President Obama announced Thursday he was appointing Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan as the administration's point person for rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy after a tour of some of the areas in Staten Island devastated by the violent storm.
"He's going to be working with the mayor, the governor, the borough presidents, the county officials to make sure that we come up with a strong, effective plan, and then I'll be working with the members of Congress to do everything we can to get the resources needed to rebuild," Obama said at a press conference. "And I have every confidence that Shaun is going to be doing a great job and people should feel some confidence about that."
"As we flew over parts of other parts of the city and the region that had been impacted, there's still a lot of cleanup to do," Obama said. "People still need emergency help. They still need heat. They still need power. They still need food. They still need shelter."
After landing in Staten Island, the president headed to a FEMA recovery center in New Dorp, one of six local centers distributing hot meals, nonperishable food, hot showers and clothing. Public and private relief agencies, including the Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Internal Revenue Service had also erected tents at the recovery center to assist survivors of the storm.
After visiting the recovery center, he toured a street with damaged homes and met with victims of the home, including Damien and Glenda Moore, parents whose two children died after being swept away in the storm.
"Obviously, I expressed to them as a father, as a parent, my heart breaks over what they went through," Obama said.
The president said that despite their loss, the Moore family asked him to mention the efforts of a local police officer who had aided them in the search for their sons.
"That spirit and sense of togetherness and looking out for one another, that's what's going to carry us through the tragedy," the president said.
Obama was joined on the trip by top federal and local officials, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats representing the state, traveled with the president aboard Air Force One.
While the president focused his time in New York on touring the damage, the trip also offered an opportunity to address reported infighting between state officials and lawmakers in coordinating their response to the storm. Gov. Cuomo announced earlier this week a plan to request $30 billion in hurricane recovery funds from the federal government — but appears to have done so without consulting Schumer and Gillibrand.
In a briefing aboard Air Force One on the way to New York, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that he had not yet reviewed the details of the request, but that the federal government would continue to do what it could to cut "red tape" and help the affected states rebuild. And Obama seemed to make veiled reference to resolving the infighting while speaking in the afternoon.
"We're going to have to put some of the turf battles aside," Obama said. "We have to make sure that everybody's focused on doing the job, as opposed to worrying about who's getting the credit or who's getting the contracts or all that stuff that sometimes goes in to the rebuilding process."
Cuomo, for his part, thanked the president for having "exemplified the spirit of partnership and the spirit of community."
"I was personally amazed and touched by your phone calls and attention even during times that were very, very busy," the New York governor said. "You were there for us. You were there for New York. And we thank you."
Obama plans to meet with officials on Mayor Bloomberg's staff responsible for local disaster relief before returning to Washington.