- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

NEW ORLEANS — Rebuilding this city will take a team effort, said its newly re-elected Mayor C. Ray Nagin, who extended his hand to the governor and state officials, but most notably thanked President Bush for the aid he already has given.

“To President Bush, I want to thank you, Mr. President. You and I have probably been the most vilified politicians in the country. But I want to thank you for moving on that promise you made at Jackson Square,” Mr. Nagin said during his acceptance speech.

Mr. Nagin said that the president called to congratulate him on his victory and said he was pleased with the opportunity to continue working on recovery with Mr. Nagin, instead of having to begin anew with a different administration.

Mr. Nagin said the $3 billion for improved levees, the $8 billion for tax and business-development incentives and the $10 billion for housing to aid recovery in the aftermath of last summer’s devastating Hurricane Katrina would not have happened without Mr. Bush’s insistence.

But little has come of that money here in New Orleans, where just a month ago, more than 8,000 flood-damaged cars still littered the streets. Only in the past few weeks has real progress other than natural evaporation been made, and Mr. Nagin’s opponent, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, a fellow Democrat, had a theory as to why.

During the campaign, Mr. Landrieu was careful not to criticize the mayor or blame only him. And while Mr. Nagin charged that there was some prejudice in the emergency response, Mr. Landrieu, in defeat, hinted that there was some politicking in the recovery and rebuilding effort.

“This election held everything in abeyance, I think, and now it’s over; and I urge every member of the Statehouse to come together and support Ray Nagin,” Mr. Landrieu said.

Mr. Nagin said he would work to be a “link” between the city and the Statehouse, but particularly with Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a Democrat, who has been in a feud with the mayor since he endorsed her opponent — Rep. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Republican — in the 2004 gubernatorial election.

But on election night, Mr. Nagin said it was time to put the political bad blood behind them.

“I want to thank [Mrs. Blanco] for what she’s getting ready to do,” he said. “It’s time for us to get together and rebuild this city, and when we rebuild this city, we rebuild the entire state.”

The mayor said he would establish three commissions immediately to evaluate his staff and bring in new talent, and two others to keep an eye on government progress over the next 100 days and on home building — a bit of advice he got from his most influential endorser, conservative Republican businessman Robert Couhig, who placed fourth in the April 22 mayoral primary election with 10 percent of the vote.

“The Rob Couhig factor pulled it out for Mr. Nagin right at the end,” said Anthony Patten, president of the EBONetworks, a New Orleans-based advertising agency catering to outreach to black communities.

He said the mayor was “down and out,” looking at defeat if not for the relationship formed with Mr. Couhig, who represents the business community, whose support ushered Mr. Nagin into his first term and largely fled to the Landrieu camp after the primary election.

“I forgive you,” Mr. Nagin told them in his victory speech and scoffed at threats from prominent businessmen who said they would leave town if he won re-election.

Mr. Nagin received 59,460 votes (52 percent) to Mr. Landrieu’s 54,131 (48 percent). About 38 percent of the city’s nearly 300,000 eligible voters participated.

Race proved to be a factor in the voting. Mr. Landrieu received a majority of the white vote, but Mr. Nagin managed to increase his share of the white vote compared with the April primary, and also got a huge increase in support from black voters, to win the day.

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