David Ratowitz Articulates the Relationship Between Patronage and the Hurricane Katrina Disaster

From the Ratowitz for Congress campaign (5th District)…

U.S. Congressional Candidate, David Ratowitz (IL-5) marks the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a series of articles exploring the role of government in the Katrina disaster and recovery. In this article, Ratowitz shines light on the role of patronage in the levee failures that caused the flooding of New Orleans. Chicago, IL, June 24, 2010- Long time transparency and pro-liberty advocate Candidate for U.S. Congress from Illinois’ 5th Congressional District, David Ratowitz marks the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a series of articles based on his personal experience with the disaster and recovery process.


This Sunday marks the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a storm that destroyed my home and most of the business I had built over the previous six years. Media coverage will undoubtedly focus on “human interest” stories. The story that will not be told is the story of the largest federal works project in about half a century. Within two years of the storm making landfall, the federal government had spent $127 billion, more than the annual GDP of Louisiana and approximately $425,000 per storm victim. The wasteful spending and inefficiency of the federal government response to Katrina mirrors the wasteful spending and inefficiency of the federal government’s stimulus program. This is a story that must be told; in this article I will discuss the relationship between patronage and natural disaster.

The levee breeches that occurred during Hurricane Katrina and which allowed flooding of a major American city were years in the making. Post hurricane reports pointed to “design flaws” and noted the levees were “subsiding” for many years prior to Hurricane Katrina. The possibility and consequences of a levee failure were widely known: a few years after I moved to New Orleans in 1999, the Times-Picayune, New Orleans major newspaper, ran a cover story describing what would happen if a hurricane struck the city, August 29, 2005 that scenario unfolded as though scripted. How could such a predictable disaster occur without anyone noticing?

The New Orleans levee system was overseen by a quasi-governmental entity called The Levee Board. The Levee Board got together one day a year to inspect the levees. One day to inspect hundreds of miles of levees. Three hours of that day consisted of lunch. Because there are no civil engineers capable of properly inspecting hundreds of miles of levees in a few hours, the Levee Board was filled with business people, artists, community organizers and the like.

In defense of people who served on the Levee Board, none of them thought inspecting the Levee was their responsibility. They were patronage appointees, they had done their work elsewhere and the Levee Board was their reward; that was their understanding and the understanding of the politicians who had appointed them. The people who built homes and businesses in New Orleans, believing that a system of levees existed to protect them, understood things differently.

Patronage robs citizens of the ability to best care for themselves by creating a false perception of governance. Had the people of New Orleans known that nobody was inspecting the levees and that the actual policy of government was to assume that maybe the levees worked and maybe they did not, those people could have made different choices regarding where and how to live.

Patronage is far more insidious than blatant forms of corruption. Prosecutors can make a living rooting out blatant forms of corruption; patronage is a slow leak that can only be combated by constant vigilance and steadfast integrity. Many people do not realize that New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin, was elected as a “reformer”, and like many so-called reformers in Chicago and Cook County, in his case the term only meant he had not been caught stealing. When it came to actual reform, like many “reformers” here in Chicago, Ray Nagin turned a blind eye to the patronage system. When an event occurred which tested the entire system the holes in that system became apparent, starting with the levees…

Entrepreneur, Army veteran, and activist David Ratowitz is the Republican challenger for Illinois Congressional District 5 representative. The Ratowitz for Congress campaign platform advocates a limited federal government, across-the-board tax cuts, fiscal discipline, accountability, free markets and individual liberty. Learn more at www.ratowitzforcongress.com

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