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What A Difference A Leader Makes In Crisis

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What A Difference A Leader Makes In Crisis


Reprinted with permission from Creators.


What a difference a mayor makes — for better or worse. Houston, Texas, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Charlottesville, Virginia, residents have learned that fact real good.

Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, has not come through Hurricane Harvey with flying colors. Granted, to see a massive city drown on your watch in a Biblical flood is a tragedy beyond belief. We thought it couldn’t happen here. Americans, particularly Texans, have a bravado that convinces us we’re invincible.

Turner fatefully decided not to order the fourth-largest city to evacuate when the eye of the storm loomed off the Gulf Coast. Like a general fighting the last war, he sought to avoid deaths amid huge traffic jams, which happened in Hurricane Rita 12 years ago. When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged Houston residents to “strongly consider evacuating,” the mayor sent out a contradictory tweet, directing people to stay home.

That’s not the clear leadership we need now, as global warming comes home to haunt us. “We asked people to prepare, and they did,” Turner said, dismissing social media and “talking heads.”

Confronted with the catastrophe still unfolding now, Turner sticks by his story. His defiant tone, under duress, falls flat. It seems clear now that those living in Houston’s 100-year floodplain should have been strongly encouraged to flee their homes, ahead of time, in an orderly process. That’s emergency preparedness 101.

Frail and sick people, too, should have been spared the harrowing boat rescues provided by kind people acting as good Samaritans. They were largely from “civil society,” not the government. Without an armada of volunteers, many more lives would have been lost.

If you’ve ever been to Houston, now a rainfall of tears, its character resembles a checkerboard that expanded like crazy. The master plan was to have no plan. The city’s tragic chorus went like this:

“Global warming? Not today. Hey — gotta go build another petrochemical complex and pave roads over more wetlands in the ‘city without limits.’ Zoning? No, sir, not here.”

The beguiling city of New Orleans was drowned by a tempest 12 years ago. The Democratic mayor, Mitch Landrieu, issued a sympathetic statement this week: ” No city welcomed more New Orleanians following (Hurricane) Katrina than Houston, and our heart breaks for them right now.”

That sounds like a leader to me.

Landrieu, a scion of an old political family, took the courageous step of taking Confederate statues down this spring. In a surpassing speech, he said, “I knew that taking down the monuments was going to be tough, but you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing.”

He called on New Orleans to “choose a better future for ourselves, making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong.”

The new mayor of Baltimore followed suit without the speech. Catherine Pugh had four Civil War statues removed overnight this summer. One figure was Roger Taney, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court who authored the hateful Dred Scott ruling that blacks, free or enslaved, could never be citizens.

But in Virginia, where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was master of a slave plantation called Arlington, the nation witnessed a Robert E. Melee.

The shocking Charlottesville bloodshed claimed the life of a civil rights activist, Heather Heyer. This was never a peaceful rally round the Lee statue. Armed Confederates, or white male supremacists, came to hurt people, and many counter-resisters were badly beaten.

What did the police do? Too much of nothing. The clashes were too violent.

What did the mayor say? Not much. Poor Michael Signer has no power over the police chief and the city manager. He was vexed, understandably, that he was blocked from the city command center. He found no words people needed to hear. His own synagogue was not protected by police.

Charlottesville leadership choked in an hour of crisis. Houston’s mayor is not finding meaning in the flood, a takeaway lesson learned for the future.

Mayor Landrieu showed us what’s all about, words and music.

What a difference a president makes. We Americans are all in that crucible together.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.




  1. Richard Prescott September 5, 2017

    As we have seen recently, we do not have clear headed leadership from just about most of the GOP, Congressmen, Senators and state Governors.
    And the President.
    it has been replaced by greed, deceit and ego.

  2. 788eddie September 5, 2017

    Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner: Stupid is as stupid does.

    Whatever happened to erring on the side of safety?

    1. dpaano September 5, 2017

      I bet he made sure HIS family were all safe!

      1. PrecipitousDrop September 6, 2017

        Please rethink, dpaano.
        You have worked in public safety.
        With a limited number of first responders, is it more efficient to assist people in their neighborhoods, or people in their neighborhoods and people who are randomly scattered all over the city on roadways, in 7 to 15 feet of water?

        1. dpaano September 6, 2017

          I agree somewhat…it is easier to rescue people from their homes in lieu on the roadways; however, if Governor Abbott or the Mayor of Houston had issued a valid evacuation order well ahead of time (much like the Governor of Florida has done), it wouldn’t have been as big a problem for people to safely evacuate. The Mayor’s lack of leadership didn’t help the people of Houston.
          As a note, I have very good friends living in Miami….they have been notified by their Mayor and the Governor of Florida that Hurricane Irma is coming in. Grocery stores, hardware stores, etc., have had time to stock up on needed supplies and people have time to get out of town if they desire. This is pre-planning….something that they did NOT do in Houston.

          1. PrecipitousDrop September 6, 2017
  3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth September 5, 2017

    Mayor Sylvester Turner and Charlotte’s mayor are examples of a failure of rational thinking and moral lassitude, respectively. Both Democrat and Republican operatives in public office have individuals incapable of performing with wisdom on a regular basis, and so neither Party can be said to ideally represent humanity in the best light on a consistent basis.

    I would put forward that rigid partisanship has a way of deranging the mental faculties of its victims; Congress as is currently is demonstrating that in spades. Even so-called Ph.D’s have shown an astounding lack of morality, perception, and decency. A most recent example is one known as “Leftout”—a very appropriate handle—who has shown the psychological devastation which partisanship inflicts on its clueless victims.

    The recent events since Trump hijacked the Presidency, and Congressional behavior in the large since President Obama was elected in 2008 has brought this out with stark clarity. If college-educated professionals, such as Ben Carson and the Koch brothers can become easily confused and dazed by over-exposure to partisanship, one shudders to contemplate the damage inflicted on those with only a high school education who become inflamed with partisanship.

  4. PrecipitousDrop September 6, 2017

    It’s easy, isn’t it Jamie Stiehm, to apply the perfect clarity of hindsight to the aftermath of utter chaos, to ease back in your cushions and pass judgement on the leaders who walked through fire and emerged on the other side? Did it seem reasonable — or fair — to equate Mayor Landrieu’s luxury of planning, delay, re-scheduling, and and ability to halt the removal of statues if things got tough, to Mayors Turner and Signer who were treed by deadly conditions they could not control?
    The death toll from Houston’s experience with Hurricane Harvey is yet to be counted, but it is fewer than the 107 that died in their cars trying to evacuate from Rita. How many hundreds would have died on the flooded roads we saw last week? Compared to the roof of your own home, your car doesn’t provide much protection from 7 to 15 feet of floodwater. People wash out of flooded cars; it makes them hard to find later. Multiply that by the 6 million people living in the Houston metro area. Apply that to volunteers and first responders who are not only retrieving people from their homes, but also every flooded major artery in the city.
    Mayor Turner saved lives in this tragedy.
    He has my utmost respect and admiration.


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