NO Mayorial Race

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Nagin, Landrieu head to runoff

By Frank Donze and Gordon Russell
Staff writers, Times-Picayune

Ray Nagin, the embattled but far-from-vanquished incumbent, rolled to a surprisingly comfortable first-place finish in Saturday’s crowded New Orleans mayoral primary, finishing ahead of Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu in the first election since Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters changed the course of the city’s history.

Nagin, who has governed under the harsh glare of an international spotlight as his crippled city struggled to regain its footing, now heads to a May 20 runoff against Landrieu, who is attempting to follow in the footsteps of his father, former Mayor Moon Landrieu, the city’s last white chief executive.

Given the city’s plight – with vast swaths of once-vital neighborhoods forlorn and empty, and tens of thousands of residents scattered across the nation eight months after the storm — the election played out before a worldwide audience. Logistics were a hurdle for candidates and voters, not to mention elections officials, who went to great lengths to ensure that displaced voters had an opportunity to cast ballots, either in person or by mail. The effort seemed to pay off as by most accounts the election went smoothly.

More than 20,000 voters took advantage of the early-voting process. It’s unclear to what degree turnout was effected by the difficulty in voting from afar, or whether many evacuees have put down roots in other communities and may no longer wish to be a part of New Orleans’ civic affairs.

This much seems clear, though: The out-of-town vote proved to be less important than some analysts initially thought possible. Turnout appeared to be remarkably high in precincts that remained dry after Katrina, and lower in those that didn’t. And while thousands of residents indeed drove long distances to the polls on a picture-perfect day, the armadas of buses some predicted would ferry voters from Houston, Atlanta and other hubs never materialized in great numbers.

A clue to the diminished significance of the diaspora came at forums held in those hubs and others. Though many candidates traveled to out-of-town debates, few voters attended most of them. And perhaps as a result, candidates didn’t pour money into out-of-state media buys at the rates some had expected.

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