily to enclaves such as Destin, Fla., and Vail, Colo. -- insist the remade city won't simply restore the old order. New Orleans before the flood was burdened by a teeming underclass, substandard schools and a high crime rate. The city has few corporate headquarters.

"The new city must be something very different, Mr. Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically," he says. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out."

Not every white business leader agrees, Cooper notes.

"Some black leaders and their allies in New Orleans fear that it boils down to preventing large numbers of blacks from returning to the city and eliminating the African-American voting majority. Rep. William Jefferson, a sharecropper's son who was educated at Harvard and is currently serving his eighth term in Congress, says, "This is an example of poor people forced to make choices because they don't have the money to do otherwise," Mr. Jefferson says.

Originally published on Thursday September 8, 2005.

 


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