NEW ORLEANS – Hoping to win the post his father held in the 1970s, Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu entered the race for mayor of this hurricane-battered city Wednesday, saying new leadership is needed to "restore our credibility nationally and internationally."
Landrieu, 45, joins a field of 12 candidates in a campaign that illustrates just how much Hurricane Katrina has transformed the city's political landscape: Only two of the candidates so far are black, and the winner could become New Orleans' first white mayor since Landrieu's father, Moon Landrieu, left office in 1978.
That is, if the election takes place as scheduled. Worried that black voters scattered by the storm will not get a chance to vote, the NAACP has called on the Justice Department to put off the April 22 election — which was already postponed from its original February date because of the damage inflicted by Katrina.
Mayor Ray Nagin, criticized and praised for his handling of the Katrina crisis, is running for re-election.
Landrieu, brother of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., brings instant name recognition to the race because of his family name and his four terms in the state Legislature.
Landrieu, in his announcement speech, was conciliatory toward Nagin.
"He is a good public servant, and I like him, and you should too. He did the best he could with what he had, and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude," Landrieu said. But he added: "Today what we need is leadership that can restore our credibility nationally and internationally."
New Orleans had a population of about 465,000, roughly 70 percent black, before Katrina hit on Aug. 29. Various estimates now put the population at well under 200,000.
State officials and the Legislature have made efforts to make sure the displaced can vote. They plan to establish satellite voting centers for New Orleans voters in 10 parishes and loosen absentee voting rules for those out of state.
The Rev. Tom Watson, a politically influential minister, is the only other black candidate in the race. Other candidates include City Councilwoman Peggy Wilson, who was instrumental in passing term limits for council members; and Ron Forman, an executive credited with turning New Orleans' zoo into a national showcase.