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Ex-mayors Koch, Riordan discuss aftermath

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In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, many cities are now looking at their preparedness systems, saying, "Would we be ready if something like this would happen in our city?" 

Of course, this is a major concern for America's major metropolitan areas. Tuesday, former New York Mayor Ed Koch and Richard Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles, joined MSNBC's Rita Cosby to discuss the aftermath of Katrina and disaster preparedness. 

RITA COSBY: Mayor Koch ... would you be prepared, if a major, you know, if a major disaster struck?  Meaning New York, do you believe your city would be prepared? 

ED KOCH, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY:  Well, we have gone through a major catastrophe.  And what we had and what is missing in New Orleans, in that area, on the municipal level, the state level, and, regrettably, on the national level, from the president on down, was leadership. 

We went through a catastrophe.  And we had leadership.  And we came through.  And leadership is important because it gives the people who are the victims the hope that they will be protected. 

I thought immediately, when the president decided he would simply view New Orleans from the air on Air Force One, instead of coming on the ground and doing it from day one, not day three, which he did, that he failed in his leadership. 

And I'm a supporter of the president.  But I must say, the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, by not being there and running the transportation, and dealing with the problems of poor people, water, food, medicine, they failed this country. 

And there will be hell to pay.  And I think the payment will be in the next election.  And I'm not political on this judgment, because I supported the president. 

COSBY:  Let me bring in Richard Riordan. ... Do you believe that there's going to be hell to pay?  And do you think it was so poorly organized?  That seems to be the sense from a number of people here. 

RICHARD RIORDAN, FORMER MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES:  Well, I think we have to learn something.  How it's going to result politically, but clearly Mayor Koch is right.  There was no leadership. 

Bureaucracy ran the day.  They turned help back because they didn't have permits to do it.  They didn't bring the National Guard in for a couple of days.  And Washington is just a bureaucratic morass. 

It didn't start with President Bush, but I, and I think Mayor Koch and others had hoped, that President Bush would have stepped up, stood up to Congress and others, to change the bureaucracy and give people in government the power to make decisions on the spot.

COSBY:  So do you think they didn't feel they had the power that they had to go through the red tape? 

RIORDAN:  It wasn't that... They had to go through, layers and layers of bureaucracy.  You've seen that, Mayor Koch.

KOCH:  Yes, of course, but the thing that is so obvious, by way of failure, was, where were the buses?  They had school buses.  They had mass transit buses, to take the poor people. 
And this is not a question of racism.  It's a question of poor people, black or white, who had no transportation, and put them on the buses, and get them out of town,...

RIORDAN:  They were turned back by the bureaucrats.  They weren't allowed in.  In L.A., we brought the private sector in early in the morning of the Northridge earthquake.  We got them to bring buses.  We got the homeless large tents.  We had corporations bring water or food to them immediately.  And it was the private sector who was set up to do this
The public sector can only write checks.  They can't make these things happen. ...

COSBY:  Mayor Koch ... Do you believe that the private sector needs to get involved more?  ... Because the wonderful thing we are seeing here, all of you, is the private sector is really coming through. 

KOCH:  I think the government has the responsibility that it cannot give to the private sector.  I believe that the president had an obligation to be on the ground, not in the air. 

I believe that the Army should have been sent in.  When the Army was sent in, with that wonderful general who said to the troops, "Don't point your guns at anybody.  This is not Iraq," that he demonstrated the kind of leadership that had been lacking. 

RIORDAN:  Well, Mayor Koch, I disagree with you a little bit. ... What the president should have been doing is calling the CEOs of all of these major companies saying, "I'd like you in there with buses, with food, with helicopters, with boats, et cetera," starting the moment he heard about it.

KOCH:  But you know, Mayor, what's interesting is that, if this were Bangladesh and we were helping Bangladesh, we wouldn't be sending in the private sector.  The Army would be doing all of that with their helicopters, and their food, and their water.

Watch 'Rita Cosby Live & Direct' each weeknight at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC.