The commission that will pick the venues for next year's final presidential debates has begun visiting the 19 universities and cities eagerly vying for the headline recognition that the candidates' showdowns ignite. If there's any sense of justice, relevance, even poetic stagemanship at work, New Orleans should emerge hands down as the site for the debate that will be dedicated to the nation's domestic problems.
It's not too early to state this plainly as various locales and political forces jockey for favor. Three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate are planned by the commission, which is balanced with major party appointees now vetting the applicants for logistics, security and the intangibles of political history.
By any score, no forum comes close to New Orleans - a place still struggling two years after Hurricane Katrina to recover its traction on the very issues at the heart of the domestic agenda: housing, health, education,! economic opportunity and disaster response. This is obvious to anyone who read Shaila Dewan's recent report in The Times on the 30,000 New Orleans families still displaced across the country, and the 13,000 other families marooned in trailer parks almost two years after the hurricane's devastation.
Predictably, there's speculation that the last place Republicans would want to be seen debating in the fall of 2008 is New Orleans, the site of President Bush's domestic debacle in muffing recovery from Katrina. But an embattled Republican nominee could show some counterintuitive grit by welcoming the venue as the ideal place to demonstrate forthrightness and concern in emphasizing a new post-Bush agenda. New Orleans's anguish would only be compounded if partisanship denied the city a chance to bear witness to America's troubles.
New Orleans is already media-tested for the debate throngs, with tourist know-how and a convention center where the nation saw Ka! trina survivors gather for shelter. Its sponsorship is by four of the city's universities - Dillard, Loyola, Tulane and Xavier - and a nonpartisan civic group, Women of the Storm, who succinctly make the ultimate debater's point: "see it for yourself."
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated South Louisiana, claiming 1,464 lives, destroying more than 200,000 homes and 18,000 businesses. The Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) is the planning and coordinating body that was created in the aftermath of these storms by Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco to lead one of the most extensive rebuilding efforts in the world. The LRA is a 33-member body which is coordinating across jurisdictions, supporting community recovery and resurgence, ensuring integrity and effectiveness, and planning for the recovery and rebuilding of Louisiana.