Candidates attend festival

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Federal resources and priorities should be redirected from the war in Iraq to pressing social issues, including Gulf Coast hurricane recovery, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said here Friday.

Addressing a friendly crowd of several hundred at an Essence Music Festival seminar, the New York Senator said the government must focus on helping single mothers and working families find affordable health and child care, improving the lot of the 55 percent of black men who don’t graduate from high school and helping New Orleans residents still exiled by Hurricane Katrina to be able to come home and resume their lives.

“I believe it is an American responsibility to rebuild New Orleans,” she said. She added that she has a 10-point plan to do so, including the restoration of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Cabinet-level status.

, creation of a commission – similar to one formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks – to study the response to Katrina, and creation of a “Gulf Coast Corps” to recruit teachers and workers to the area.

The Republican National Committee issued a statement accusing Clinton of politicizing Katrina. “In the meantime, the federal government has allocated more than $110 billion to help rebuild communities along the Gulf Coast, and Republicans will continue focusing on this region as an important domestic priority,” the statement said.

Clinton was one of two Democratic presidential hopefuls hoping to connect with voters at Essence, one of the nation’s premier black cultural events. Late Thursday, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, touched on many of the same issues.

Both candidates sought to capitalize on New Orleans’ hard recovery from Katrina and the harsh criticism the Bush administration came under for its response to the storm. They spoke in a city where vast stretches are still in ruins almost two years after Katrina hit. New Orleans has only a little more than half its pre-storm population of 455,000.

“It requires presidential leadership,” Clinton said of the rebuilding effort. “We won’t get that until we get a new president.”

In his speech, Obama urged spectators at the festival to help change the course of American history by addressing the social ills brought to light by Katrina.

Obama said New Orleans was plagued by poverty, failing schools and high crime and murder rates for far too long before the catastrophic storm even hit.

“The legacy of race and poverty continues to shape our lives every day and it’s time we did something about it,” Obama said.

If any good news came out of Katrina, he said, “It’s that America was ashamed on that day and the days that followed. America was shocked.”

He said money being spent on the war in Iraq – about $275 million a day – would be put to better use if redirected to address problems within the United States.

“We’ve got needs here. We’ve got wars on the streets of New Orleans that need to be tended to,” Obama said.

New Orleans resident Bridget Johnson, 43, said she was grateful that both Obama and Clinton were coming to the festival.

“It tells us that we are not forgotten,” she said.

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