By MICHELLE ROBERTS
The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS – Mayor Ray Nagin, whose shoot-from-the-hip style was both praised and scorned after Hurricane Katrina, narrowly won re-election over Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu on Saturday in the race to oversee one of the biggest rebuilding projects in U.S. history.
With 93 percent of precincts reporting, Nagin had 52.9 percent, or 56,068 votes, to Landrieu’s 47.1 percent, or 49,884 votes.
Results from Louisiana’s Secretary of State’s Office signaled the Nagin victory. Absentee and early votes went slightly for Nagin. And while the results showed Nagin carrying majority black precincts and Landrieu winning in majority white ones, Nagin pulled a significant crossover vote in some heavily populated predominantly white precincts in Uptown New Orleans.
Nagin, a former cable television executive first elected to public office in 2002, 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 streets are still strewn with rusting, mud-covered cars and entire neighborhoods consist of homes that are empty shells.
“I want the city to come back,” said 61-year-old Alice Howard, an evacuee who returned by bus from Houston to cast her ballot. “This is my city. This is home to me. … I want to make sure the correct person takes care of home.”
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 – the race came down to a referendum on leadership styles: the brash newcomer incumbent vs. the political establishment challenger.
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.
Landrieu, who served 16 years in the state House before being elected to his current post of lieutenant governor two years ago, said his strength was his ability to bring people together and get things done.
The scion of a political dynasty known as Louisiana’s version of the Kennedys, he’s the brother of Sen. Mary Landrieu and had hoped to be the first white mayor in a generation, since his father, Moon Landrieu, left office in 1978.
Landrieu echoed the theme of his campaign — a call for unity — as he conceded to Nagin.
“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.”
By MICHELLE ROBERTS