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The Nation

New Orleans Mayoral Race Is Down to 2

Nagin and Landrieu will face off in May for the job of leading the city in its struggle to recover.

April 23, 2006|Ann M. Simmons and Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writers

NEW ORLEANS — A storm-battered electorate sent Mayor C. Ray Nagin and Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu into a runoff Saturday for the job of leading New Orleans down its complex road to recovery over the next four years.

With all ballots counted, Nagin had 38% of the vote and a chance at a second term in the first municipal elections since Hurricane Katrina smashed the Gulf Coast in August. Landrieu, a veteran politician from a well-known political family, emerged as the person who could stop him, garnering 29%.

The winner is to be determined in a runoff May 20.

Nagin said he was humbled by the support he had received.

"We have a lot of work to do -- we have to do to bring this city together," he told a crowd at a downtown hotel. "We have no magic wand. It's time for us to come together and stop the bickering. If we don't come together.... we will perish as fools."

Landrieu, in greeting supporters, shared the stage with his father, Maurice Edwin "Moon" Landrieu, who was the last white mayor of New Orleans, in the late 1970s.

"Today in this great American city, African American and white, Hispanic and Vietnamese, almost in equal measure came forward to propel this campaign forward and loudly proclaim that we in New Orleans will be one people," Lt. Gov. Landrieu said. "We will speak with one voice and we will have one future."

Ron Forman, chief executive of the Audubon Nature Institute, came in third, with 17%.

Of the city's 300,000 registered voters, more than 20,000 cast absentee ballots or voted early in New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana. More than half of the city's population of 450,000 was displaced by Katrina.

Across New Orleans on Saturday, signs from scores of would-be public officeholders blanketed the median strips -- some still piled with storm debris. At some intersections, rival supporters competed for motorists' attention with chants and flag-waving.

The mood at the city's 76 polling stations was varied. Residents of neighborhoods that suffered minimal destruction voted in the same places they had for decades. In affluent Uptown, some voters sauntered in pushing strollers and with dogs in tow.

"We need somebody who's going to bring the city together, and not try to pull it apart," said Steve Rosenthal, 49, an insurance executive. He voted for Landrieu because he didn't think Forman -- a favorite among whites Uptown -- had much credibility among blacks. And Rosenthal said he found Nagin's often racially charged comments divisive.

For voters in neighborhoods that were hit heavily by Katrina, familiar polling places such as the neighborhood church or school did not survive. These voters were directed to four "mega polling stations" that combined several precincts.

In the 9th Ward, a mostly black crowd voted at the New Pilgrims Baptist Church in a neighborhood where spray-paint symbols left by rescue workers still scarred most homes, and abandoned cars, mattresses and appliances littered the landscape.

For many far-flung neighbors, the event was a reunion of sorts. It was partly for this reason that Mary Bell Jones traveled from Baytown, Texas, to vote in person.

"I felt I would see some of my friends, and I just felt like coming home," said Jones, 66, who is raising four grandchildren in Texas. She said she voted for Nagin because "he knows our situation better than anybody else.... I think he did a swell job."

Nagin and Landrieu's runoff berths were decided after an unorthodox campaign in which candidates were forced to reach out to displaced voters in cities such as Houston and Atlanta. Nagin bought billboards emblazoned with "Our Mayor" in largely black areas of south Atlanta.

The two men will compete for the task of rebuilding a city fraught with racial, social and economic challenges. Every plan to either rebuild a neighborhood or allow that area to lay fallow is bound to displace people, and the process is likely to exacerbate long-standing racial tensions.

A former corporate executive, Nagin was a political novice when elected in 2002, mainly by whites. This time, facing almost two dozen challengers, the mayor appeared to model himself as "the black candidate."

He has won approval for saying all neighborhoods should be allowed to rebuild, and although many African Americans viewed a comment he made about New Orleans again becoming a "chocolate" city as inappropriate, for others it struck a chord of solidarity.

"We're for Ray, because he's the best way," Willa Onidas, 42, chanted as Nagin arrived at a campaign substation Saturday on the city's West Bank amid cheers and applause.

"He's the one to lead us," Onidas said. "He's been here all along

Landrieu supporters say that if anyone has a household name, it's the lieutenant governor. Not only does he have a famous father, he is the brother of Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.).

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