Four years ago, Mitch Landrieu narrowly lost to Ray Nagin in a racially divisive election for mayor of Katrina-scarred New Orleans. This time, there was no doubt who frustrated voters wanted to take over.
Landrieu won the mayor’s office decisively Saturday, beating 10 opponents to become the first white mayor of the mostly black city since his father Moon left the post in 1979.
Landrieu, a 49-year-old Democrat currently serving his second term as Louisiana’s lieutenant governor, will replace the term-limited Nagin, who first won the job with strong white voter support in 2002. Nagin went on to win re-election in 2006 with strong black support.
Months earlier, Hurricane Katrina had devastated the city and scattered its population, raising fears by African-American voters that they were being left out of the recovery and muscled out of the city’s political scene.
Cognizant of such worries, Landrieu said his commanding victory ? he had more than 66 percent of the total ? was a sign voters decided to “strike a blow for unity.”
Victory came in an election that had competed for attention with the New Orleans Saints’ first-ever appearance in the Super Bowl and the first big weekend of Carnival season parades. His victory party was a nod to both: the ballroom of a the Roosevelt hotel ? recently reopened after a post-Katrina restoration ? was festooned with Saints-themed black and gold balloons. A roving brass band played Mardi Gras tunes and he prefaced his victory speech by leading the crowd in the Saints’ “Who Dat” cheer.
Of his 10 opponents, two had been given some chance of perhaps denying him a majority and forcing him into a March 6 runoff: John Georges, a white businessman who lent his campaign $3.4 million, and black business consultant Troy Henry.
Georges conceded early. Henry later joined Landrieu at his victory party. The two embraced and raised their hands together in a victory salute in the crowded ballroom.
Henry declined to discuss the role of race in the campaign.
“Mitch is our leader. We have to support him,” he said.
Political observers attributed Landrieu’s strength in part to “buyer’s remorse” ? voters unhappy with the city’s lack of progress under Nagin deciding to give Landrieu a chance. “This time, I’m voting for Mitch Landrieu,” a black woman says to close out an often-seen Landrieu television commercial.
Landrieu supporters said they trusted his politically prominent family and had confidence in him. “I certainly don’t want another Ray Nagin ? a businessman,” said Charlotte Ford, a 76-year-old semi-retiree and registered Republican. “They balk instead of finding out what works, how the system works.”
Landrieu rarely directly mentioned Nagin during the campaign but lamented the city’s numerous problems, including violent crime that has resulted in 189 homicides since Jan. 1, 2009 and the seemingly hamstrung efforts to restore infrastructure damaged by Katrina.
Landrieu, an attorney, gained his experience during 16 years representing New Orleans in the state House and then as lieutenant governor. He is from a politically active family that includes U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and a local judge.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.