Posted April 24, 2006 – Even though Ray Nagin won the most votes in the New Orleans mayoral race on Saturday, a racial breakdown of the voter pool suggests that he could be facing a tough battle to lead his city through another term.
On Saturday, Nagin won 38 percent of the vote – to Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu’s 29 percent. As usual, White voters turned out in much heavier numbers, but the White vote was splintered among numerous White candidates, including Ron Forman, who captured a sizable 17 percent of the vote. About half of the voters in predominately White neighborhoods turned out, compared with about 30 percent who voted in Black neighborhoods.
If the racial trend holds true in the May 20 runoff election, New Orleans could get its first White mayor since Landrieu’s father, Moon Landrieu, held the seat nearly three decades ago.
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Nagin, in an ill-timed announcement shortly before the election, expressed his desire to see New Orleans return to a “Chocolate City.” (Ironically, he acquired the mayorship with broad support from White voters, many of whom said they felt betrayed by his comments.) This time around, fewer than 10 percent of the White voters cast ballots for Nagin, while about 20 percent of Blacks voted for Landrieu.
But Dr. Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland Political Scientist, told BET.com that Nagin is in much better shape than a lot of people realize. While more Whites than Blacks showed up at the polls on Saturday, says Walters, the electorate is 63 percent African American.
“Nagin got 38 percent this time around. All he needs to do is pick up another 11 percent,” Walters says. “That’s not impossible.”
People just need to show up on May 20, he says.
“And it should be easier for people to vote this time around because many of the kinks have been knocked out,” he says. “There was a lot of fear about the precincts, but that has been wiped out. I suspect that many more people (in the Black precincts) will come out to vote.”
While both candidates on Monday called for race to be kept out of the runoff, the fact is that is unlikely. The racial realities of New Orleans – where Blacks are suffering most from the hurricane and slowed recovery and Whites are suddenly feeling alienated by Nagin – suggests we should gear up for a political brawl.
“What it comes down to for a lot of people who voted for Nagin is that Black politics are on the line,” Walters said.
However, it is also true that many of the Black residents of New Orleans – including many of those who are angriest about conditions in their city – see Nagin as part of the problem. They point to the fact that it was his administration that was in power when government failed to respond appropriately to Katrina and that many of the issues of poverty, police corruption and violence remained major problems for Black Americans despite Nagin’s race.
But another thing that cannot be denied is Nagin’s political savvy. Racial politics is certainly nothing new to New Orleans, but he’s shown in the past that he has the ability to elevate the conversation above race, even when others insist that is the main issue.
With the runoff election mere weeks away, he must now get everybody’s mind on the thing that matters most: how to elevate the city above rhetoric about race to the real issue of rebuilding New Orleans.