NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - People who worked closely with Governor Kathleen Blanco during the difficult aftermath of Hurricane Katrina say Blanco’s legacy should reflect her strength during a trying time.
Blanco died Sunday (Aug. 18), after battling an incurable form of cancer. She was 76.
Local attorney Walter Leger, Jr., was tapped by Blanco to serve on the Louisiana Recovery Authority, a board created by Blanco to lead the state’s rebuilding process following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
Leger said Blanco showed strength even as she faced an illness that she knew would take her life.
“I’ve talked to her about it over time and her family, you know, we’ve talked to the family about it, and she could not have been more courageous and forthright in the way that she dealt with it,” said Leger. ”Even though we were prepared for it, her death brings waves of emotion and memories of a horrible impact of Katrina on our people."
When the federal levees failed as a result of Katrina the city of New Orleans was swamped by floodwaters and many lives were lost. Blanco, a Democrat, and then President George W. Bush were blamed for the government response to Katrina.
Leger said Blanco never focused on her critics, but instead pushed ahead with recovery efforts.
"Yes, she was criticized roundly, she was criticized from a number of different quarters, there was partisan and political criticism and she continued to tell us we will not engage in those partisan attacks, we're going to rebuild Louisiana and do the right thing,” said Leger.
Blanco criticized the slow pace of federal help for the state. Still, she eventually decided against seeking reelection.
Leger said Blanco was not overly concerned about defending herself.
“I guess she could have lashed out and defended herself more, that might have been better, but in her view, it wasn't about politics,” he said.
FOX 8 political analyst Mike Sherman said Blanco’s legacy should not be confined to the aftermath of Katrina.
"Katrina certainly is an important part of her legacy, but just prior to that, I think what folks in the political community remember is a leader who was able to find conservatives, liberals and centrists and have something that is part of her agenda appeal to them,” Sherman said.
Leger noted how Blanco fought on Capitol Hill to get federal resources for the long rebuilding effort.
"And when I think of her fondly, I think of the great burden she gave me and the great responsibility and that I got to watch close-hand Kathleen Blanco under the most difficult of circumstances,” he said.
Blanco also enlisted the help of former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile in the rebuilding effort. Brazile, a New Orleans native who lives in Washington D.C., also served on the LRA.
Brazile issued the following statement to FOX 8 News on the death of Blanco:
“Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco leaves behind a legacy that is many things to many people. Her commitment to education and her belief in the people of Louisiana never wavered. Governor Blanco’s impact on the state of Louisiana will be felt for generations to come. But, perhaps most importantly, this earth is a better place because Kathleen Babineaux Blanco walked it. And we are all better for having walked beside her."
Leger and others said Blanco was also criticized for her push to have the storm-damaged Superdome in New Orleans restored as quickly as possible following Katrina.
"That was a courageous political move as well. She was criticized for that initially. [People said] ‘Why are we spending all this money to rebuild the Superdome when there are so many people with other needs?’ Well, we went out, she sent us out and she went to Washington to get the resources to accommodate the other needs as well,” said Leger.
At the time, former Jefferson Parish President Tim Coulon was chairman of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District which oversees the Superdome.
"A lot of people knew what she did to keep the Saints here, which was really monumental when you think about the state of the city at the time,” said Coulon.
Coulon also was aware of the criticism Blanco weathered after Katrina.
"You know, as a political leader fairness never comes into play. People were angry, they were angry at the federal government, the state government, the local government and she as the leader of the state took the brunt of that,” he said.
Sherman said Blanco’s legacy is not one-dimensional.
"Whether you were a conservative, a liberal or an independent in the center, there was something about her leadership style that was unifying and that brought people together,” said Sherman.