Noblesse Oblige

Categories: National

NOLA elites' rebuilding plan is underclass-free

It's a truism, of course, that one can never say the right thing at a funeral. But you'd think that someone might have advised New Orleans' top-drawer families not to be quite so chipper--or honest--when explaining to reporters their desire to make sure many of those poor citizens who did not drown or die in the Superdome never come home. We can only assume that the fact that the reporter in question works for that bastion of capitalism, the Wall Street Journal, loosened lips.

A few blocks from Mr. O'Dwyer, in an exclusive gated community known as Audubon Place, is the home of James Reiss, descendent of an old-line Uptown family. He fled Hurricane Katrina just before the storm and returned soon afterward by private helicopter. Mr. Reiss became wealthy as a supplier of electronic systems to shipbuilders, and he serves in Mayor Nagin's administration as chairman of the city's Regional Transit Authority. When New Orleans descended into a spiral of looting and anarchy, Mr. Reiss helicoptered in an Israeli security company to guard his Audubon Place house and those of his neighbors.

He says he has been in contact with about 40 other New Orleans business leaders since the storm. Tomorrow, he says, he and some of those leaders plan to be in Dallas, meeting with Mr. Nagin to begin mapping out a future for the city.

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."

The Wall Street Journal's website is subscription only, but the Times of London today carries a synthesis of the piece--complete with a little indepcipherable nostalgia for New Orleans' "lawlessness."


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