Edwards begins tour to highlight poverty, 2nd Ld-Writethru, LA
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Kicking off an eight-state campaign tour focused on poverty in America, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards blamed President Bush and the federal government for this city’s slow recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
“He made the people of New Orleans a very specific promise that has not been met,” Edwards said, referring to Bush’s promise soon after the August 2005 storm that the city would be rebuilt.
Edwards, who formally kicked off his race for the Democratic nomination in New Orleans earlier this year, returned to the city Sunday for a tour of the Lower 9th Ward, a low-income area that was among the worst-hit by Katrina. On Monday, he took questions at a town hall meeting in the French Quarter then toured Kingsley House, a charitable agency that provides education programs and other services for children in need.
At each appearance he lamented the city’s slow recovery _ its population remains down by around 40 percent and vast areas have yet to recover from post-storm blight. He said one of the federal government’s priorities should be finding out why billions allocated for storm relief have not reached local governments and storm victims. And he said Bush should exercise more leadership in getting the problems solved.
The Bush administration says it has allocated over $110 billion to Gulf Coast hurricane recovery but local officials and storm victims say they have yet to see much of the money for needed infrastructure repairs.
Local officials have blamed state and federal bureaucracy for tying up federal funds but state and federal officials say they are trying to be responsible with taxpayer money and make sure it is properly spent.
The setting for the town hall meeting broadcast on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program was the Cabildo, one of the two 18th century buildings flanking St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter’s Jackson Square. As people began gathering for the event, homeless people slept on benches just around the corner from the cathedral.
Inside, Edwards said people living on the streets are only part of the poverty problem in America. “A huge portion of the people who live in poverty in this country work every day, work all the time,” he said.
Solving that problem he said involves “making work pay” by raising the minimum wage, perhaps linking periodic minimum wage hikes to inflation, and making it easier for workers to unionize and gain better pay through collective bargaining.
Answering a variety of questions, Edwards also addressed the Iraq war, saying a staged withdrawal of troops would tell the Iraqi people, “We’ve now reached the stage where you have to take responsibility for your own country.”
While getting out of Iraq, Edwards said, the United States would have to beef up its presence in the region and would have to make plans to deal with possible complications from the withdrawal, including civil war or attempts at genocide. Those plans could include military buffer zones around Iraq and efforts to move people out of population centers.
Sunday evening, Edwards said the tour to highlight poverty in America isn’t a political strategy but an effort to draw attention to a “huge moral issue facing America.”
Edwards, speaking to a small gathering Sunday with his wife, Elizabeth, at his side, said “working poor” are two words that should never be uttered in combination in this country.
Elizabeth Edwards said 37 million Americans live in poverty and that the tour is meant to put “a face” on working poor, much as Hurricane Katrina did.
The idea of the three-day tour, set to formally start in New Orleans Monday, is both to draw attention to the struggles people face in urban and rural communities and to show what’s possible, John Edwards said.
The tour will wind through eight states, with Edwards scheduled to be in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee on Monday.
Associated Press Writer Stacey Plaisance contributed to this story.