Condoleezza Rice Regrets Watching Broadway Show During Katrina

The former Secretary of State dishes it all in her new memoir.

By Jamilah King Oct 25, 2011

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has a new memoir due out next week. In it, she expresses regret for not taking warnings about Hurricane Katrina more seriously.

Rice’s new book, "No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington," will hit shelves on November 1, but some some excerpts are already causing a stir. In one instance, Rice describes "kicking herself" for watching Spamalot on Broadway while one of the biggest natural disasters in U.S. history ravaged New Orleans and facilitated the deaths of more than 1,800 people.

Thousands of the the city’s mostly poor black residents were left stranded before the storm. They endured the worst of the storm’s wrath, and then had to survive the massive flooding that followed. It took days for emergency personnel to evacuate the hardest hit areas, and even as thousands took refuge in the city’s Superdome, they were abandoned in sweltering heat without food or water. Six years later, thousands of the city’s residents are still fighting to return.

From The Telegraph:

Miss Rice, now 56, admits that before leaving for New York, she ‘didn’t think much about the dire warnings’ and did little except check that her department’s offices in the Gulf of Mexico were secure. After checking into the Palace Hotel, she saw news reports that Katrina had struck, and had a brief phone conversation with Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security Secretary."

In Rice’s own words, excerpted at Newsweek:

The next morning, I went shopping at the Ferragamo shoe store down the block from my hotel, returned to the Palace to await Randy and Mariann’s arrival, and again turned on the television. The airwaves were filled with devastating pictures from New Orleans. And the faces of most of the people in distress were black. I knew right away that I should never have left Washington. I called my chief of staff, Brian Gunderson. "I’m coming home," I said.

"Yeah. You’d better do that," he answered.

At the time, Rice was the most senior African-American member of the Bush administration. The federal government’s inadequate response to Katrina is largely seen as one of Bush’s biggest failures. And, fairly or not, Rice’s seeming indifference came to symbolize the extent to which Washington was deeply disconnected from poor, black America.

At least now, it’s on public record that Rice is sorry about how it all turned out.

"I…sat there kicking myself for having been so tone-deaf, " she writes. "I wasn’t just the secretary of state with responsibility for foreign affairs; I was the highest-ranking black person int he administration and a key advisor to the President. What had I been thinking?"