New Orleans Mayor Nagin Aims to Bridge Divide in Second Term

Newly re-elected Mayor Ray Nagin expressed confidence that political opponents and business leaders would unite to rebuild this hurricane-stricken city.

"We're going to bring this city together. It's my intention to reach out to every segment of this community," Nagin said Sunday, a day after defeating Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu.

Nagin said he plans to put together a commission to decide on action in the next 100 days. Debris removal and housing will be top priorities.

The former cable television executive dismissed threats by some business people who supported Landrieu and said they would leave if Nagin remained in office.

"Business people are predators, and if the economic opportunities are here, they're going to stay. If not, they are going to leave," said Nagin, in his now-famous vernacular. "I think there's enough interest around the country that we're going to attract top businesses ... God bless them. I hope they stay but if they don't, I'll send them a postcard."

Nagin said he has spoken with Gov. Kathleen Blanco and President Bush, reiterating his desire to work together.

Nagin said he pressed Bush to help accelerate the rebuilding process and to aid with removal of the debris. He also questioned the pending end of federal aid for some evacuees still living in Houston and other cities.

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 nine months after Hurricane Katrina, many neighborhoods remain uninhabitable.

Landrieu said Nagin deserves the city's support.

"We've taken Mayor Nagin through the crucible, and he survived the test of the storm," he said. "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.

"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. Turnout for the election was 38 percent, slightly higher than the April primary.

Nagin won back some of the conservative white voters who supported him four years ago but abandoned him during the primary.

Many had sought new leadership after complaining of the slow rate of rebuilding and 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," he said.