Monday, April 24, 2006


On Saturday, New Orleans held its first election after the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Mayor Ray Nagin and Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu won the two top spots and will face each other in a run-off in May. The race pitted 22 candidates against each other and brought national scrutiny on the shifting racial dynamics of the city. Because many African-Americans still have not been able to return to New Orleans, the city faces the possibility of a white mayor for the first time in almost 30 years.

The following comments on the election in New Orleans comes from Reconstruction Watch.

NOLA Elections: low turnout, more of the same
Reconstruction Watch
April 23, 2006

For all the hype surrounding yesterday's "ground-breaking" New Orleans elections for a mayor that will "lead" the city's re-building process (wasn't that supposed to have started months ago?), what the city got yesterday was largely just more of the status quo.

Establishment mayoral candidates Ray Nagin and Mitch Landrieu received over two-thirds of the total vote, easily moving into a run-off between the incumbent mayor, and the son of a former mayor, in May. Their predictable dominance -- and the absence of any true reform or "people's" candidate -- made this an election for different flavors of more of the same, rather than change. (Visit here for the unofficial results.)

Some other quick takes on the April 22 contest:

* The voices of the white backlash, corporate leader Robert Couhig and Peggy Wilson (best known for her comment that New Orleans didn't want "gutter punks, pimps, and welfare queens" back in the city), did miserably yesterday. The only two Republicans in the race received a combined 11% of the vote; Wilson could only muster the support of 772 voters at the polls.

* The media insisted on using the meaninglessly vague word "steady" to describe turnout, which in reality was very low. Out of over 297,000 registered voters in New Orleans before Katrina, only some 108,153 voted overall -- 36% turnout, which is especially horrible for an election with this much importance, and with all the publicity this one garnered. (134,000 voted in the 2002 primaries.)

* The displaced were disenfranchised, as most serious analysts of the elections predicted. No one knows exactly how many registered voters are displaced (some put the figure at around 100,000), but only 20,000 voted through the absurdly difficult absentee ballot process. In other words, up to 80% of the city's evacuees -- many of whom want to come back, but can't due to the city's languishing rebuilding process -- will not be represented.

* Race was a major factor in the vote, although not in the way many think. The two establishment candidates who will go to the run-off are viewed as essentially interchangeable by the electorate: the preliminary results are that Nagin (black) received approximately 10% of the white vote and Landrieu (white) received approximately 30% of the African American vote.

Most election analysis will focus on the surface details, but the real issues -- including the real racial details -- go much deeper: who got to vote vs. who didn't, and the growing divide between the interests of the political and business establishment vs. the hundreds of thousands of New Orleans residents, in and out of the city, struggling to stay afloat.

Chris Kromm is Executive Director of the Institute for Southern Studies and co-editor of Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch

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