James Lee Witt

Even for a "seasoned," crusty, old reporter like myself, it’s hard not to be impressed by James Lee Witt. (Please believe me, I’m not very impressed by very many former Washington bureaucrats.) The former Federal Emergency Management Agency director was the keynote speaker at yesterday’s 10th anniversary flood commeration program in Grand Forks. It’s not hard to see why President Clinton chose him to head FEMA for the eight years of his administration. He’s charming, funny and sincere. I also suspect he’s something else–smart. I think I’d feel this way about him even if he hadn’t played a major role in procuring hundreds of millions of dollars for Grand Forks and East Grand Forks flood recovery.

About North Dakota’s Congressional delegation in shaking the federal money tree following the flood, Witt likened Conrad/Dorgan/Pomeroy to a tenatious pitbull. "And if they bite you, they won’t let go until it thunders."

One can only wonder what the early recovery from Hurricane Katrina would have been like under James Lee Witt rather than "Brownie."

I’m taking former Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens recommendation and adding Witt’s book "Stronger in the Broken Places" to my reading list. She says she keeps a copy of it on her desk at her home in Florida–not her bookshelf, her desk.

After seeing the Summer Performing Arts Company’s "Keep The Faith" the other night, Witt shared the intriguing idea with yesterday’s audience of finding corporate sponsorship to take the SPA company’s show to the SuperBowl in New Orleans. How about some Haliburton money?

Thanks to Nate Millard for the photos.

5 Responses

  1. fellow '97 reporter

    I agree with your assessment of James Lee Witt. As a news reporter during the 1997 flood I spoke with him several times. He was (and I suspect is) consistently polite, accomodating, straight-forward, soft-spoken, and totally disinterested in self-promotion. How lucky we are that he was in the position he was ten years ago.

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