A New Orleans Mayor Wins Big But Faces Poverty and Crime

TO citizens of New Orleans, a city beset by urban woes, the election of a new mayor full of promise and youth is a bit of da vu.

Throughout his successful mayoral campaign, state Sen. Marc Morial (D) likened himself to a city legend: the late DeLesseps Morrison, the powerful mayor who many believe pushed New Orleans into the modern age during his contentious 1946-1961 tenure.

Both rose to power in a time of economic and political turmoil, both stressed their youth - Morrison was 34, Mr. Morial is 36 - and both promised to deliver to the city a prosperous era emptied of crime.

``When Morrison came in, gambling had its grips on the city, corruption was everywhere, and people wanted this new young man to come in and clean things up, to save the city,'' said John Maginnis, Louisiana Political Review publisher.

He sees the same message in Morial's bigger-than-expected 54 percent win March 5. ``The city is overrun with crime, and people are giving him the power in the hopes he can hit the ground running,'' he said. ``Plus, when Morrison was elected, this was a majority white city, which contributed to his power. Now, this is very much a majority black city. They hold the overwhelming share of political power.''

But many people wonder if Morial is up to the task of tackling city problems: The poverty rate is above 32 percent, and an outmigration of mostly middle- and upper-middle-income residents has made the city the nation's poorest of its size, second only to Detroit.

In addition, economic pressures and uneasiness have risen sharply in three years as crime and murder has soared. In 1993, there were 389 murders; so far, 1994 records more than 80.

``The problems for any new mayor must seem insurmountable,'' said James Brandt, executive director of the Bureau of Governmental Research. ``And, unlike previous times, the solutions aren't easily apparent.''

Morial, though, is unbowed. ``I don't think it's hopeless,'' he said. ``We had the largest turnout for a mayor's race in 12 years.''

A former official under Maurice (``Moon'') Landrieu, the mayor in the 1970s who is credited with fusing the first black/white voter coalition here, said that Morial must act quickly. ``There is goodwill in the city for him now.... But if he doesn't show some kind of tangible results early, that goodwill will be quickly spent.''

Already, Morial has said he'd hire a new police chief and some 200 more patrolmen and diversify the economy to build on the 540,000-plus jobs. He takes office in May. ``Our strengths are our port, our tourism, the fact that we have an embryo of a health and medical industry here, and our music,'' he said.

Although the race was marked by racist and anti-Semitic charges, Morial feels the community can unify. ``We had a coalition during this campaign of white and black and Hispanic and Asian people that I call our gumbo coalition,'' he said. ``To govern will require a continuation of the same.''

Political experts believe Morial's biggest asset may be political instincts. He was born into a political family, and his state Senate term won him a reputation as reliable and industrious. ``Most people in political circles think Marc is going to be a lot like his father [the first black mayor, Ernest Morial] was - effective and hard-working. I know the governor has said that this is someone he will be able to work with,'' said Susan Jetton, the governor's spokeswoman.

One of Morial's first challenges will be to show business that its interests are his. Most business leaders endorsed Donald Mintz, his chief opponent, who stressed Morial's lack of a business background. ``In fact, I would say [business is] extremely uneasy about what kind of direction he may take the city in.''

Louisiana Association of Business and Industry reports show he supported labor over business during his state Senate term. ``Let's face it, he's a black politician, and the majority of the business leadership is white, so that is going to be an issue,'' said J. Randolph New, Loyola University business-school dean.

Others doubt Morial can turn the city around, noting a decline in employment: manufacturing, down from 65,000-plus jobs a decade ago to under 45,000; port employment, 24,000-plus to under 11,000. ``He has no track record in terms of managing an economy,'' Mr. New said.

But Maginnis is optimistic: ``[Morial] has a reputation of always being very well-prepared, very quick on the uptake, a person who thinks on his feet.''

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