News Briefs

No more satelitte voting stations, Mr. Rockey goes to Washington and more


Satellite voting centers for displaced residents will not be set up around Louisiana for the November congressional primaries, but a state election official says mail ballots will still be allowed for those claiming residency. Ten satellite voting centers were established around the state for voters who couldn't make it back to New Orleans for the April municipal elections, but it was only a one-time deal. The feat won't be repeated for south Louisiana's congressional districts because the fall elections are held on a larger scale, with more candidates and the entire state voting, says Jennifer Marusak, an assistant in the secretary of state's office. But mail ballots, an election tool that has been on the books for decades, can still be used as a long-distance proxy. "We contacted all of these voters already when we did it for New Orleans," she says. "We sent instructions to everybody, telling them to contact their registrar or clerk to see how they could participate." There are no plans to send out another direct mail piece to follow-up with voters in coming weeks, Marusak adds. There's also no chance the candidates could get hold of the mailing list, which was compiled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and confined to government use only. "It's a bum list anyway," Marusak says, adding it dates back to December, and the information hasn't been updated. ' Jeremy Alford


The persistence of St. Bernard Parish resident Rockey Vaccarella paid off. Two weeks ago, Vaccarella left his home in Chalmette with a FEMA trailer in tow. He intended on making his way up to Washington, D.C., to meet with President George W. Bush and have dinner with him in his trailer, to thank him for his efforts and to remind him that there is still much recovery work to be done along the Gulf.

En route, Vaccarella garnered national media attention and initially was informed that he would not be meeting with the president; by the time he made it to D.C., he had done enough media interviews to prove to the White House that he came in peace. Vaccarella got his meeting with the president in the Oval Office and later in a press conference on the South Lawn. Vaccarella did thank Bush for his recovery efforts, asked him not to forget about the Gulf Coast and its people who still need help, and said he wished that President Bush could serve a third term. Democrats pounced on the meeting as a staged attempt to blunt negative coverage of the president on Katrina's anniversary, noting that Vaccarella's a registered Republican who once ran for elected office. ' R. Reese Fuller


Last week's Independent Weekly "Power Shuffle" story detailed the various ways south Louisiana is getting updates on population numbers. Shreveport demographer and political analyst Elliott Stonecipher is now concerned about one survey due out soon, because it involves the state. The survey is a cooperative endeavor agreement between the Centers for Disease Control, Health and Human Services, Census Bureau and the Louisiana Recovery Authority. It's the final agency in that grouping that bugs Stonecipher. "That really worries me," he says. "I think they might be acting too positive."

Stonecipher believes two groups are possibly being miscounted. Blue-collar residents displaced by the storms are moving back and forth, and they may be giving the perception of real action on the ground in New Orleans and elsewhere. Also, illegal immigrants and hordes of government workers might be helping to gloss over the head count for people living in the state today. And since federal funding is linked to population counts, it's no wonder the state would hope for higher figures, Stonecipher says. Meanwhile, Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, is touting a study that identifies Katrina's mass migration as the first exodus of "climate refugees" in the world. Brown concludes that "250,000 of the 1 million Gulf Coast residents" that fled Hurricane Katrina will not return, and they represent a class of people driven from their homes due to inclement weather associated with global warming. ' JA


Last Friday, ABC News' 20/20 news program aired a blistering segment on State Farm Insurance where two sisters that worked as independent adjusters for State Farm in Mississippi alleged that they witnessed State Farm supervisors altering Katrina-related policyholder claims to avoid paying full damages. Kerri and Cori Rigsby said State Farm pushed for engineering reports claiming properties were damaged by wind, not water, since water damage is not covered by State Farm. The insurance giant immediately fired back the same night the report aired, saying it was "outraged" by the "misleading story," noting that the company sought engineering reports on less than 2 percent of the 84,700 property claims it handled in Mississippi. (State Farm has handled 295,000 Katrina property claims to date.) The 20/20 report is the latest salvo in the increasingly contentious insurance crisis in Gulf Coast states. ' Scott Jordan


Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc was less than pleased with State Treasurer John Kennedy last week. In an interview with WAFB-TV Baton Rouge, Kennedy asserted that Louisiana had lost additional recovery money by failing to place federal recovery funds in interest-bearing accounts. LeBlanc responded by sending media outlets a copy of a letter he sent to WAFB-TV management asking for a correction. "Such an assertion is totally incorrect," wrote LeBlanc. "... It should be obvious that the federal government requires these agreements to prevent any state from doing exactly what the Treasurer suggested in the interview he gave your station yesterday." ' SJ


On Sunday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin got a taste of his own foot ' again.

On CBS' news program 60 Minutes, reporter Byron Pitts asked Nagin why there was such a delay in cleaning up the city. Nagin responded, "You guys in New York can't get a hole in the ground fixed, and it's five years later. So let's be fair." The mayor's remarks were in reference to the destruction caused by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center five years ago, where 2,750 American citizens lost their lives. On NBC's Meet the Press, Nagin said the comment was taken out of context but still apologized. "I meant no disrespect for anyone," he said.

Despite his latest public blunder, a recent Zogby poll indicates that most Americans share the mayor's view that it will take quite a long time for New Orleans to recover. Eight-one percent of 1,108 adults polled say the city will take at least five years to recover from Katrina. Nearly half, 44 percent, believe the city will never be the same again, and 73 percent think the federal government's relief money is being poorly spent. ' R. Reese Fuller


The non-stop media coverage this week of hurricane Katrina's one-year-anniversary makes it difficult to cut through the sheer volume of stories and television specials, but the Aug. 21 issue of The New Yorker provides one of the clearest explanations of what happened post-hurricane Katrina in the last 12 months, thanks to Dan Baum's story titled "The Lost Year." Baum takes a long look back into the history of the city, particularly the development of the Ninth Ward, and focuses on how the Lower Ninth Ward has become the symbol of the disenfranchisement of poor African-American residents of the city.

The many voices in the story ' politicians, urban planners, governmental agency heads and property owners from the Lower Nine ' ponder whether it's to the advantage of anyone, particularly the former residents of the Ninth Ward, to rebuild in an area known for its crime, poverty and lack of services such as hospitals and supermarkets. Former residents of the Lower Ninth Ward present their case for the re-establishment of the fabric of their neighborhood and community. Baum makes no ultimate recommendation but clearly lays all the cards on the table. The story isn't available on The New Yorker's Web site, so finding it at local newsstands is your only chance to read it. ' Mary Tutwiler