New Orleans residents vote for mayor tomorrow. There are twenty-three candidates on the ballot. Will Ray Nagin survive?
The election, which includes seven City Council seats and other local offices, was originally scheduled to take place Feb. 4 but was postponed because of the damage and dislocation caused by Katrina.
Of the city’s 297,000 registered voters, about 20,000 cast ballots early by mail or fax or at satellite voting stations set up around the state.
Some voters are expected to drive in from far-flung cities on Saturday. Several hundred planned to arrive from Atlanta on buses provided by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s former church, Ebenezer Baptist Church.
The turnout is being closely watched by civil rights groups, which have questioned whether the election in a city that was once two-thirds black will be fair with so many black voters scattered around the country.
Less than half the city’s pre-Katrina population of nearly half a million has returned. As a result, candidates have had to travel to cities like Atlanta and Houston, where many evacuees live, to get their message across.
The polls have offered little guidance because they account only for residents with home phones in New Orleans — a minority of potential voters. But most observers believe Nagin, who is black, will advance to the runoff against Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu or executive Ron Forman. Both challengers are white.
Setting aside the campaign strategies and the obvious racial overtones, one thing is crystal clear. The next mayor will face a monumental job – the rebuilding of a destroyed city.
Four-fifths of the city was flooded, and large parts of New Orleans are still woeful expanses of ruined homes and rusting cars. Rebuilding plans — and the federal money to pay for them — are still being debated. Nearly all the public schools remain closed, and the tourism business, long the economy’s anchor, has drawn few conventions.
So, the winner actually won’t win anything. The job ahead of the individual won’t be easy at all. Wimps need not apply.
This election is likely to be the first mayoral race watched nationwide.