Mon, May 22, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Nagin overcomes Landrieu in New Orleans mayor vote


New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin narrowly won re-election over Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu on Saturday in the race to oversee one of the biggest rebuilding projects in US history.

"We are ready to take off. We have citizens around the country who want to come back to the city of New Orleans, and we're going to get them all back," Nagin said in a joyful victory speech.

"It's time for us to stop the bickering," he said. "It's time for us to stop measuring things in black and white and yellow and Asian. It's time for us to be one New Orleans."

Nagin won with 52.3 percent, or 59,460 votes, to Landrieu's 47.7 percent, or 54,131 votes. While the vote was split largely along racial lines, Nagin was able to get enough of a crossover in predominantly white districts to make the difference.

Nagin had argued the city could ill-afford to change course just as rebuilding gathered steam.

His second term begins a day before the June 1 start of the next hurricane season in a city where entire neighborhoods consist of homes that are empty shells.

With little disagreement on the major issues -- the right of residents to rebuild in all areas and the urgent need for federal aid for recovery and top-notch levees -- the race turned on leadership styles.

Nagin, a janitor's son from a black, working-class neighborhood, is known for his improvisational, some say impulsive, rhetoric. After Katrina plunged his city into chaos, Nagin was both scorned and praised for a tearful plea for the federal government to "get off their [behinds] and do something" and his now-famous remark that God intended New Orleans to be a "chocolate" city.

In his victory speech, Nagin reached out to US President George W. Bush, thanking him for keeping his commitment to bring billions of dollars for levees, housing and incentives to the city.

And as for Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, with whom he feuded in the wake of the storm, Nagin thanked her "for what she's getting ready to do."

"It's time for a real partnership," he said. "It's time for us to get together and rebuild this city."

Landrieu, who served 16 years in the state House before being elected to his current post of lieutenant governor two years ago, had touted his polished political skills and his ability to bring people together.

In conceding the race, Landrieu echoed the theme of his campaign -- a call for unity.

"One thing is for sure -- that we as a people have got to come together so we can speak with one voice and one purpose," he said. "Join with me in supporting Mayor Nagin."

Fewer than half of New Orleans' 455,000 pre-Katrina residents are living in the city.

Evacuees arrived by bus from as far as Atlanta and Houston to vote. More than 25,000 ballots were cast early by mail or fax or at satellite polling places set up around Louisiana earlier in the month.

Turnout appeared to be on-par with the April 22 primary, when about 37 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

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