Big Easy backs Nagin, ready to rebuild
New Orleans reelects its mayor. But with 48 percent favoring his opponent, doubts linger over his leadership.
Residents of New Orleans eschewed political dynasty in favor of consistency in crisis when they reelected Mayor C. Ray Nagin in a close runoff Saturday.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The struggling city will now be able to focus on the recovery plans already laid out by Mayor Nagin - and forge ahead with them.
Rebuilding New Orleans, one of the largest reconstruction projects in United States history, cannot be accomplished in a four-year term, but Nagin now has the confidence to continue on course.
"This election is over and it's time for this community to start the healing process," the former cable executive said in his acceptance speech Saturday night.
Nagin won with 52 percent of the vote to Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu's 48 percent.
During the election, there was a lot of focus on the candidates' rebuilding proposals, the upcoming hurricane season, and the campaign's racial undercurrents, but ultimately the election was decided on very New Orleans-centric reasons, says Brian Brox, an assistant political science professor at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Mr. Landrieu comes from an old Louisiana political family and last-minute television ads by Nagin expressed the concern of returning to "the old machine, the old political family," he says, "and that Nagin was actually a vote for change."
Voters also wanted experience, says Professor Brox - and no one has more experience post-hurricane Katrina than Nagin.
Gwendolyn Pettis, who is back in her Uptown home, is one of those who voted for the mayor for just that reason. "He knows the system and can do things real fast," she said.
A key to his win was the number of white voters Nagin was able to attract since the primary, says Susan Howell, a political scientist at the University of New Orleans.
"He has always been the more conservative, business-oriented candidate," she says, "and there obviously was a good number of white voters who viewed Landrieu as the traditional liberal candidate that he is and went with Nagin."
In addition, displaced voters were a great help in reelecting the mayor.
At a rally on Saturday in front of City Hall, a group of about 350 displaced voters who had been bused in from Houston broke into loud applause when Nagin arrived to address the crowd. Landrieu, however, was barely acknowledged upon his arrival.
The Industrial Areas Foundation Katrina Survivors Network - one of the rally's sponsors - delivered more than 10,000 voters to the polls, through absentee balloting, bus trips, and block walking.
"We proved that face-to-face conversations with people make a difference - and have the ability to change an election profoundly," says Broderick Bagert, with the Industrial Areas Foundation.
More than 25,000 ballots were cast early by mail or fax or at satellite polling places set up around Louisiana - 5,000 more than were cast early in the primary. Almost 115,000 total votes were cast, behind the 130,000 ballots collected when Nagin first became mayor in 2002.