This week, we commemorate 11 years since Hurricane Katrina and the federal levee failures, which flooded 80% of New Orleans, damaged one million homes and displaced a million residents along the Gulf Coast. We lost over 1800 of our fellow citizens. It was one of the worst and most costly disasters in American history. As the Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana in those dark moments, I also saw firsthand the outpouring of support that came from the generous hands, hearts, and wallets of people from around the world.
Today, as I watch the pundits focus the politics of the Clintons’ philanthropic work day after day, I feel it is important that the larger story about the Clinton Foundation's impact is told, especially as it relates to their work in New Orleans post-Katrina. It was after Katrina that the plans for the Clinton Global Initiative came together-- a cross-sector platform that eventually transformed philanthropy and helped inform our efforts to put New Orleans back together, leveraging partnerships and collaborations to bring more resources to the ground. We should remember that this effort after Katrina represented a ground breaking move away from the tired old model where government and NGOs did the same work in the same places, but did not collaborate or coordinate. It was this new way of doing things that our nearly 300-year old city desperately needed.
The Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund itself raised and distributed about $200 million, most of which was dedicated to standing up our colleges, universities, and countless community organizations. The Clinton Global Initiative later worked with Toyota to partner with community organizations like the St. Bernard Project, now SBP, to better prepare us for future disasters and improve the home-building process. SBP has rebuilt more homes, post-Katrina, than any other organization. The foundation brought in world class NGOs such as Global Green USA to assist the city in building LEED-certified schools and engaged Brad Pitt whose commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative was the groundbreaking Make It Right project in the Lower 9th Ward. There too many examples to list them all.
Without a doubt, New Orleans is stronger today because of the collaborations forged by the Clintons and the Clinton Foundation. No entity has had the power to bring together the world's most influential governments, corporations, nonprofits and philanthropists to do more good for more people. With their help and the hard work of our people, 11 years later we’ve shifted from recovery to innovation. New Orleans is now one of the fastest growing major cities in the country. We've added more than 15,000 jobs in the last few years by diversifying our economy with a focus on digital technology and biosciences-- and by getting the recovery and rebuilding boom on track. We're improving health by focusing on prevention. We’ve become the first city in the country to effectively eliminate veteran homelessness. And new public charter schools have opened with more modern facilities, lower dropout rates, higher graduation rates, and more kids going to college than before. Some scars remain and we still have a long way to go, but we are unbowed and unbroken.
The recent flooding in Baton Rouge and the surrounding parishes bring back so many awful memories. While it has been uplifting to see the outpouring of support from across our great country, it is also stark reminder that communities across our country and around the world will continue to face major challenges that require the kind of collaboration and investments New Orleans has benefitted from these past 11 years.
Beyond New Orleans, the Clinton Foundation has had a major role in helping to rebuild Haiti, fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa by lowering the cost of life-saving medicine, and reduce childhood obesity here in America. Make no mistake, the Clintons should do everything in their power to remove real and perceived conflicts should Secretary Clinton be elected, which is what they have pledged to do. But I, for one hope that election year politics won’t destroy the Clinton Foundation. Because when the next major disaster strikes, we will need an organization like the Clinton Foundation, with the unique ability to bring so many resources and partnerships to bear to make our communities stronger.
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.