- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

NEW ORLEANS — Incumbent Mayor C. Ray Nagin won a second term yesterday, defeating Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu in a contest in which two candidates with big plans to rebuild the city differed little — except in their skin color.

With nearly all precincts reporting, Mr. Nagin had won 53 percent of the vote to Mr. Landrieu’s 47 percent.

“I am so humbled to be elected your mayor again, but this election is over, and it is time to begin the process of healing,” Mr. Nagin said.

“I want to congratulate my opponent, Mitch Landrieu, for running a splendid campaign, and I look forward to continue working with him so together we can work to rebuild our city.”

Most residents were determined not to vote on race alone, making for a tough decision as the numbers proved.

Mr. Nagin and Mr. Landrieu split the absentee count with only 176 votes separating the two.

But it was Mr. Nagin who prevailed among those who cast ballots in person — winning nearly 80 percent of the black vote and nearly 25 percent of votes cast by white residents.

“We have an opportunity to put away the twin cousins of race and poverty and replace them with the siblings of opportunity and responsibility. That is what we have been missing,” Mr. Landrieu said in a concession speech.

“Tonight, we will speak with one voice and get behind the mayor. Mr. Nagin, congratulations.”

Many residents waited until the moment they entered the voting booth yesterday to decide.

“I voted for Ray Nagin because I think he’s been here four years. He will operate in a more businesslike manner, and I think that puts him in a better position to be able to make the tough decisions,” said Wendy Schluchter, 38.

Damon DuPart, 42, said he hadn’t yet decided for whom to vote by noon yesterday, as he headed to the polling place at the University of New Orleans.

“I am just not sure. I have a little time to think about it on my drive to my polling place, and I didn’t vote in the primary because I couldn’t get into town,” said Mr. DuPart, who drove in from Baton Rouge.

Both mayoral candidates acknowledged that they had similar, if not identical, rebuilding plans.

Both are Democrats and both have strong business, tourism and economic records.

Mr. Nagin will now have to improve his relationships with lawmakers in the Statehouse and continue to build alliances in Washington to get the money and support needed to lead the recovery of the city, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29.

Incumbency is usually as comfortable as a warm blanket, particularly in this city, where incumbents have won every runoff election since 1946. But Mr. Nagin found this contest uncomfortable.

First, he had to beat out 23 other candidates in the primary last month to get to the one-on-one battle with Mr. Landrieu.

Then, he had to come to terms with the fact that no matter how hard he campaigned, it would be difficult to gauge his position in the polls because large numbers of the city’s voters still live elsewhere.

Nevertheless, early voting and absentee voting showed higher participation than in the primary, a good sign for Mr. Nagin.

Many of the displaced residents who voted in the runoff yesterday are black, and more than a few said the never-ending criticism of Mr. Nagin was unfair.

“They are being too hard on Ray. He did a good job as mayor cleaning up corruption, and we know he’ll be loyal to us,” said Delores Simms, 55.

Officials from the U.S. Justice Department visited polling sites throughout the day, making sure there were no irregularities.

Civil rights groups had challenged the primary election, calling it unfair and saying it would deprive thousands of displaced residents a chance to vote.

Many of these groups then shifted focus to getting people now living elsewhere to return to New Orleans and cast ballots — a strategy that proved successful.

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