- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2006

NEW ORLEANS — Incumbent C. Ray Nagin and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu headed for a May 20 runoff after a first-round election in this hurricane-ravaged city yesterday, both falling short of the 50 percent needed to clinch an outright win.

Thousands of voters scattered across the country by Hurricane Katrina returned to choose the mayor who will lead the city’s rebuilding effort. With 90 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Nagin was leading with 38 percent while Mr. Landrieu had 29 percent of the vote.

Mr. Nagin spent the day rallying his team at his campaign headquarters, reminding them of why he should be given another four-year term.

“They want the city to go back to what it was before we got here, and let the politics dictate where all this money that will come in is going to go, and we can’t let that happen,” he said. “We are in a battle for the soul of New Orleans.”

Similarly, Mr. Landrieu, who lost a mayoral race in 1994 getting only 10 percent of the vote, said he thought the election was a fight for “the heart of the city.”

“What this election says is that no matter what race we are, black, white, Vietnamese, we have chosen to fight against the age-old issues of race and poverty together and committed to unite and work together to overcome them,” he said after the race was called for the two candidates.

Polling sites were filled from the 6 a.m. opening until the 8 p.m. closing.

The election, which included seven City Council and tax assessors seats, as well as positions for civil and criminal court clerk and sheriff, originally was scheduled for Feb. 4 but was postponed because of the damage and dislocation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Some civil rights groups said the vote should be postponed until more residents were able to return to their homes, but state officials said they would accommodate all who wanted to participate.

Residents returned to the city in large numbers determined to make their votes count.

Alfred Cousin, who traveled to New Orleans from Montgomery, Ala., said he cast his vote for Mr. Nagin.

“People need to wake up and realize that we don’t need a change; we need to get back to the progress we had made before the storm,” Mr. Cousin said.

The unemployed public school teacher said he plans to return to the city and rebuild his home, but only after the upcoming hurricane season. Mr. Cousin, 56, said he plans to return to teaching, working in the New Orleans Catholic school system.

Residents here have wondered for eight months whether their city would be rebuilt and improved and some said the vote would be a test of the speed and strength of the rebuilding effort.

“I came from Houston on that bus for five hours, and I will go back to the 7th Ward to vote and make sure this city comes back to the way it was,” said Frozine Thomas, 62, who had not decided who would get her vote.

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