Obama Promises To Follow Through With Sandy Rebuilding
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Obama returned yesterday to the scene of Hurricane Sandy's devastation; this time, visiting hard-hit areas of New York. He promised to stick with residents until the rebuilding effort is complete. Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: It's been a little over two weeks since Hurricane Sandy swept through the seaside neighborhoods of Staten Island and Queens. But the devastation still looks fresh. On Cedar Grove Avenue, where the president walked yesterday, almost every house was damaged, destroyed or boarded up.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I came up here right after the storm - was on the Jersey side. And I promised to everybody, that I was speaking on behalf of the country when I said, we are going to be here until the rebuilding is complete. And I meant it. And so I'm going to come back today. But I'm also going to be coming back in the future, to make sure that we have followed through on that commitment.
LIASSON: Sandy played a small but potentially significant role in the presidential election. When Mr. Obama visited New Jersey shortly before Election Day, he grabbed the spotlight, in a way only a president dealing with a natural disaster, can. And it prompted some Republicans to complain that Sandy was the October surprise that sapped Mitt Romney's momentum. The election is over now, but a long, hard recovery is ahead, as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who accompanied the president yesterday, explained.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: We must repair thousands of homes and small businesses. We must re-knit the fabric of tattered communities. We must rethink, and redesign, for the long term because extreme weather, as we have learned, is the new normal. But we are New Yorkers, Mr. President. We are tough, and we are resilient. And we will overcome, and we will be the better for it.
LIASSON: Mr. Obama met with first-responders, and talked to families who came to a supply tent run by New York City. Melanie Portamani lives - or at least, she used to live - just a few blocks away. She came to pick up some cleaning supplies and food. She said her home was uninhabitable.
MELANIE PORTAMANI: It's standing, but it's gone.
LIASSON: Where have you been living?
PORTAMANI: We were on a waiting list for a hotel, but we're staying at friends.' There's no hotels available.
LIASSON: And she's not satisfied with the government's response.
PORTAMANI: I'm still waiting on FEMA. Red Cross is nowhere to be found. I think I got a package of tissues from Red Cross - that was about it.
LIASSON: What do you want to say to the president today?
PORTAMANI: We need help, and he should have been here a long time ago. This is, you know - it's almost three weeks now, that we haven't got - nothing.
LIASSON: Presidents can be judged harshly if they fail to respond properly to a natural disaster. In his remarks yesterday, Mr. Obama seemed to acknowledge there have been shortcomings.
OBAMA: It's not going to be easy. There is still going to be, believe it or not, some complaints over the next several months. Not everybody's going to be satisfied. I have to tell you - the insurance companies, and some of the other private-sector folks who are involved in this, we need you to show some heart, and some spirit, in helping people rebuild as well.
LIASSON: The rebuilding effort is already under way. Yesterday, the president announced that his Housing secretary, Shaun Donovan, will be the point person for long-term recovery and rebuilding, in the region. Donovan is familiar with the area; he's the former head of the New York City Housing Department.
Mara Liasson, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.