Published May 21, 2006
NEW ORLEANS – Mayor Ray Nagin, the self-styled maverick with a quick and sometimes gaffe-prone tongue, immediately began trying to mend ties with political opponents and crucial leaders as he won another four years to oversee reconstruction of this major American city.
"It's time for a real partnership. It's time for us to get together and rebuild this city," Nagin said in an exuberant speech after defeating Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu on Saturday. "My hand is out, reaching out in partnership."
Nagin thanked President Bush for helping to secure billions of dollars in aid, and Gov. Kathleen Blanco "for what she's getting ready to do," referring to a massive state-run program to offer buyouts to New Orleans homeowners.
Nagin, who beat Landrieu 52.3 percent to 47.7 percent, begins a second term May 31, a day before the start of hurricane season. Still staggering after Hurricane Katrina, many neighborhoods remain uninhabitable, debris-filled ghost towns nine months after the storm ravaged the Gulf Coast.
Landrieu said Nagin deserves the city's support.
"We've taken Mayor Nagin through the crucible, and he survived the test of the storm," said Landrieu, who called Nagin a friend before and during the campaign. "It's really about the future, it's not about who's sitting in the mayor's office."
Months ago, Nagin had a plan put together by community leaders for the rebuilding effort, but many parts have been stalled, waiting for funding as the campaign was fought. Analysts said the rebuilding may gather momentum now that the uncertainty of the election has been removed.
Nagin has repeatedly predicted a coming "boom" in economic opportunity and growth, as billions of reconstruction dollars reach the area.
"Now that there's some stability as to who is going to be mayor, and he's already in place, hopefully that means the rebuilding process will be accelerated," said analyst Silas Lee.
The vote in Saturday's election split largely along racial lines, but both candidates got about one-fifth crossover vote. Analysts said that boded well for the future of a city where deep racial divides were exposed after Katrina and rebuilding plans raised questions about the future of some predominantly black neighborhoods.
Fewer than half the city's 455,000 pre-Katrina residents are living in New Orleans; most remain scattered in other cities in Louisiana and elsewhere in the country. Turnout for the election was 38 percent, slightly higher than the April primary.
"The bottom line is we ended up with the mayor who represents the demography of the city," said Greg Rigamer, who analyzes data from the Secretary of State's office and other sources.
Nagin, a former cable television executive, was able to win back some of the conservative white voters who supported him four years ago but then abandoned him during the primary.
Many had sought new leadership after complaining of the slow rate of rebuilding and the national controversy caused by Nagin's tearful plea for the federal government to "get off their (behinds) and do something" in the aftermath of Katrina. His remark on Martin Luther King Day that God intended New Orleans to be a "chocolate" city sparked outrage — and then an apology from Nagin.
But during the run-off campaign, Nagin actively courted conservative white voters by emphasizing his business background in contrast to Landrieu, a longtime politician and a member of Louisiana's equivalent to the Kennedy family. He would have been the first white mayor of New Orleans since his father, Moon, in the 1970s.
"After the Martin Luther King comments and his post-Katrina comments, his political obituary had been written," Lee said. But Nagin won with "an unusual political shotgun marriage between conservative whites and progressive African-Americans," Lee said.