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New Orleans Mayor's Newest Foe

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1155218,00.html New Orleans Mayor s Newest Foe Already reeling from his clumsy race remark, Ray Nagin now must
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 2, 2006
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      http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1155218,00.html

      New Orleans Mayor's Newest Foe
      Already reeling from his clumsy race remark, Ray Nagin
      now must face a tough challenger in a re-election bid
      By CATHY BOOTH THOMAS/DALLAS

      Posted Wednesday, Feb. 01, 2006
      Before Mayor Ray Nagin made his now notorious comment
      about New Orleans as a "chocolate" city on Martin
      Luther King Day, the former businessman was in
      surprisingly good shape to win re-election in April.
      Despite repeated missteps since Hurricane Katrina hit
      five months ago, he still had backing from both whites
      and African Americans in the city, a splintered
      opposition and a tidy campaign treasure chest with
      over $1 million.

      This week, however, Louisiana's lieutenant governor
      Mitch Landrieu—a Democrat whose father served two
      terms as mayor of New Orleans—told supporters
      privately that he would return home from Baton Rouge
      to contest Nagin. That's bad news for Nagin because
      the Landrieus—including both Mitch and his sister,
      U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu—have built a formidable
      political dynasty in Orleans Parish since the 1970s
      when Moon Landrieu served as the city's
      desegregationist mayor. During the aftermath of
      Katrina, while the mayor was struggling with the woes
      inside the Superdome, Mitch was acting like a macho
      man out in a boat saving people. "Nagin just went from
      almost a sure thing," says pollster Bernie Pinsonat,
      "to probably an underdog against Landrieu."

      With New Orleans voters spread across the country, of
      course, reliable polling is next to impossible. But
      there are some telling trends that don't bode well for
      Nagin in the election, now set for April 22. Pinsonat,
      a partner in Southern Media and Opinion Research in
      Baton Rouge, notes that New Orleans, once 72% black,
      is now increasingly white—50% to 60% by some
      estimates. While Nagin's vow to rebuild a "chocolate"
      city played with the evacuee crowd in Houston and
      Dallas, it was not well received by middle class
      whites, especially those in the largely undamaged
      Uptown neighborhood who are back working in the city.
      While they will turn out to vote on election day, no
      one is quite sure what will happen with the
      out-of-town vote, much of it African-American. This
      week, in fact, the courts in Louisiana are expected to
      rule on a request by several African-American state
      legislators—all Democrats—to force the release of a
      highly coveted FEMA list the Louisiana attorney
      general has with the locations of evacuees, their
      emails and phone numbers. "Nagin created the problem
      for himself with white voters in Uptown whom he
      insulted," says Pinsonat. "He has had too many
      foot-in-mouths. Question is: was that the mayor's last
      chance?"

      If anyone can replace an African-American mayor, it's
      a Landrieu. Moon Landrieu was one of the few white
      politicians who voted against the "hate bills" of
      segregationists in the 1960s, and he opened up city
      government and public facilities to blacks while mayor
      from 1970 to 1978. (He was also behind the push to
      build the Superdome.) Elliott Stonecipher, a political
      analyst and demographer in Shreveport, notes that one
      possible factor in Landrieu's decision to seek the
      mayor's office may be to save the city for the
      Democratic Party and his own family's future political
      fortunes. Under Moon Landrieu, the city's white flight
      began in earnest, but now the city has the opposite
      problem, with blacks fleeing, which is causing
      headaches for Democrats like the Landrieus, who
      traditionally win big in black districts. Nagin, by
      comparison, is not considered a true Democrat and, his
      recent remarks notwithstanding, does not cater to the
      black vote machine. "If a Mayor is to [help]
      repopulate the Ninth Ward," says Stonecipher, "Nobody
      is more dependable than a Landrieu."

      Mitch Landrieu, who ran an unsuccessful primary race
      for the mayor's office in 1994 against another former
      Mayor's son, Marc Morial, has since piled up a resume
      as a state legislator and No. 2 to the governor. He
      was widely rumored to be thinking about a
      gubernatorial run, but he and his sister—no doubt
      coached by dad, who still lives in the New Orleans
      area—know the chance of the Dems winning statewide in
      2007 and 2008 is "out the window", says Stonecipher.

      Besides his offbeat comments, Nagin's biggest negative
      today is his failure to win over the White House to
      the Baker bill, which would allow the city to buy out
      homeowners in the most heavily damaged neighborhoods
      with government-backed bonds. Without it, his Bring
      New Orleans Back Commission, which has laid out a $30
      billion fix for the city, will have a difficult time
      scratching money together to rebuild. On Wednesday,
      Nagin told a Senate committee that the city has only
      so far received about 2,000 of the 45,000 to 60,000
      temporary homes it needs; on the other hand, he said
      that the broken levees should be sufficiently repaired
      by the next hurricane season. Still, no matter how
      often Nagin pleads his town's case in Washington, it's
      clear that "New Orleans needs help inside the Beltway
      with Republicans," says Stonecipher, and the Landrieus
      know it. When President Bush visited New Orleans
      recently, Mitch Landrieu was constantly at his
      shoulder, not Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, notes
      Stonecipher. Mary Landrieu, for her part, last month
      named a Republican as her chief of staff.

      The Republicans, of course, aren't sleeping either. As
      a former cable company executive, Nagin always enjoyed
      support among the city's business leaders, but
      recently at least one other candidate—Ron Forman, the
      CEO of the non-profit Audubon Nature Institute, which
      runs the Audubon Zoo—has become a favorite with
      moneyed Republican backers and business leaders.
      Forman, who is a dynamic speaker like Landrieu, has
      done a bang-up job fund-raising for Audubon
      post-Katrina, but has none of the political baggage of
      Nagin or Landrieu. Ironically, Forman's wife Sally
      just happens to be Mayor Nagin's chief spokeswoman.
      That just goes to show that no matter how much else
      changes in Louisiana, politics down there is still all
      in the family.
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