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New Orleans' progress uneven 100 days into Nagin's new term

Published September 8, 2006

NEW ORLEANS - When he was re-elected, Mayor Ray Nagin promised to act quickly on housing, crime, debris removal and other issues in the first 100 days of his new term. As that mark arrives today, his results appear mixed.

He has some new staff members and a visible reduction in the number of flooded cars and debris in populated areas, but violent crime has worsened and his administration's initial plans to overcome Hurricane Katrina's destruction continue to gather dust. An official report on the first 100 days is to be released Tuesday.

"The city is looking much, much better," Nagin said in an interview Thursday. But "it's a mixed bag. We still have lots of work to do. We're just working as hard and fast as we can."

Earlier in the year, questions about Nagin's re-election chances against Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu slowed cleanup and planning - a hiccup that Nagin promised would pass after he took the oath of office again June 1.

Neighborhood leaders like Lakeview's Jeb Bruneau say they are reluctant to be critical but are disappointed that work and planning continue to move slowly.

Nagin acknowledged everyone would like a faster recovery, but said efforts to make more housing available and to pick up debris are paying off.

The city has issued 102,000 demolition and building permits and collected 48 million cubic yards of debris since Hurricane Katrina hit Aug. 29, 2005, Nagin spokeswoman Ceeon Quiett said.

"You're talking about re-creating first, and then trying to maintain normal city services. Then, you can talk about, 'Okay, let's make it better,' " Quiett said.

Some areas targeted for the first 100 days have improved. Looting in Lakeview and other mostly abandoned neighborhoods - a complaint earlier in the year - has been curbed since the National Guard began patrolling, Bruneau said.

But violent crime in the more populated areas has spiked. After a post-Katrina lull, 93 people have been slain in the city this year; with the population down to about 230,000, that translates into a homicide rate roughly 10 times the national average.

The police chief has said his department has had trouble retaining and recruiting new officers, a problem Nagin hopes will be addressed by proposed pay raises.

Trash pickup has improved in parts of the city. Cars and boats covered in dried muck were crowded beneath freeway overpasses and along roadsides into the summer, but are now mostly gone from highly visible sections of town.

Neighborhood leaders say debris removal has improved, too, but they note that it will have to continue as residents gut and board flooded homes. Tens of thousands of homes across the city still need to be cleaned out more than a year after Katrina.

Housing remains scarce, and many residents in Houston and elsewhere complain they haven't been able to return. To help them, Nagin's office opened a center in Houston and one in New Orleans last week to offer services for residents who want to return.

[Last modified September 8, 2006, 02:24:02]

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