Phase one of the contest for Mayor of New Orleans turned out pretty much as has been predicted for weeks now. Also predictable was the theme of the runoff. Peter Whoriskey of the Washington Post notes that “Incumbent, Challenger Call for an End to Racial Divisiveness.”
And public statements by the two remaining candidates will probably try to keep any such divisiveness out of the public eye. Still I am fairly certain that there will be some discussion about one or both candidates using “the race card.”
“Black voters are coming back to (Mayor Ray) Nagin, not necessarily as a person but as a symbol of a racial regime,” said Susan Howell, a pollster and professor at the University of New Orleans. “And in blunt terms, some white voters see this as an opportunity to take back power.”
This movement of the electorate, an inversion of the incumbent’s base from predominantly white to strongly black, may be unprecedented. Nagin, an African-American, rode in on the support of the largely white business community. Campaign finance reports show that this group has deserted him for, primarily, his major white competitors.
And now there are two candidates. Challenger Mitch Landrieu is a ten-year state legislator currently serving as Louisiana’s Lieutenant Governor. LG has largely been a ceremonial post, but Landrieu has been an energetic promoter of the state’s culture, recreation, and tourism.
Adding a little spice to the runoff, Mitch is the son of a former mayor; “Moon” Landrieu was the City’s last white mayor, leaving office in 1978. Moon was also the first New Orleans mayor to appoint African-Americans to significant positions in City government, and is still revered in the local black community.
Third-place finisher Ron Forman’s voters, almost exclusively concentrated in white precincts, are likely to go to Mitch. But the Landrieu name still resonates with black voters; Mitch apparently picked up as much as 20 percent of the vote in black precincts, according to analysts on local television stations.
Ray Nagin, however, did somewhat better than expected. His appeal for unity after the results were in was classic Nagin: “If we don’t come together as men and women, we will perish as fools.”
Let me know your views on the campaign and the candidates, as we follow the story for four more weeks.