- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2002

NEW ORLEANS One-time Washington police official Richard J. Pennington has led all the way in the polls here in his effort to become New Orleans' next mayor.

The primary election is today, a day before Super Bowl XXXVI kicks off in the Big Easy.

With more than a dozen candidates in the race, no one is expected to capture the more than 50 percent needed to win outright. But Mr. Pennington should be one of the top two vote getters to make the March 2 runoff.

Mr. Pennington, 55, who left Washington more than seven years ago to become New Orleans' police superintendent, has led the 15-candidate field from the start, partly because of his name identification and close affiliation with outgoing Mayor Marc Morial.

Some claim that while that gave him a running start, it might weigh against him in a runoff. A December poll showed Mr. Pennington with 23.3 percent, followed by state Sen. Paulette Irons at 21.1 percent and longtime City Council member Jim Singleton at 13.6.

The biggest change in recent polls finds Cox Communications executive Ray Nagin, who also is a co-owner of the local professional hockey team, the New Orleans Brass, moving up fast.

Mr. Nagin has been strongly endorsed by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the city's daily newspaper, as well as the Gambit, the alternative weekly.

Most considered Mrs. Irons a strong contender and almost certain runoff qualifier until she was less than truthful about the death of her brother in 1980. Mrs. Irons' ads and literature implied that her brother had died as a result of urban violence "murdered on her doorstep" her Web site claimed. He actually was shot by police while robbing a supermarket.

But the genial Mr. Pennington, credited with revamping a disoriented and often out-of-control police force into a much-improved unit, apparently will lead the field.

Some claim that the best and worst he has going for him is his close association with Mr. Morial.

Mr. Morial tried to change the city charter to allow himself to run for a third mayoral term, but was rebuffed by voters. Mr. Pennington appeared in some of Mr. Morial's unsuccessful campaign efforts and opponents are chiding him for being too close to his mentor.

On New Year's Day, Mr. Morial, whose father also served as mayor, released figures that indicated that in the just-concluded year New Orleans crime had hit its lowest ebb since 1974 down 50 percent since he took office in 1994.

That was a major boost to Mr. Pennington, who laid out a well-defined restructuring in early 1995 and moved steadily to completely revamp a police department that had been riddled with ineptitude and corruption, bringing it back to respectability.

Both Mr. Pennington and Mr. Nagin heavily rely on what they consider their unique organizational abilities something apparently needed in a city the Times-Picayune said two weeks ago is in deep trouble.


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