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Nagin Re-Elected, but New Orleans Faces Serious Problems

San Francisco Bay View and NNPA, News Report, CC Campbell-Rock and Hazel Trice Edney Posted: May 31, 2006

New Orleans (NNPA) In what turned out to be a racially charged election, Mayor Ray Nagin defeated Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu in Saturdays run-off but still faces an uphill battle in restoring the hurricane-ravaged city of New Orleans.

I know what its like to go up against Goliath, with five smooth stones, a tired Nagin reportedly told a congregation gathered Sunday morning inside New Orleans St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, which sits in the still-littered Treme neighborhood.

David, in the form of Nagin, won the run-off with 52 percent (59,460 votes) to Landrieus 48 percent (54,131 votes).

The run-off was split along racial lines with Nagin winning 80 percent of Black votes and about 20 percent of White votes, according to GCR Associates, an urban planning and campaign analyst of New Orleans. Landrieu won roughly the same percentages in reverse.

Im not surprised, because historically, whenever there is a perception in the Black community that an African-American leader is under attack, history shows that we will get behind them, says Vincent Sylvain, the New Orleans-based regional director of the Rebuild Hope Now Campaign of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

This became more of a cause in the Black community, that they were going to fight to hold on to something that they had. What we kept hearing in the New Orleans community was, This was bigger than Nagin. What folks were saying is, while they may not have been happy with his leadership over the past four years, he was still theirs; he was still one of them.

This was a switch from four years ago when Nagin won with more than 80 percent of White votes and only 40 percent of Black votes. The erosion of Nagins White support and Landrieus family legacy as progressives caused some analysts to predict a victory for Landrieu.

But Landrieu made a tactical error. He did not distinguish himself as being that much different from Mayor Nagin. In fact, at mayoral debates, he constantly agreed with the position of the mayor, Sylvain says. So, from the Black community perspective, if you agree with the mayor, then theres no need for change.

Greg Rigamer, chief executive officer of GCR and Associates, says he understands why Whites abandoned Nagin this time around. Not only did the White people support him in 2002, but they have supported every recommendation and endorsement that hes made in the interim, says Rigamer, a White who was born and reared in New Orleans.

He said that changed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. White people honestly knew that Nagin was Black prior to the primary. They didnt say, Oh my God, we voted for a Black man for mayor. That wasnt the problem. The problem was leadership. Less accustomed to adversity, they expected more out of their leader, says Rigamer.

Nagin now faces the mammoth reconstruction of a city 80 percent flooded, 300,000 of its citizens scattered across the U.S., its government teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and 60 percent of its businesses closed.

The mayor is eager to change that. On the night of the run-off election, his administration announced an agreement between the hurricane-torn city and JP Morgan Chase, which accepted a proposal to provide up to $150 million in loans to the city from Morgan, Bank of New York, and two Paris-based banks, Dexia Credit Local and Socit Gnrale.

Nagin will have to resurrect a city that has traditionally depended on a regressive sales tax and tourism. While there is evidence that the tourism industry is rebounding the Jazz and Heritage Festival drew large crowds recently, and conventions are coming this summer no one knows when exiled New Orleanians will return.

Hurricane season begins anew next month. The National Hurricane Center predicted on Monday that four to six major hurricanes will strike the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico this season. The center predicts that there will be 16 named storms, down from the record 27 last season.

Evacuees and survivors of the Katrina Diaspora were given one-way tickets out of town. Today, as the August anniversary of the Katrina catastrophe grows closer, many are estranged from community, relatives and their culture. Many of them have or are creating organizations and banding together to demand basic human rights and the right to return, participate and rebuild their lives.

Survivors are demanding access to housing, the reuniting of families, public safety and health, community based economic development and global competitiveness, restoration of public education, the rights of all workers and survivors right to reconstruction jobs, environmental justice, and levee and waterway safety.

Meanwhile, the job of African-American voters in New Orleans is not close to being finished, says Sylvain. The Black community must continue to remind the mayor that they were the base of his victory and not just an asset or component, he says. But they were the base, the key, the main.

Sylvain says only the future will determine whether Nagin will now distinguish himself from the mayoral candidate who played to the White Republican vote four years ago.

This will be determined by the policies he enacts, the staffing he puts in place. It will be determined by the neighborhoods that get developed, Sylvain says. One could argue that since the African-American community gave him 80 percent of their vote, that they should be first in line for the redevelopment efforts across the city.

CC Campbell-Rock, a native New Orleanian, veteran journalist and Katrina evacuee, is the editor of the San Francisco Bay View. Email her at campbellrock@sfbayview.com. Hazel Trice Edney is the Washington correspondent for NNPA, the Black Press of America, www.BlackPressUSA.com.

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New Orleans: The Struggle Continues

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