Andrew KlingGothamist spoke last night with Andrew Kling, Professional Magician, Campaign Coordinator for Eric Cesnik’s City Council campaign and concerned American about an ongoing NYC-based grass roots effort to offer assistance to Hurricane Katrina victims. This interviewer will put all pretense of journalistic objectivity aside and urge the Gothamist readership to step up to the challenge of this urgent national emergency.


Andrew, you’re involved in an ongoing effort to bring disaster relief to Hurricane Katrina victims. But you’re also involved in local politics. Before we even begin, could you touch on concerns people might have about politicizing Katrina?
I’m an American and I want to help. It’s that simple. A friend approached me with a project and I happen to have some expertise in coordinating people, throwing things together. I offered that support. Then, I described that situation to the people I work with every day and they wanted to offer up the resources that we have.

But… here’s… I need to make this clear. Holding our leaders accountable is not playing politics. Expecting our leaders to do their job and to protect their people is not playing politics. It’s not playing the blame game. It’s being reasonable. It is being a citizen of this country. The fact of the matter is that our leaders have let us down. We have a situation where we are not able to get through even to offer help. This is a problem.

So, how can people help?
What we’ve done -- people keep asking me “What group is this from? What group is this from?” This isn’t any group. What’s happened is that a couple of ordinary everyday people, Jessie Roberts and her husband Mark, banded together to start filling in the gaps. They took initiative upon themselves to open their house to victims of the hurricane.

Now the problem is… you can list availabilities on the Internet, on Craig’s List or, but the fact of the matter is that people in the refugee centers don’t have Internet access. And the workers down there are so overwhelmed they’re unable to put one with the other. So, what Jessie and Mark realized is “we need to bridge the gap somehow” because there are all these people in the Northeast who have opened their homes to victims of the storm and you have all these victims of the storm living in horrible conditions, but there’s no pairing going on.

We’re compiling a database of people who are willing to offer their homes, open up resources.. psychological counseling, job placement, basic necessities that need to be met…

There are so many resources out there. We had almost 50 people in a room tonight. Average New Yorkers… some people came in from Connecticut, who all said the same thing. I want to help. How can I help? How can I do it? And we've had people in from other agencies, a guy talking about having 160 units of housing that he can provide… were basically putting together a coalition of people who want to help. There are other people across the nation doing similar things and it is fantastic.

One thing that is happening is that people from New York are going down to the Gulf States. Or is it New Orleans?
That’s being determined right now, based on where the refugees are being housed. Houston has been raised as a possibility. New Orleans itself. We’re getting updates as we go along.

If someone wants to go down, are the slots all filled?
No, we definitely need volunteers who are willing to get on a bus and go down with a laptop and a database and help start pairing people together. Maybe someone has a commercial driver’s license out there. We need people with contacts at busing companies or people who are good at fundraising who are able to help get a business to donate money to this or something to help make sure that we pay for the drivers. Because that’s a lot of work. That’s a lot of long hours on the road and we need to make sure that we are taking care of everybody in the process.

So, yeah, the drivers, water, medical supplies if needed, whatever the logistical supplies are that are needed.

Are enough people offering up their places?
There are quite a few, but we have 300,000 displaced…

Do you need more?
Yes. Absolutely.

Where do people go to do that?
Well, you can list it on Craig’s list or But if you want to do this directly with the people who will be going down and bringing refugees back from the Gulf States, contact Jessie or Mark Roberts.

Is there a website related to your effort that people can go to?
One is being established, but a temporary website has been established at That has the notes and the agenda from our meeting, contact information for Jessie and Mark…

It’s amazing how this has come together. Nobody has experience. All they have is a desire to help and a desire to make something happen.

What happens to the relief effort if Cesnik loses? Won’t the resources, such as the office you are using, go away?
I have to say this with mixed emotion. I spoke with my candidate today. He made it clear to me that should we lose in the primary, we will be donating the office space and our resources that we have to this hurricane relief project. When people come back from New Orleans, they’re going to need jobs and support and we’re going to be there for them.