[StBernard] Meraux's Rockey Vaccarella meets with President Bush

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Wed Aug 23 22:10:31 EDT 2006

Meraux's Rockey Vaccarella meets with President Bush

By Bruce Alpert
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON - Any nervousness at the White House about scheduling a meeting
with Meraux's Rockey Vaccarella turned out to be unfounded Wednesday as the
Hurricane Katrina victim not only thanked President Bush for providing
trailers that gave "roofs over peoples' heads," but suggested it would be
great if Bush could be elected for a third four-year term.

Warned as he started out his 1,100-mile journey last week from St. Bernard
Parish to Washington that a meeting with the president was highly unlikely,
Vaccarella, 41, not only got to share a cup of coffee with the president in
the Oval Office, but appeared with him outside the White House to proclaim
how "really amazing" it is that an average guy could meet the world's most
powerful leader.

Bush, who has suffered through some unflattering first anniversary stories
about his administration's initial response to Katrina, seemed to enjoy
Vaccarella's comments. But he grimaced when the former fast-food restaurant
operator, who lost his home and most of his possessions to Katrina,
suggested a third term, which is barred by the 22nd Amendment of the U.S.

"Yes, wait a minute," Bush said after Vaccarella told the assembled White
House press corps that "I just wish the president could have another term."

A Democratic-learning Web site suggested that Vaccarella, who ran for the
St. Bernard Parish Council as a Republican in 1999, simply served as a prop
to deflect criticism of the hurricane-relief efforts.

But White House spokesman Dana Perino said the White House was unaware of
Vaccarella's political affiliation before the meeting, or that he was going
to endorse Bush for another term. "Believe me, I think staff thinks that two
are plenty," Perino said to laughter at his afternoon briefing.
Vaccarella said he wasn't motivated at all by partisan politics - just a
desire to thank Bush for the tens of billions of dollars in federal
assistance appropriated for hurricane relief and to remind him that "the
job's not done." In the Oval Office for the meeting, he said, was not only
Bush, but several key aides, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The two men shared gifts, with Vaccarella presenting the president with the
"key to St. Bernard Parish and other communities he's visited as he motored
with a replica FEMA trailer from Chalmette to Washington. Bush reciprocated
with a goody bag that included a White House tie pin and bookmark.

After meeting with Vaccarella, Bush appeared before TV cameras to praise his
visitor as a "plain spoken guy" who along with his family "had every
possession they had wiped out."

"Now, I know we're coming up on the first-year anniversary of Katrina and
it's a time to remember," said Bush, who designated Tuesday as a national
day of remembrance. "It's a time to particularly remember the suffering that
people went through."

Bush said people should realize that "it's going to require a long time to
help these people rebuild."

Bush's meeting with Vaccarella came as a surprise to many. The president
refused a request to meet last year with Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed
in Iraq and who had been demonstrating with other Iraqi war opponents
outside his Texas summer home. He had met with Sheehan and other parents who
lost children in Iraq in 2004.

While Vaccarella's trip at times seemed to be a challenge to the president,
his comments Wednesday were all positive.

Bush told Vaccarella that "You're a good man, Rock."

"You are, too," Vaccarella said.

(Bruce Alpert can be reached at bruce.alpert at newhouse.com or (202)

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