ABOVE PHOTO: New Orleans Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu address supporters at his election night headquarters as his wife Cheryl applauds in New Orleans, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010. Landrieu was elected mayor of New Orleans.
(AP Photo/Bill Haber)
NEW ORLEANS–Mitch Landrieu was elected mayor of New Orleans last week, replacing term-limited Ray Nagin and becoming the majority-black city’s first white mayor since 1979, the year his father, Moon Landrieu, left the office.
Landrieu, a 49-year-old moderate Democrat and Louisiana’s lieutenant governor, won handily over a field of 10 opponents in a campaign that focused on the city’s slow recovery from Hurricane Katrina, violent crime and slumping city finances.
Voting came amid Carnival celebrations and preparations for Sunday’s New Orleans Saints’ appearance in Super Bowl XLIV.
Flanked by family members including his father and his sister, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., Landrieu said the victory showed that voters had decided to “strike a blow for unity.’’
Victory came in an election that competed for attention with the New Orleans Saints’ first-ever appearance in the Super Bowl and the first big weekend of Carnival season parades. His victory party was a nod to both: the ballroom of a the Roosevelt hotel , recently reopened after a post-Katrina restoration , was festooned with Saints-themed black and gold balloons. A roving brass band played Mardi Gras tunes and he prefaced his victory speech by leading the crowd in the Saints’ “Who Dat’’ cheer.
With nearly three-fifths of precincts reporting, Landrieu was carrying 67 percent of the vote. His best financed opponent, busninessman John Georges, conceded early in the evening. Georges, also white, and black business consultant Troy Henry had been considered the most likely to force Landrieu into a March 6 runoff. But neither came close to denying him the majority needed for outright victory.
Landrieu, who lost to Nagin in a runoff four years ago, had said for months he didn’t plan another try for the mayor’s office but he did an about-face in December, shortly before the qualifying period opened. From that moment on he was the probibitive favorite. Two strong candidates dropped out of the race within weeks.
Local analysts attributed his strength in part to “buyer’s remorse’’ , voters unhappy with the city’s lack of progress under Nagin deciding to give Landrieu a chance. “This time, I’m voting for Mitch Landrieu,’’ a black woman says to close out an often-seen Landrieu television commercial.
Landrieu voters said they trusted his poltically prominent family and had confidence in his political abilities. “I certainly don’t want another Ray Nagin , a businessman,’’ said Charlotte Ford, a 76-year-old semi-retiree and registered Republican. “They balk instead of finding out what works, how the system works.’’
Landrieu rarely directly mentioned Nagin during the campaign but lamented the city’s numerous problems, including violent crime that has resulted in 189 homicides since Jan. 1, 2009 and seemingly hamstrung efforts to restore infrastructure damaged by Katrina.
“They just don’t see anything going on,’’ Landrieu said last week after numerous New Orleans musicians, among them Allen Toussaint, Branford and Ellis Marsalis, Irma Thomas, Pete Fountain, Terence Blanchard and Kermit Ruffins announced an endorsement. “They want someobdy with the experience to make it happen.’’
Landrieu, an attorney, gained his experience during 16 years representing New Orleans in the state House and then as lieutenant governor. He’s in his second year in that post where, aside from being first in the succession line if something happens to the governor, he has headed up cultural and tourism efforts.
Mitch Landrieu is the fifth child of nine born to Moon and Verna Landrieu. Moon , former state legislator, former mayor, former Carter administration cabinet member and retired state judge , is the patriarch of a politically active family that includes U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, and a local judge.
The Landrieus have enjoyed a generally good relationship with black voters, owing in part to Moon Landrieu being one of the few white lawmakers to stand up to those trying to maintain segregation in the civil rights era. As mayor, he was the first to appoint blacks to higher-ranking positions at City Hall.
Nagin, who was in Miami for the Super Bowl, could not immediately be reached for comment.