Incumbent mayor scores well with black New Orleans voters |

Incumbent mayor scores well with black New Orleans voters

NEW ORLEANS – In a complete reversal of support from four years ago, Mayor Ray Nagin scored heavily with black voters and was practically abandoned by whites as he and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu won spots in a runoff election for mayor of New Orleans.Slightly more than half of the overall vote was attributed to black voters, who favored the top two candidates, according to a consulting firm analyzing demographic data for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.In predominantly white precincts, Nagin trailed behind several other candidates with less than 10 percent, according to GCR & Associates Inc. In 2002, Nagin got most of his support from white voters.Nagin will have to go back to some of the people who elected him last time and try to re-win their confidence for the May 20 runoff, said a political analyst Elliott Stonecipher.”His one shot is to get enough of the whites who liked him four years ago to like him again,” he said.Roughly one-third of the city’s voters participated in Saturday’s election, some traveling hundreds of miles to help decide who will lead one of the biggest urban reconstruction projects in U.S. history after Hurricane Katrina.Nagin and Landrieu led a field of 22 candidates, which included a wide range of other choices, including business leaders, a lawyer and a minister. Yet voters, as they did in several other municipals races, chose two men already in the political spotlight.The election, in which 36 percent of the 297,000 eligible voters participated, was an unprecedented experiment in democracy because fewer than half the city’s pre-Katrina residents are currently living in New Orleans. That forced campaigning for the municipal election to go nationwide and led civil rights activists to question whether the election could be fair.Political observers said it was difficult to characterize whether turnout was better or worse than expected because it was such an unusual election. In the 2002 municipal primary, turnout was about 46 percent.”It was normal, natural to expect some such expression” of frustration against current officeholders after Hurricane Katrina, Stonecipher said. “Instead, we got the opposite.”Nagin, a cable executive who first ran for office in 2002, said the results were an endorsement of his plans for the city’s future and his previous four years in office.”I just feel we’re on the right track, and people have verified that to me,” he said.Before the storm, Nagin, who is black, had been largely expected to easily win a second term.It’s too early to tell whether voters have forgiven Nagin for fumbled plans during the storm and later verbal gaffes.Landrieu said Sunday the number of voters who chose candidates other than Nagin demonstrated that voters want change. “This city, this great city, calls for change,” he said.Both candidates will have to expand their voter base to win in May.Nearly half of voters in predominantly white areas turned out, compared with about 30 percent of registered voters in those black neighborhoods, which also tended to be the worst hit by flooding.Nagin received 65 percent or more of the vote in predominantly black neighborhoods, while Landrieu received 23 percent in those areas.Landrieu got 30 percent of white voters behind the overall third-place finisher, Ron Forman, received 35 percent from predominantly white precincts.Business leaders, who supported Nagin in his first run for office, largely lined up behind Forman and other trailing candidates.Forman had not endorsed anyone by Sunday. Many conservatives dislike the Landrieu family, so neither candidate in the run-off was likely to win over all of the Forman voters, political observers said.Landrieu, who has held office in Louisiana for nearly two decades and is the brother of Sen. Mary Landrieu, has trumpeted his ability to attract a diverse group of voters. His father, Moon Landrieu, was the last white mayor of New Orleans in the 1970s but is well-liked in the black community for his decision to open high-ranking jobs to black professionals at City Hall.No major problems were reported at polling places, but the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Sunday the low overall turnout should be a mandate to do more to encourage participation among voters unable to return since Katrina turned neighborhoods into debris fields.Jackson said the election would be challenged in court regardless of the outcome because voting rights need to be protected.Stonecipher, however, said the turnout may not be a sign of disenfranchisement as much as an indication that many registered voters don’t plan to return to New Orleans.”The turnout really does speak to the issue of which and how many New Orleanians are still New Orleanians,” he said.Nagin led the mayoral field with 38 percent or 41,489 votes, but he fell short of the majority needed to secure a second four-year term without the runoff. Landrieu had 29 percent, or 31,499 votes. Nonprofit executive Forman followed with 17 percent, or 18,734 votes, and 19 other candidates trailed far behind.Vail, Colorado

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