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Obama Acknowledges There's Much More Work To Do In New Orleans


This is a story about a presidential trip, but the real star of this story is the city of New Orleans. President Obama visited that city yesterday. It was a chance to mark how far the Gulf Coast has come in 10 years since Hurricane Katrina - also to mark how far the city and the Gulf Coast have to go. The visit illuminated one of America's most distinctive cities. And NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith was traveling with the president.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: President Obama's first stop was Treme, a historic African-American neighborhood known as the birthplace of jazz. It was flooded in Katrina. Obama walked down Magic Street, where severely-damaged, low-income housing projects were raised and replaced with mixed-income housing.

BARACK OBAMA: Look at how excited this little girl is to meet the president.

KEITH: The toddler was sleeping in her mom's arms and never woke up, even as the president of the United States asked her mom how things were going. Among the people Obama chatted up along the block was Leah Chase, a woman in her 90s, sitting in a wheelchair who told Obama he needs to eat more chicken.

LEAH CHASE: Well, we've got to get the chicken to the White House, all right?

OBAMA: We've go to get the chicken to the White House.

KEITH: There's a reason for that. Chase is the longtime chef at Dooky Chase Restaurant, a Treme landmark. It took Chase and her family two years to rebuild the restaurant. Other parts of the neighborhood took longer. The new homes Obama walked past are designed to look like old New Orleans, with shutters and wrought-iron details.

OBAMA: You can see the results here. Now, just because the houses are nice doesn't mean our job's done.

KEITH: Indeed, if there were a theme for Obama's visit, that would be it - celebrate the progress, but not too much. Or as Congressman Cedric Richmond told a crowd of residents and local dignitaries awaiting Obama, there are promises to keep and miles until we sleep.


CEDRIC RICHMOND: Because when we think about the people that are not here but that still want to come home, we have promises to keep to them. When we look at the people that are here but that are not whole yet, we have to remember that we have promises to keep. When we look at the fact that 52 percent of African-Americans are unemployed in the city, we know we have promises to keep.

KEITH: If Treme is a success story, then the Lower Ninth Ward is a work in progress. Most of the people and homes in this part of New Orleans hardest hit by Katrina and the levee failures that followed are not back. And it's there that President Obama chose to deliver formal remarks, commemorating 10 years since the storm. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu spoke before the president.


MITCH LANDRIEU: Ten years ago, this very spot - this sacred ground - was 17 feet underwater. We were figuratively dead in the water, and some of our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers and children were, unfortunately, dead as well. People were being peeled off of that bridge after folks came out of houses, neighbor helping neighbor.

KEITH: In the Lower Ninth Ward, there are new levies, a new high school, new fire stations and a new community center. Obama said not long ago, such a gathering would have seemed unlikely, if not impossible.


OBAMA: Today, this new community center stands as a symbol of the extraordinary resilience of this city, the extraordinary resilience of its people, the extraordinary resilience of the entire Gulf Coast and of the United States of America. You are an example of what is possible when, in the face of tragedy and in the face of hardship, good people come together.

KEITH: But Obama said Katrina revealed deep inequities that were around well before the storm, but also needed to be repaired.


OBAMA: When almost 40 percent of children still live in poverty in this city, that's not a finished job. That's not a full recovery. Our work won't to be done when a typical black household earns half the income of white households in this city. The work's not done yet.


KEITH: That work will continue past his presidency. But Obama said he plans to come back once he's out of office so he can linger and enjoy the food and music that make the city one of a kind. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.