CULTURE OF BUSH
State records show Bush re-election concerns played part in FEMA aid
As the second hurricane in less than a month bore down on Florida last fall, a federal consultant predicted a "huge mess" that could reflect poorly on President Bush and suggested that his re-election staff be brought in to minimize any political liability, records show.
Two weeks later, a Florida official summarizing the hurricane response wrote that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was handing out housing assistance "to everyone who needs it without asking for much information of any kind."
... politics was foremost on the mind of FEMA consultant Glenn Garcelon, who wrote a three-page memo titled "Hurricane Frances -- Thoughts and Suggestions," on Sept. 2.
...Garcelon, a former FEMA employee, recommended that "top-level people from FEMA and the White House need to develop a communication strategy and an agreed-upon set of themes and communications objectives."
"Communication consultants from the President's re-election campaign should be brought in," he wrote....
Weeks after it was written, the memo made its way to Gov. [Jeb] Bush's chief of staff, Denver Stutler, who forwarded it to the governor Sept. 30....
FEMA has been under scrutiny since the Sun-Sentinel first reported in October that the agency was awarding millions of dollars in disaster funds to residents of Miami-Dade County, even though the county did not experience hurricane conditions.
In a Sept. 13 memo to Gov. Bush and other top state officials, Orlando J. Cabrera, executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corp. and a member of the governor's Hurricane Housing Work Group, wrote after a meeting with FEMA that the agency was allocating short-term rental assistance to "everyone who needs it, without asking for much information of any kind."...
Even state officials were surprised at how quickly money flowed to Florida.
The day after Hurricane Charley hit the west coast, the state's labor chief, Susan Pareigis, asked for a federal grant for unemployment assistance for storm victims.
Four days later, U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao "was down personally" to award the money, Pareigis wrote in an Aug. 24 e-mail to the governor. "Please express our sincere thank you for such an instantaneous response."
The governor forwarded her e-mail to White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card in less than 10 minutes.
"Please tell the President and your team how grateful we are," Gov. Bush wrote. "The response has been awesome from FEMA and other departments."
--South Florida Sun-Sentinel yesterday