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THE NATION

Ex-FEMA Chief Wrote of His Image in E-Mails

November 04, 2005|From Times Wire Reports

WASHINGTON — Newly released e-mails show former FEMA director Michael D. Brown discussing his wardrobe during the Hurricane Katrina crisis.

A House panel has released 23 pages of internal e-mails offering additional evidence of a confused and distracted government response to Katrina, particularly from Brown, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, at crucial moments after the storm hit.

The e-mails show that Brown was discussing his image on television even as one of the first FEMA officials to arrive in New Orleans, Marty Bahamonde, was reporting a crisis situation of increasing chaos to FEMA officials.

"My eyes must certainly be deceiving me. You look fabulous -- and I'm not talking the makeup," writes Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of public affairs, to Brown on the morning of Aug. 29.

"I got it at Nordstroms," Brown writes back. "Are you proud of me? Can I quit now? Can I go home?" An hour later, Brown adds: "If you'll look at my lovely FEMA attire, you'll really vomit. I am a fashion god."

A week later, Brown's aide, Sharon Worthy, reminds him to pay heed to his image on TV. "In this crises and on TV you just need to look more hardworking ... ROLL UP THE SLEEVES!" Worthy wrote, noting that President Bush "rolled his sleeves to just below the elbow."

Some lawmakers immediately decried the e-mails.

The e-mails "depict a leader who seemed overwhelmed and rarely made key decisions," said Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.). He criticized Brown for addressing "superficial subjects -- such as Mr. Brown's appearance or reputation -- rather than the pressing response needs of Louisiana and Mississippi."

The e-mails were among hundreds of pages of electronic messages the Homeland Security Department turned over to the special House panel investigating the federal response to the hurricane.

Nicol Andrews, a FEMA spokeswoman, said the selective release of the e-mails distorted the decision-making process during the storm and in the immediate aftermath. Brown didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

"FEMA is cooperating fully with Congress in looking at what went right and what went wrong during the federal response to Katrina," Andrews said. It's "hard to believe that supplying the media with a few e-mails taken entirely out of context helps to accomplish that task."

Rob White, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the special panel investigating the hurricane response, said that although "I can't say we agree 100%" with the Democratic analysis, "these e-mails do raise important questions about what actions he was taking or not taking."

In other e-mails, Brown searched for someone to care for his dog at his home and recommended former colleagues to defend him in a potentially negative story about his past management of the International Arabian Horse Assn.

Brown wrote "do you know of anyone who dog sits?" in an e-mail to his assistant on Aug. 30. "If you know of any responsible kids, let me know."

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