Michael Brown: Ex-FEMA boss on return to New Orleans for 5th anniversary of Katrina

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina began wreaking havoc on the Gulf Coast that's still reverberating today -- and many members of the public continue to see Michael Brown, head of FEMA at the time, as one of the story's chief villains.

Still, Brown, a KOA talk-show host who'll broadcast live from New Orleans tonight and tomorrow, insists this feeling is hardly universal, as he learned after being caught in a recent storm.

"I've actually been to New Orleans several times" since Katrina, he points out en route to the airport this morning. "This might be my fourth or fifth trip back -- and my last trip was about a month or two ago, with Spike Lee, to do some interviews for his documentary on HBO."

During that stop, "I had to go get a rental car, because that evening, I had to broadcast from Baton Rouge instead of New Orleans. And I was walking from the hotel to a rental place when there was a downpour. So I headed into the foyer of an old abandoned building with some other people, including this sweet old woman. We were all soaked -- and I started talking to her.

"We were just making small talk, and, bless her heart, she recognized who I am and put her arm around me and said, 'I'll tell you what, sonny, we got out of the city, but we saw what happened -- and you just weren't treated right.' And I said, 'Ma'am, you've just made my day.'"

The opposite point of view was expressed by an e-mailer whose note reached Brown last night. "It was from somebody who lives in Shreveport or something -- a trial lawyer, I think. And he wrote, 'How dare you share your face back in Louisiana. You and Bush screwed this up' -- they've always got to throw Bush in there."

His response? "Okay, whatever. That's life in general. Some people, no matter what you talk about in terms of what took place, what happened, what didn't happen -- some of them will just never be emotionally able to accept me or anyone else from the administration. And I get that."

But he refuses to hide. Indeed, he says the spur for today's broadcasts, which can be heard on KOA from 7 to 10 p.m. Mountain time Wednesday and Thursday, were requests from "the Today Show and Jeanne Meserve, the homeland-security reporter for CNN, and several people who I've worked with in the past. They all asked me to do hits with them down there."

He'll take those hits, as well as broadcast his KOA show from the studio of WRNO, a Clear Channel outlet in New Orleans. At this point, he hasn't detailed his topics, "but people always ask me to talk about Katrina, and I may do some of that -- give a little retrospective of what I see now and some of the problems they still have. And I'm still ticked off, like a lot of people are.

"Look at Charity Hospital. That's a great example of what's wrong. We sent medical teams in there to help those doctors and did everything we could to get it back to the way it was. And five years later, the hospital is surrounded by barbed-wire fence.

"I've been on the inside, and I get how slow and cumbersome government could be. But you think they'd be able to cut through the BS and get something done for a public hospital. Because that sucks."

His life doesn't, however. Five years after a catastrophe that struck him hard, albeit not nearly as devastatingly as Katrina smacked the Gulf coast, he says, "I'm on the number-one station in Denver, I have one book that's in print now, a second book that I'm starting to work on already, I still speak around the world, I have clients around the country, I have a company here in Denver, I have two grandkids. What's the problem?"

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts